Going With the Flow (Upstream)

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“People gave up [the spirit of jazz] to make money. … God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money. You could spend a million dollars on a piano part and it won’t make you a million dollars back. That’s just not how it works.”

-Quincy Jones in an interview with Vulture

When I was younger, I gravitated towards people who were passionate about the things that I liked. But as I got older, I realized our relationships to those things were different — that we liked the same things for different reasons. Then I became drawn toward people who were passionate about anything in particular. I enjoy seeing their eyes light up. People come alive when they’re passionate.

Trendiness doesn’t bother me, but phoniness does. I think phoniness is one of the most odious things in all of existence. It’s like the marriage of hubris and falsehood. Sometimes people happen to like things that are popular. Sometimes they like them because they are popular.

I’m particularly fascinated by people who vigorously pursue interests in spite of the fact that they are unpopular. There is often a courage or blissful ignorance in this. Then again, the internet has changed this in a big way. People are passionate about all sorts of bizarre and obscure things, and they’re not alone anymore. I think that’s usually a good thing. But sometimes it’s a terrible thing. The only thing more odious than phoniness is brazen passion for morally grotesque and unsavory things.

Sometimes its easy to get pulled away from our passions. We may even forget that we loved them at all. Like a father or mother neglecting their children, or a man forgetting why he ever loved his wife. Our attention is limited, and when something is important to us, we have to feed it like a flame. The excitement comes and goes.

Sometimes passions leave us for a very long time and then emerge in a reckless fashion. Sometimes new passions emerge out of nowhere — like the man who got struck by lightning and became a musical virtuoso. Sometimes lightning strikes us literally, and sometimes it strikes us figuratively. But it’s exciting when it strikes us. It’s like falling in love all over again. There’s no greater high on earth.

People used to wage war in defense of unbridled love and honor. Think of the Trojan wars. Now wars are often waged for profit but under false pretenses. Now the phonies wage the wars. Thank God we still have heroes to fight them. Passion always wins out.

Žižek says, “If you have reasons to love someone, you don’t love them.” This isn’t to say that we cannot compile lists of things we like about someone. Desire is guttural. Reason isn’t what drives us. We’re too irrational for that. I like that notion of Žižek’s. It’s certainly spared me from making decisions based on convenience. (Not that living life outside of our passions can ever really be convenient. It’s rather frustrating to day dream all the time in vain.)

As I get older, I become passionate about more things. But I’m becoming much stronger at forsaking the things I don’t genuinely care about. In many respects, I think I’m becoming less of a phony. If I can look back on my life one day and know that I was genuine, I’ll at least die half-satisfied.

Part of this process of being less phony is realizing that I don’t have the energy to pretend to care about things I’m not passionate about. Part of the reason I’ve become more passionate is that I’ve realized there’s an immutable quality to my genuine interests.

Jung believed in a notion that we don’t choose our interests so much as our interests choose us.

“Do things you enjoy but can’t explain.”

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A great deal of our life is seemingly arbitrary, but arbitrary is not to say without purpose. I’ve thought long and hard about purpose my entire life. I’ve learned that living without purpose will asphyxiate you just well as obsessing too much about purpose. I believe there is a cosmological and objective component to purpose, but I also believe that there is a specific component.

The objective component pertains to direction, as in, toward light or darkness (and ascertaining what that entails). The specific pertains to our individual role therein. It’s a role we won’t always understand, but we’ll know that we are fulfilling a specific purpose when we’re in our element– in a state of flow or of being “turned on.”

I’ve also learned that striving too hard to change things will ruin you just as much as making no effort to change anything at all. This is what I mean about the immutable qualities of genuine interest. We should strive toward transformation with regard to objective notions — to become better and less evil. But we should learn how to decipher those [amoral] things that are integral to our individual nature and seek to refine them. Even when society or circumstances try luring us away.

I’ve also learned that we often fail both by being too hard on ourselves and by not being hard enough on ourselves. It’s crucial to hammer-in the importance of pain and sacrifice with regard to discipline. But it’s equally crucial to contextualize our weakness and offer ourselves grace. Sometimes it is graciousness that helps the tired or aching heart to beat. Nothing maims passion or drive like discouragement. Grace is like a salve.

The notion that interests that have selected me has reshaped my view of reality and my relationship with it. The more I understand being on an archetypal level, the more I understand what captivates me and makes me tick.

What composes the self? Is it genetic make-up and circumstantial upbringing? Is it divine fingerprinting? What parts of the self are ironclad? Which parts are malleable? It’s for this reason that I think it’s important to study psychological archetypes and to consider my own life in light of a narrative structure.

Everybody is living out a story. It’s important to reflect very deeply on all of the variables that led us to this exact moment, be it a predicament or a parade. Jung would surmise that our narrative goes deeper than that. That it is embedded in our subconsciousness.

I hardly understand it, but I think he’s right. I’ve met a lot of hippy types who talk about “going with the flow.” But going with the flow isn’t always a good thing. A dead fish or a piece of trash in a stream go with the flow. The refining of the self is inherently one of going against the flow. “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

But there is a a sense in which “going with the flow” is necessary. I don’t quite no how to explain it. But it is like a beckoning. Like a siren that leads you upstream. But not the sirens of Homer that led to opulence and death. Rather, sirens like the sound of a spring breaking in a desert place. Sirens like a star leading to Bethlehem.

Passion is like a siren. But it is also like a wavelength. In that sense, going with the flow entails accepting something that is integral to your nature and never letting it go. Unless it feels right to let it go. But the specific light must always be subjugated by the objective light.

“Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. ”

-Quincy Jones

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One thought on “Going With the Flow (Upstream)

  1. Awesome post. I’ve often struggled to articulate why I love, say, music. Or how about when a loved by one asks “Why do you love me?” How do you quantify that? It’s impossible. I just *do.* But that is rarely satisfactory for most.

    It’s an interesting point.

    You also seem to hint at the importance of balance, even in the realm passion. I totally agree with that as well.

    Great post.

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