By Ryan Amador
How can we manage?
When there are fourteen colors of food sitting in my sink: crusty, rancid, and stuck to the plates.
When there are letters to write, messages to send, and texts to compose (didn’t Mozart compose symphonies? Why am I composing messages? And furthermore, where do they go once they are sent? They don’t even exist in space.).
When there are creative outbursts in the form of epiphanies but nothing seems meaningful unless it’s revolutionary.
When my body feels like a melted brick of butter (Should I have really eaten a pizza? Did the evil ice cream corporations quarantine all the fruits and veggies? Why am I more inclined to eat what’s artificial?), weighing me down to an Earth I haven’t really stopped to see it in years.
When I really want Thai food, but all I can afford is a PB&J. (Does my body really want more peanut butter swimming around in my bloodstream?)
When I want to make a collage for my boyfriend, but someone told me that I have a test on Tuesday and that it should be more important than a boyfriend “at my age”.
When I crave nothing but innovation and all I’m fed is regurgitation.
When I wish wish wish I had the time to call my family. When I wish wish wish I could tell my best friend I love her over a cup of tea at a local café. When I wish wish wish that my social interactions took precedence over my quest for success, and I wish wish wish that my parents, teachers, government, and country agreed with that proposal.
How can we manage?
I say these words not to unveil an inevitable depression, but rather to pose circumstances I encountered every day living in New York City. We each individually choose our priorities and build a series of responsibilities with which we are constantly working to juggle. Even if these objectives are specific to each one of us independently, I believe that it is the communal journey towards a balanced lifestyle for which we all seem to hunger.
And I was just the worst! As my college years began to pass by, I found myself primarily validated by my responsibilities to different projects and people. I felt confident based off of the quantity of things I could juggle. My ICal became my trophy; my resume became my identity. Over time, these activities built up into lists, impossible lists, and never once I have I reached my final goal for an empty one. So in this fast-moving current I saw “balance” more as a biproduct of my day-to-day life rather than a requirement. If I were fortunate enough to achieve it, it would be an exceedingly lucky moment and quite a rare occasion.
This semester I dropped these lists and ran off to a Study Abroad program in Berlin. As much as I could, I detached myself from my responsibilities and sought to discover a better quality of life.
There’s a whole lot to learn…
Immanuel Kant, a metaphysical philosopher in the 18th Century, believed that the human race was put on this planet in order to strive as a race towards a capacity in our capability to reason. In the same way that a seed is meant to grow into a flower, or a bee is meant to pollinate those flowers, Kant would say that the human race is here to acquire knowledge, engage critically with this knowledge, and reason by then creating our own thoughts individually. Over an extraordinary long process of evolution, through which each individual is constantly striving for this capacity, it is his belief that the human species would reach this capacity in the distant future, thereby fulfilling our communal destiny and setting us “free”.
Frederich Nietsche, another philosopher, adds to this. He, however, requires a balance between what he defines as Apollonian behavior (which includes Kant’s belief) and a newfound Dionysian behavior.
1) Apollonian behavior involves independent intelligible stimulation (individual thought, dreams, prophecies, logic, etc.). When we study desperately in our classes, when we watch the History channel, when we attend a museum; these are all examples of acquiring new knowledge, information, facts, education, and engaging our brains in an intellectual digestion. This is Apollonian.
2) Dionysian behavior, however, involves the sharing of people’s souls. Nietsche says this is primarily done through theatre/art and celebration. With theatre and art, the audience and the artist engages emotionally, spiritually, and soulfully with the work that is presented. This work exists outside of the individual, and involves a greater communal existence that transcends the loneliness of “reason” and individual thought. This communal behavior is derived from instinctual elements, i.e. sensuality, frenzy, madness, romantics, etc. Then Nietsche adds that “celebration” and “festival” is another way for “individuals to lose sense of self identity and become part of a larger community”. He insists on the drinking of alcohol to break down the walls of a person and allow them to share in a shared physical space between all of us. The Dionysian state thereby involves a loss of one’s personal ego and individual drive so that they become primal beings and identify solely in “perfect rapture”, a union with the immediacy of the world, its nature, and the meaning of their existence. He proposes that by engaging in this communal space, we will be more in tune with the world and our purpose inside it. (Ever wondered why people felt so clear on the meaning of life during Woodstock?)
I must reiterate, however, that Nietsche says that both of these are equally important, that the individual must be willing to exercise reason as well as engage in that external union.
I have never been interested in stupid TV comedies. I have always hungered more for Entertainment that engaged in intellectual conversations, where my brain could shift and I could have one of those “blow-my-mind” moments. I now see that I was lucky to be caught up in art and already had, inherent in my occupation, a Dionysian lens. As an artist, I am constantly sharing souls, constantly engaging with a bigger meaning. My hunger then is for a balance: I crave newfound intelligible ideas that are separate from my artistic occupation.
And now I’ve taken a semester away from my art and acquired a plethora of new facts, history, theory, philosophy, etc. And at first this burst of consistent input was super fulfilling, you know? Especially after so many years of art art art, output times a million; it was quite wonderful to experience a new aspect of my being. So now even with a greater sense of the world, I miss my art, and I still have not accomplished this balance that I hunger for. I was living a Dionysian life and threw myself head-first into a solely Apollonian work ethic. Oh well, maybe it’s just something more to look forward to. What do you think?
I’ll let you know if I figure out. All I know is, whether you are becoming an Accountant and fulfill your balance with drunken parties on the weekends (Dionysian) or becoming a Theatre Director and fulfill your balance with the Discovery channel (Apollonian), it is worth noting that a balance is required.
I will end my post with one final thought to send you off on your morning Cheerios or evening Tea. In New York, I often times think that I want a jar of Nutella at 2am after a long day without eating, and maybe sometimes I do. However, I would like to add to Nietsche’s philosophy by categorizing a being into even more, the following: mind, heart, spirit, soul, gut, and foundation, as well as the literal pieces: face, arms, stomach, groin, feet, knees, shoulders, etc. I think there is a balance to be had through all of those aspects and that it is something of which we must be constantly conscious. Nietsche also taught me that memory can make a person depressed because immediate objectives lead to happiness. He says this is why animals are so happy: they don’t focus on what they had, they focus only on what they need and want in the moment. I think the way to manage all the pieces of our lives is with these tools. In every moment, I now look farther than what my brain wants and look through my whole being, through my mind, heart, spirit, soul, gut, and foundation, through all the pieces of my anatomy, and ask the entirety of my being what it wants. And what I’ve learned is that my whole being will have a clear answer and know how to achieve that balance. Then if I look outside myself towards the greater (Dionysian) shared space, I will discover even newer objectives, feel more connected with the Earth, and stand closer to the meaning of my life.
(The answers are all around us and inside us, but I know that it is so much more common for me to ask my mind what it wants before asking my whole being and the world around me. My mind obviously knows that Nutella would taste really good and it knows that Nutella is bad for me. That contradiction is what causes me such dismay at 2am in the morning. But once I ask my whole being, my stomach has a severe protest against the Nutella and tells me exactly what it wants…a banana.)
It’s in our own nature and the nature around us. I really think it knows best. So trust it.