defined by the Oxford dictionary as
n. evidence that something is true or exists.
Dear quarter lives,
We chase proof for our existence in the same way a child chases its shadow or a dog its tail. They are teased by the misconception that it is chasing them. A child will run as fast as it can, in circles and straight lines, trying so hard to outrun its shadow until they realise they can’t. But they’ll keep on trying again and again because maybe next time they can. This hope that next time will be different than a past experience is what keeps us running until we tire ourselves enough to forget about our shadow for a moment or two, only to rest and start all over again.
And not all children are created the same; some will be so fascinated by their shadow that they will run towards it so fast trying their hardest to catch it, and some who started off running away from their shadow will see their friend running towards it and will feel safe and reassured that it won’t hurt them because it’s not hurting their friend so they begin to chase after it as well. While another child who was chasing their shadow might see a friend running away and question their own assumption that the shadow is safe and begin to copy their friend and run away from their shadow too. But in all scenarios, we are always running. Always chasing or being chased. And until a parent points out that the shadow is actually us, and we stop for a moment to observe the ground and see that mother too has a shadow, and that her shadow is different, bigger just like her. It’s then that we finally relax and accept that the shadow is a part of us. But what about the shadows of our inner world?
During childhood, we overcome both our fear and curiosity of our external shadow and embrace it as forever part of us. But when we begin to exit childhood, during adolescence as we approach adulthood, all these internal shadows begin to pop up left, right and centre. We feel trapped because we can’t get away from all of it. We feel overwhelmed, angry and scared. Again, not all adolescents are made the same. Some of us are overtaken with curiosity and chase after our shadows, while others are overwhelmed with fear and repress their shadows. Some are influenced by their friends into changing their approach. Peer pressure goes both ways; some are shamed out of their sexuality while others are pressured into exploring it. In the end, what we learn from this is that like in our childhood, we find ourselves running either way, chasing or being chased. But the difference is that unlike in our childhood, our parents aren’t telling us, ‘It’s okay. This is a part of you. Just accept who you are.’ because they too are running from their shadows like their parents before them and their parents before them. This culture and history of repression has exhausted our psyches and unleashed our monsters onto each other. Some of us are lucky and get stopped by someone or something and asked to take a moment and sit still and look around until we finally realise that this is just like when we were children, that everyone has shadows, that shadows are completely natural, that they are perfectly normal and a significant part of who we are. A key part of our journey into adulthood is accepting our shadows and integrating them into our being. And that is very different from catching them. We can never catch them, we can never escape them, they will always be with us wherever we go.
So in the same way that we can never catch our shadow, we can never have proof we exist. Proof for our being is perhaps the most difficult and biggest of all our shadows to overcome because it seeps into absolutely everything we do and who we perceive ourselves to be. All of us, all of the work we do, all the children we have, the books we write, the buildings we build, the forests we destroy and oceans we pollute, they are all different ways we try our hardest to leave a footprint. To leave something behind that says we were here. But why and for whom? Why do we need to prove so badly that we exist? Because the possibility of the alternative haunts us. The thought of not existing terrifies us. But isn’t that what death is? Not existing, at least from here, from where we stand now in life. So is all this seeking of proof just a way of running away from the biggest shadow of our lives: death? Can all of this running stem from a fear of death? Can we ever fully rest until we accept death first as a part of us, until we accept that a state of nonexistence, a state of being nothing, a state of non-being is too a part of us? Death is of us in the same way our shadow is. And to find any sliver of peace in this life, one must learn to accept all of life, and that includes death. Because you see there can never be any proof of life except our experience of it. And to be able to relax, let go and fully experience life, we must accept life for what it really is — an experience of dying, of approaching death.
“If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons — becomes inorganic once again — then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’.” — Sigmund Freud1
Till next time,
1 Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle.