Life: Love it or Loathe it, it’s here to end.

The eternal paradox of life and death tightens its grip on us, whilst at the same time being challenged by modern science. Centuries before our time, the cycle of life and death was readily accepted. The afterlife was worshipped to be everlasting, with many cultures investing a lot of their time and energy into ensuring a good afterlife (see, Egyptians, Myans, Vikings etc). Life was cyclical. It came and went as the seasons changed.

A fantastic marketing ploy in only the past 100 years has made time liner and fashioned it into a commodity to be earned and spent. A line stretching straight on into the void. This shift in scope has changed our current view of the passage of time. Instead of accepting death as a part of life, science and engineering has aspired to extend our normal cycles to be everlasting. The search for eternal life continues in earnest. Science fiction movies envision suspended hibernation, beings who live beyond our normal human stretch of years. New aged health care, medicines, lifestyles are marketed with the possibility of extending your life, at a price. We can exchange one currency for another. Money for time.

The dramatic events of recent history, Chernobyl, 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami,  have made us even more keenly aware of how fragile life is, whilst at the same time still thinking “it won’t happen to me”. Many of us live in the ignorant bliss of our own mortality, whilst quickly passing judgement on others. It’s easier to not think about death. But right there, in really knowing you don’t get to live forever, that you only have this one shot, can we really transcend, can we really appreciate the gift of today and live the best of it. In the immortal words of Eminem, “if you only had one shot, would you take it?” Sure, your new behaviour might be seen as erratic, neurotic even, but only to the people who aren’t on your level.

Refusing to live in constraints given to you by society might be seen as crazy. It might seem enlightened. It might be the encouragement someone else needs to break free of their chains and truly live their best life today. Because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

Here is a picture of my cat, Cora, who is free from the ravages of self-awareness and other crippling paradoxes. I think.

Cora

Live in fear of the end of your life, and find freedom in that.

S.

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A Good Day.

Today was a good day. 

This week has been a good week. 

I can’t pin down exactly what makes it good, it’s just a feeling. My soul feels lighter. 

I took off my pyjamas, I put on a dress I’ve never worn. I felt the sunlight through the window. I went outside again. The cold air has given way to warmth today. 

I talked about what inspired me, what I’m working on, what my goals are. In talking about them, I realised they are real and achievable. I forgot that. I got lost in the darkness that suddenly descended. I was overcome with fear of the future. But like a great fog, this too will lift. 

These days have given me space to breath in a world where time is a commodity. It’s nice to let that go for a change. 

I will not fear tomorrow, it hasn’t happened yet. I will make the best of today. 

Today was a good day. 

S. 

Feels like Home To Me.

I find myself sitting on the couch after a long week of sitting on the couch. Yesterday I went for an interview, and I received the follow up call this morning. “We thank you for the time you’ve taken to come and meet with us, unfortunately on this occasion we won’t be proceeding to the next stage.” I can feel the tears welling behind my eyes. I can feel my throat tighten. Now as I sit here on the couch scrolling through Seek.com.au and any other job opportunities I’ve been referred, with The Lord Of The Rings playing in the background, I feel my heart aching for home again.

 

On Monday it was my Grandad’s 80th birthday. Much like Bilbo Baggins was saying, we have a love of peace and quiet, and good tilled earth, a love of things that grow (I dunno, maybe we are Hobbits). When I’m feeling worn down, out of spoons, and out of luck, home is the place that fills me up again. I flew down on Friday night and back again on Sunday afternoon. How I wish I had known before the flights were booked, I would have spent the whole week there.

 

My brother called my on Friday afternoon, and said to get dressed ready to go out when I got there. My friend and roommate Steph had caught an earlier flight and was waiting for me to arrive. So I change out of my jeans and sweatshirt into something less “aeroplane attire” and more “party all night”. The rest of the passengers were all a little taken aback I can imagine. But, I’ve always said, better to be overdressed for any occasion. #OwnIt.  “The eagle has landed,” a quick text to my brother and he was waiting to pick me up. So, out in town we go. I lived here for a few years before moving away. I remember why I left..

 

Early on Saturday morning I am up and ready to go. The drive back home is an hour down the highway, lined with bushland and canefarms. Everything is saturated green and blue. They’re the most vivid colours I’ve seen all year. I think to myself “this is the road home, every time, for my whole life, this is the road home.” This is the bridge I will cross every time. There is no way around it. This in the only crossing on this river unless you drive 6 hours inland to detour. This bridge means I’m 5 minutes from home. You can see my Grandad’s farm on the from the other side.

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Burdekin River Bridge, the “Silver Link”

Turning into our driveway is one of the best feelings in the world. Walking across the yard, through the gate and into the house – retracing my own steps from a thousand times before. Grandad is already here with my older brother. Mum welcomes me at the door. Dad isn’t far off. We are all sitting out under the back roof, overlooking the backyard, the chicken pen beyond the fence, the canfields past that, and up into the blue horizon. Steph is already allergic to the place, covered in bites and rashes and dog scratches. You can take a girl out of the city..

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There’s a 1945 resorted Jeep Willy in the shed that I’ve been telling Steph about. I’m pretty sure actually this is her main motivation for coming here in the first place. So we take it out for a ride around the farm. Crikey. The breaks aren’t good, and power steering didn’t exist in the 40’s. It’s a tough drive. We may have got it bogged in some mud on the headlands too, but the important thing is, we got it out. 3 dogs, 2 girls, 1 jeep. We did alright. We made it back to the farm with time to wash the mud off our legs and get ready for the night.

 

Soon the family starts arriving, coming in twos and threes, until I am encompassed by a feeling of love like a warm blanket in the cold night. Grandad is wandering around his party taking photos with his phone, I can already tell every single one of them will have his blurred finger shadow in the corner. Bless. He is capturing his legacy – a happy family. I wish I could say we are all here, but we’re not. There are 2 cousins missing. Sisters. They didn’t make the trip. I guess they are too young or too stubborn to appreciate the significance of tonight. I can see it in his eyes, if only they would have been here, they would have been forgiven. Love is all my grandad has to give, there is no capacity for malice in his kind heart.

 

It’s time for the speeches. My Dad gets up to say some kind words, my Aunty also does as well, the only daughter. My younger brother has nice things to say. Our youngest cousin says she loves her family. They all look to me. I’m drunk on Pimms and high on dopamine. I stand next to him in front of our whole family. I tell him that I love him, and between him and dad, you’ve shown me the measure of a good man. I don’t know if it was enough, but it was the truth. After the cake was eaten and the dessert was cleaned up, the celebrations for the night are over, but not the fun. Steph is sitting in her chair curled up on her knees, “Why don’t you go to bed if you’re tired honey? It’s been a big day,” my mother says. I know why she’s still here. We’ll be damned if we let any 80 year old party goers outlast us.

 

The next morning is something special. The family comes around for leftovers lunch today, and it’s much more relaxed. I soak in this time just listening and being near them. One uncle has flown in from Perth with his daughter, another from Brisbane with her husband and daughters. Even the ones that live just down the road from our farm, I hardly see them too. I look around and count the many ways I am happy to be here. But it’s over too soon. Steph and I have a plane to catch so we have to pack and leave much too prematurely. Saying goodbye is always the hard part. “When will you be back?” “You can always come and visit us in Perth” “Be sure to drop by whenever you like” “I look forward to seeing you here again”. Then all too soon, we are back in our apartment with our bags dropped on the floor thinking how quickly that weekend went.

 

S.

 

Does Life Happen Because of we Want it to, or it was Bound to?

When you make a decision, conscious or not, how do you make it? Do you think about all the possible angles, outcomes and consequences of that decision? Do you go with your gut? Do you feel backed into a corner and there are no options, just the one route you can take? What about not just you as an individual, what about a whole state, or country? How are decisions made in a larger scope there? Do they lead us down the path already laid down at our feet or a we just as likely and free to choose the path less travelled? There are a lot of questions about free will and whether it exists, and it is exclusive to humans among any species on the planet. To define free will, we may consider “the subjective feeling of an agent either at that moment of decision or in retrospect that the decision is free, and that one might have chosen to decide differently” (Runes, 1962). To believe in free will is to believe that human beings have the power to be creators of their own futures, and to reject the idea that our actions are predetermined by external conditions or fate. The counter argument is that our lives are already determined by the actions gone before, and whatever choices we make moving forward is not actually a choice at all, but rather the only possible outcome (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999).  As one science fiction writer beautiful portrays, determinism is that “all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again” (Glen A. Larson, 2004)

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Consider the symbols that appear recurring throughout human history. Very often, there are strong similarities that cannot be thought of as coincidental between cultures separated by vast distances of time and land. The mandala, the symbol of the self, has been recreated over history showing different forms but all having the same meaning. The ancient people of Egypt projected many of their personality traits into a world of gods, enabling them to identify parts of themselves in these deities, and look for guidance from them. The Northmen of the 17th Century, Vikings, also had a hall of deities, who they believed were once human and have reached eternal life in Valhalla through a life of sacrifice and victory. They looked onto these beings to deliver them and guide their ways, interpreting meaning from the movement of the sea and the seasons of the earth.

 

Religion is a strong way to project your own thoughts and feelings and find answers. Nowadays however, religion is being shunned for a nihilistic view. Instead of adorning their lives with holy epitaphs, people are adoring their bodies with symbols that have a unique meaning to them. Tattoo their flesh to identify their own self and individuality amongst the crowd. Was there any other outcome but this? Will there be any other future but the one already unfolding?

 

Many theories have been advanced over the years to determine why humans act the way they do. It is one of the cornerstone curiosities of psychology – seeking to understand human thought, emotions and behaviors. Free will vs Determinism. Both have a huge amount of support for them, so is either one of them “right”? or do they work together to allow humans to conduct their lives?

 

To progress understanding of human behavior, theories needed to have more stringent requirements to evaluate the efficacy and empiricism of the theory. They need to be testable. the forefront of learning as a social concept was A Bandura (1969) who proposed his social learning as a theory through which the observer acquires a mainly symbolic representation of the modelled behavior. Developments in learning theory for causal analysis shifted from the hypothesized sense of inner determinates to a broader yet detailed examination of the external environment. The theory was updated to reflect how the environment, both socially and physically, shaped human behavior and action. We can learn from observation, this means instead of having to experience all the uniqueness of life ourselves to know the outcome, we are able to build large, integrated units of behavior simply by watching another example. It means that humans can save themselves a lot of time and tedious trial and error by simply observing an action and outcome. Also, with the development of cognitive ability, this also enables us to think on future actions. The wealth of knowledge gained by experience and observation can be applied mentally to problem solving, we can solve problems symbolically, without having to physically act out each possible scenario to see the consequence. When a course of action has been mentally proposed, we have the insight to adjust our behavior to support the desired outcome (Albert Bandura & Walters, 1977).

 

This social learning theory was developed and applied recently by Nemon (2015), who examined the relationship on parent’s scheduling to their child’s effectiveness in completing their homework. What was found that parents who have poor time management skills is reflected directly in their children’s time management ability. Improvements suggested in this study were to simply change the modeled behavior of the primary source (Nemon, 2015). There have also been further studies into the relationships between parents and peers to children and adolescent behavior that offer more support to this theory, readily identifying the modeled behavior is learnt purely through observation (Norman & Ford, 2015; Schaefer, Vito, Marcum, Higgins, & Ricketts, 2015). These more recent studies take the theory of social learning and apply it outside of a laboratory, in real world examples. The outcomes support the theory, giving it strength, and the solutions to improve the situation also are in line with the same theory. Primarily, social learning theory support the idea of determinism in the sense that our actions are so because of constructs we have learned in the past. There is only one possible outcome due to the circumstance we have intrinsically become accustomed to. To break away from the pre-determined outcome would be to display the notion of free will – which has not been supported in these studies.

 

Social learning is also supported and supports the theory of behaviorism as it equates learning to the behavior that can be observed an measured. Skinner (1953) proposed that all actions are determined, and not free, as behavioral theorist look to past or present environments to explain behavior.

 

There are still many prevailing philosophies that strive to recognize the internal human nature of “will” giving the power to override environmental causalities (Van Inwagen, 1983). If this is true, it would suggest the ability to make predictions and control behavior to be impossible. However, there is boundless support for behavior predicting and manipulation (Pavlov & Anrep, 2003; Skinner, 1953; Watson, 1913). As one of the main proponents of behaviorism, Skinner strongly supports a deterministic human nature. “We regard the common man as the product of his environment, yet we reserve the right to give personal credit to great men for their achievements” (Skinner, 1953). Riedel, Heiby, and Kopetskie (2001) have recently adapted behaviorism theories to apply to bipolar patients to investigate the effects of conditioning and understanding behavior, building the application of these theories to transition from theories into practical treatment and therapy processes.

 

A challenging argument to those theories lies in this humanistic approach to psychology. It was first introduced by Maslow and Lewis (1987) as an emphasis to study the whole person. The humanistic approach considers a person’s behavior through the eyes of the person, as well as the observer, which in this case in unique to the theories discussed previously. This enables the observed to consider all angles that has led a person to come to a decision. The basis for humanistic psychology is existential assumption that people have free will, and are capable of exercising that freedom at any time (McLeod, 2015). For humanistic psychologists, it is argued that objective reality is less important than how a person perceives and understand their world as their subjective reality (McLeod, 2015). It relates all events and experiences not just for what they are but the emotional and psychological impact it has on the person themselves. This approach allows us to have a much more holistic view of an individual and their experience in this world, as nothing but our own unique experiences shape the person we become. Rogers (1995) has found profound understanding in simply listening and hearing what a person has to say about their experiences. As a person strives for self-actualization, being heard and having their peers understand the plight gives strength and positive reinforcement to continue forwards (Frankel, Sommerbeck, & Rachlin, 2010).

 

The limitation of this theory of self-actualization is very limited in the sense that it cannot be generalized to a larger population as every person is unique, and no two experiences are the same. This in turn means the theory has no empirical strength, and would take a lifetime to complete. It also has a strong bias to a person’s ideal self, where they actions may be justified by their own ego. The arguments for social learning and behaviorism are easily hypothesized and transferrable to real-life studies with proven results. Based on previous research and evidence to support, the argument for free will is in stark contrast to that of  A Bandura (1969) and Skinner (1953).

 

Whilst there is support for both arguments to the human condition, it is difficult to surpass the alignment of determinism. It’s a nihilistic view, but you don’t really have a choice. Based on your environment and upbringing, everything you’re exposed to has an influence on your personality, traits that you pick up, your behavior in certain situations. No decision could ever be “free” of yourself, unless you had someone else make a decision for you, blind of all your influencing factors.

 

 

S.