Why We Do Better

In the physical world, echoes muddle. An echoing voice (say, a friend calling out to you in the forest) gets softer, cloudier with each bounce. We hear the pitch, but the message is garbled.

In the informational domain, echoes do the opposite: they clarify. Take an idea and listen to how it echoes in the history of literature, or philosophy, or political action. With each echo, each occurrence, the theme distills, the message sharpens. When history echoes, we understand it more clearly.

This short movie visualizes a speech by Alan Watts. Watts reminds us of something we knew as toddlers:

“The physical universe is basically playful…the same way [as] dancing. You don’t aim for a particular spot in the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance.”

When we watch partners dance, we don’t observe the angle of their elbows, the sway of their hips and grasp for a greater purpose. The purpose is the dance.  We may understand our entire life in this way: the goal is not achievement or completion, but engagement, expression, presence.  In this way, we dance with every moment.

Seven-hundred years before Watts, the poet Rumi echoes:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
In this way, we dance with every moment.

There are many ways to dance. You might smash cake. I might make soup. (More echoes.)

You don’t have to change anything you’re doing. You don’t have to stop; you haven’t been going anywhere. You’ve been dancing the whole time.

In this way, we dance with every moment.


What Came Before

Objects have a way of anchoring us – to a moment or a person in our past, or to an imagined self, a person you once were or wanted to be. A beaten-up jacket with two missing buttons. A concert ticket to Radiohead. A flip phone that doesn’t power on anymore.

It’s also how we end up with three pairs of shoes we’ve worn once, jorts that still don’t fit because we bought them when baggy was cool, and two dozen CD cases from bands we listened to between 1997 and 1999. Not the CDs, which have vanished. Just the cases.

It’s hard to get rid of any crap with even the slightest psychic residue on it. And the longer we wait, the more powerful the attachment gets. As in, we’re not sure how we ended up with two copies of Austin Power: The Spy Who Shagged Me on DVD, but at this point they both have to be collectors items, right?

The problem is that there is no way for us to commemorate our things while properly sending them off into the great beyond.

What we need is funerals for things.

You invite your friends and family – all the people that knew that FUBU sweatshirt and Kangol hat combination, and all the well-wishers that just want to support you through this tough time. The mourners line up to take a look at the items, now folded on the table, looking a little less wrinkled than they did when you wore them. We take turns remembering the good times: how you slept in that sweatshirt during your first week in college because you didn’t realize how cold California nights were, how you danced all night in that hat and grossed yourself out with how sweaty it still was in the morning.

We then play track 3 of off Matchbox 20s debut album, and everybody cries.

And since funerals for objects have their own set of customs, the funerary ice cream cake is served.

We need this.

When we let go, we give ourselves the space to become our next and strongest self. Else, the ghosts of our past will drown us at the bottom of a sea of barely-remembered nostalgia.

What Came Next

We all equate size with virtue.

This isn’t a premise for a kinky adult film, it’s a kink in our psychology.

One of the most profound and unexpected spiritual experiences I had was during my first visit to the giant Buddha statue inside Todai-ji temple. I felt instinctually overwhelmed standing before something towering and humanoid. I swelled with awe before the titan, and in that moment understood the power of vastness to instill religiosity among the heathens.

I received a similar set of chills a couple years later, standing in front of a large construction crane.

What i’m suggesting is that we are suckers for huge things.

Again, I promise this isn’t a porn thing.

Whether we’re gathering beneath the Aurora Borealis to feel the ineffable enormity of the universe in our bones, or paying employees $800 more per year for every inch they stand above average, we give offerings to that which makes us feel small.

With this in mind, I’ve reached the following conclusion: should we encounter intelligent life among the stars, I damn sure hope they are taller than us.

Let’s imagine two scenarios: in both scenarios we contact alien life forms that are not only intelligent, but demonstrate far greater cognition than our own gelatinous equipment allows. These two alien races look and act exactly the same, except the first race, the Roussimoffians, are fifty feet tall, and the second race, the Devitotians, are twenty inches tall. Roughly the same height as a chicken.

Please play these movies out in your head, side by side.

Spoiler alert: we begin to worship the Rousimoffians. We start an galactic war with the Devitotians. We don’t win that war.

Here’s our one possibility for survival, should we encounter Devitotians. Blessed with superior intellect, they observe us prior to contact and discern that we are obstinate size-reverent monkeys. Seeking a peaceful and productive interaction, they construct colossal sock puppets through which they communicate with humanity. With their guidance, all diseases are cured, interstellar travel becomes common. Legroom in economy class of spaceships continues to be a hassle. We follow the giant sock puppets into a thrilling golden age of humanity. Privately, the Devitotians snicker as we dance to their interstellar marionette show.