This Is Water, What We Drink But Cannot See



Great minds think alike, or so the saying goes. But in reality greatness does not lie in just the ability or the capacity to think, it lies in the ability to choose what to think.

Each one of us carry individual differences in the commonness we share. Our equality and distinction both find root in our belief system and past experiences. The summation of the people, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, opinions, experiences, that we have been subject to, forms our mindset, which defines how we think and look at life. The negative side of such a methodical process of living is the formation of biases often leading to our arrogance and shortsightedness, restricting our breadth of view, making us inconsiderate and causing us to overlook the most visible and readily understandable aspects of life.

As the late author, David Foster Wallace, put forth,

“ to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience..”

When you are offered two choices, lets take the dominant and constrained example of career decisions, selecting between a management and an arts degree. Choosing and pursuing either one of those two doesn’t necessarily make it your willful choice. Irrespective of whichever you choose, out of the two distinct choices, in no way whatsoever have you been voluntary in the process of coming to that choice. Hence it does not make it your own.

The same goes on a consumeristic level, when deciding what to buy. At times there isn’t even a need for purchase, so we similarly, unwillingly subject ourselves to the choices offered by others. This often happens because what we want is from what we really need, rather, this wanting/choice is nothing but a automatic response to the externally driven lifestyle grounded on invalidating the empty spaces we let others create in ourselves.

So, basically, you chose what you were offered, and you weren’t even a voluntary subject in the proposition. Selecting one of the two, is far from being your own choice, because your volition is undermined when you are offered choices by someone else and there exist a prior non personal influence on your willingness to partake in the subjected process.

Continuing, his commencement speech, he elucidates the mind and master cliche, in a manner we could never even think of relating

“..Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.”

So, he suggests, quite practically, how to guide the master into thinking as per our conscious awareness and through our self-controlled will.

“.. if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer…… Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down..”

It, is, in essence, our own choice, to decide how to see things, yet in our daily life we falter in this regard. But, as he asserts, the truth, what we have with us is, the ability to choose, to decide what to worship, and also to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. So, there lies the truth in front of us, yet we loose sight of it every day amidst the mechanized flow of our life.

” ..If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

And the worst of it all

“But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”

David Foster Wallace, ends his commencement, by explicitly pointing out the real world workings, as we live through them daily, yet we seem not to be conscious of them.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Yet, we have failed to realize what education learning and living is about. And David, does the benevolent task of bestowing upon us his wisdom.

“…the real value of a real education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over”

So, live consciously, be aware of your actions, choose what to think and decide how to live your life.

[Source & References]
David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech, 2005, titled, This is Water
 – 5½ Timeless Commencement Speeches to Teach You to Define Your Own Success
Intelligent Life – David Foster Wallace In His Own Words

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