Transience & Vitality
Mourning, as we know, however painful it may be comes to a spontaneous end. When it has renounced everything that has been lost, then it has consumed itself, and our libido is once more free (in so far as we are still young and active) to replace the lost objects by fresh ones equally or still more precious.
Freud (On Transience)
Often what we long for most in life is the experience and feeling of deep connection. It matters not whether the connection is to our lovers, our friends, our selves, our work, or to the world at large. To Freud's point, something transpires within the individual when what is longed for or believed in ceases to exist either practically or metaphorically? Freud referred to this as mourning, but more succinctly he viwed the melancholy of mourning as the libido's inability to liberate itself from the transience of life itself. Given the determinism of Freud's psychological method, I am not certain he grasped the magnitude of the problem he unearthed while strolling through "the smiling countryside" with Rilke on a Summer day. To stand bereft of filters and see the transience of beauty itself can lead to melancholy or to a deep appreciation for the looming scarcity of that beauty. I would argue that neither of these options is sufficient to resolve the absurd predicament accompanying the real or imagined recognition of loss, grief and mourning.
There is a third way to play within the reality of transience. In Freud's model the libido attaches to the object of its affection and recoils in pain when the object disappears. Is this in fact what takes place? Modern attachment theory would seem to echo Freud. I believe the entire model, which is based on post enlightenment rationalism, is faulty. Beauty, love, connection, passion, desire, inner symbolic truth...these are never lost. Let me say this again, what you love today may change tomorrow but you cannot be deprived of the essential feeling of love or connection as it transpires. Yes, in future think, it may be transient but as you live it, there is no transience, no loss.
So now we have uncovered the actual problem. Why is the mind trained to foreshadow beauty with transience and loss. Why for example, in moments of coital bliss, do we find ourselves melancholy. Why do we cry as we witness the birth of a child? We know that pleasure cannot last indefinitely. We know the child, if nurtured, will grow into an adult and perish. The answer: The ego seeks immortality and persistence even at the cost of its experience of joy and pleasure in the moment. As Freud astutely points out, assuming you have enough vitality left to live, the world is continuously providing replacements for what has been lost and yet we mourn and even worse we anxiously foreshadow the loss of what we have attached to - the object of our desire.
Psychologists and psychiatrists with their post enlightenment deterministic rationalism see an imperfect fit between the individual and the culture. The etiology of the melancholic mind is some deficiency, genetic or behavioral, that should be corrected through technique or modified through medication. What power we have placed in the hands of these pseudo scientists. What if instead of altering the individual or locking him away, we turned our attention to the structures, the institutions and asked them to make room for a wider range of human self expression. Why do we seek to measure and restrict instead of remaining curious and expansive (The answer goes beyond the scope of this essay but firmly rests in concepts such as power, discourse and structure.)
There is no way out of transience. To this point, if you gather the entirety of your psychic energy (this is possible if you believe you are inherently vital) and dare to live with vitality, while also being aware of your mortality, transience ceases to be deterministic. Feelings exist but primarily only in context and those feelings are of peace, joy, love and freedom. One moment of bliss follows the next until the energy of this vehicle is depleted. The curtains close and we are on to the next scene. Vital living is the only answer one can muster in the face of an absurd life.
Real transformative beauty shatters our awareness of what we know...it transfixes us and simultaneously forces us to acknowledge the transience of any experience. If we continue to try to find a way out...if we numb or run...we miss the very point of being awake. Feeling is only the first layer of understanding but it is the layer through which we are arrested by the absurdity of life. Now it seems we reach a fork in the road of living; to either remain conscious with full awareness of our own mortality or to fall back asleep and believe the dream of transience. There is no choice...escape from the absurd reality of life can only ever be brief once it is attained. So instead of divesting of life through escaping, we invest in the vitality of living. We make choices and weigh their cost on the vitality of our continued existence...we live our choices and this is our agency.
For anyone who takes the risk to sit with the reality that all things...all beauty contains within it the loss of that beauty...there is a heart wrenching fidelity...transience. Some would argue the melancholy which emerges in some people as a result of seeing death in the beauty of life is a sign of mental illness. My belief is the opposite. To retain the ability to fully invest in beauty, to drink in the truth of aesthetic arrest, means one has developed the capacity to hold the impermanence of life, of love, of connection within the context of every moment. I think of this as absolute vital living.
Holding on tighter only prolongs the agony of loss. Persistence as it relates to trust is important because it leads to pattern recognition and our predictive abilities. Without persistence we would have a hard time with even rudimentary activities. Persistence as it relates to our experience of beauty, love, and connection is the most damaging aspect of the ego, reinforced by the structures of a self defeating culture. People are like strangers even after we have know them for years...and our ability to recognize the stranger within the pattern...the uniqueness within repetition...this is perhaps the start of how we embrace the absurdity of life. We must retrain our mind to seek out vitality at every turn, to continually reinvest that vitality in every moment and to liberate ourselves from the confines of the ego driven demand for persistence.