I had this odd experience recently while attending a wine and food truck event on the property of a quaint winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. You can picture it: quality wine and dine, live music, hundreds of schmoozing adults, and a classy venue with only the most tasteful hint of hipster. Needless to say, it checked all the right boxes. I was standing alone in the thick of all these people, waiting for some cauliflower tacos, and I'd absorbed myself in people watching the scene surrounding me. Okay, now at this point it's important I make mention that I was having somewhat of a bad day. Nothing horrific, but one that I'd casually record in my daily journal entry as "hard." I was, at least, past the stage of straight up mean internal commentary, and was moving through the phase of trying to will myself to cheer the hell up - but the doom cloud was lingering. I was feeling pessimistic. And undoubtedly this cynicism had an influence as I suddenly observed to myself just how fake everything before me seemed.
I couldn't see past how we all appeared dressed and made up in aspiration of emulating the same non-existent person. All safely within no more than a few degrees of variance between one another. And as I watched the small talk and the big smiles and the flirting, I couldn't help but palpably sense the unoriginality of it all. Like we were following some script of what to look like and how to act. A script that had assured us this is what fun looks like, this is how we want to be spending our free time. It was a big phony show, the product of ideas we've unknowingly been fed. A culture influenced by a lifetime of rom-com's, TV dramas, and magazines.
And then for some reason my mind jumped to climbing.
About a year ago I indulged my obsession with rock climbing and spent nearly a year with the activity at the top of my priority list. That culminated in four months of travelling around the USA in a van with a friend, with everyday essentially revolving around climbing. It was awesome. And yet after a couple months of this, as I'd make my daily ascent to some boulders for yet another day of doing the thing that I completely loved, I couldn't help but start to hear the question "what's the point of all this?" Physically, and probably even more so mentally, I was constantly, exhaustively invested in trying to get myself on top of a rock. I would momentarily catch a glimpse of myself from an outsider lens and think "how silly?" And while this thought occasionally troubled me and I couldn't explicitly rationalize an answer for myself, I still inherently felt that this activity was not unworthy of my time and dedication.
Unexpectedly being reminded of this as I criticized all these people, acting in the ways that our culture and society has seemingly bred us to behave, it suddenly struck me that climbing had actually been such an honest way to spend my time. Only when I tried to fit climbing into the greater context and norms of society had I struggled to make sense of it. What I should have focused on is that during that time in my life, climbing was synonymous with pure enjoyment. It didn't have a point beyond "I take genuine pleasure in this and therefore I'm going to prioritize filling my time with it." Becoming aware of the authenticity of that motive made me think that there could have been no more rational of a way to have spent that time.
Of course, only I can truly know how honest and real my enjoyment was. And so to the same respect, who was I to decide that all these other people were acting ingenuinely? Maybe if we could wash away the culture and the conditioning they'd all still sincerely be attending that exact event, with the same people, wearing the same clothing, taking the same selfies and sharing the same snapchats. I cannot prove that that wouldn't be true. I could see that I was being judgmental, projecting my own opinions, and making sweeping, hypocritical generalizations. Surely on a different day, in a better mood, I would have been right up to pace with everyone and left commenting on what a happy, wholesome time it had been.
But that's not the kind of day I was having.
In that moment I didn't want to spend my time conforming and playing along in Crazyland. See lately it's been difficult to get out of my head the observation of how unfathomably brief life is. An individual's life is not even a blink in time when you zoom out on our planet's history, let alone anything beyond. And then I listen to too much Father John Misty and I look around to see what we're making of our precious blinks of time here, and what I see are people who are bored, who are gossiping, who are commenting - and only commenting - on the news. I see people who are offended by ideas that challenge their choices. I hear people tell me how they don't have time. How they wish they could do this but have to, and anyways, really should start doing that. People stepping on a conveyor belt to carry them through life, seemingly forgetting that they have the choice at any time to step off. It's not the conventional life that brings me qualm, it's my sense of the lack of critical thinking we employ before subscribing to such.
All that said, while I find it nearly impossible to disregard these observations or to reverse my frame of mind, deep down I know that this really isn't my business or my place. I have no more right to dictate other peoples lives' than I feel they have the right to dictate mine. My judgements and opinions are not to serve those that I critique. The real world application lies in my own life. And it's my own life that can benefit from these observations and ways of thinking, so long as I can resist feeling negative or defeated by them. My sensitivity to the briefness of life, my opinions of the strangeness in culturally conditioned behaviours: they are what drive me to damn well make the most of my fleeting existence. To lead a life that feels honest and meaningful, and to "choose a mind that is wide and awake."
I guess it took a sassy mood, an evening of food trucks, and a love of rock climbing to help me really put this into words for myself. Perceiving inauthentic lifestyles around me reminds me that "conventional" should not necessarily default to what is "correct" and "right". I don't believe there is any definitive right and wrong. There's just you, and you're life, and whatever you want to do with it. All I expect of my life is that it's honest, that it's for me. Fuck how it does or does not fit into the social paradigm and sometimes fuck my internal questioning and attempts for higher understanding too. It needn't be complicated. If my actions are rooted in authenticity and genuine interest and yearning, then at least that's real. And when you've finally reached the core of it all you're not hampered by criticism, because you know you've arrived at the truth.