This week, I am pleased to present to you dazzling ennui of Elizabeth Van Loan: three poetic musings on the subjects of Nihilism, Boredom, and Malaise. Enjoy!
– Boredom is the dull ache of a mind coming into contact with itself. When serious, it produces a mental writhing similar to the way we squirm when in physical pain. This state, though uncomfortable, is undervalued.
– The lack of engagement or stimulation which causes boredom also provides the mental privacy necessary to feel safe experimenting with ones thought processes. Once the uncomfortable writhing and searching for distraction has loosened ones grip on ideas to which we would otherwise be attached, the mind can stretch and shift toward novelty like a tendril of root searching for water, or an optometrist testing with their lens machine.
– It can be difficult to be gentle while in pain, but like a muscle, a mind will brace if treated roughly. Therefore is it with careful inwardly-directed tenderness that one must approach oneself while bored. Take pity and think of falling cherry blossom petals or floating tree fluff.
– Once feeling soft and humid within the boredom you can begin to play. If you ask yourself questions, sometimes the answers will be surprising. When loosened from habitual thought processes developed in response to past environments and experiences, and listening gently for an honest response, you might find that you love someone you thought you hated, or secretly want to buy a horse. This feels like freedom and can be unnerving.
– It is also possible to play with the structure of your emotional and psychological mechanisms. If you tend to wander through life, imagine what satisfaction there might be in following itineraries scheduled to the second. Consider your fears. Could any of them be let go or shifted toward producing pleasure? Is your identity an honest reflection of your self?
– There’s vivid charm in the utility of boredom in its own cure. If the world is infinitely rich, the ways of being in it and moving through it are also endless. Through boredom, one has access to the conditions necessary to finding and developing methods which are more beautiful, effective, and fun.
– Finally, once one becomes at home in the dryness of boredom and has a feel for the way minds make sense and structure out of an ocean of shifting content, or the mutability of meaning, it becomes possible to accept and focus on the blurriness of the shifting. Instead of testing the clarity of perspectives, one can rest in a state of mystery. This may be as close to an unfiltered perception of reality as we can get. In a tender state of not-knowing, that which is dull and quiet shimmers with potential. It is an impermanent state, but gorgeous.
-The term Nihilism has been used to express many different ideas but at it’s core is the concept of nothingness. Since some kind of experiential reality cannot be denied, one must interpret the term to gesture toward the meaninglessness of existence rather than its absence. Beyond this, the manipulation of the doctrine is dependent on the the temperament of the writer.
-The meaninglessness of existence is in essence, a neutral concept. To despair at the futility of the search for meaning is not logical but depressive. It’s natural for the implication that reality is unknowable to be disconcerting and painful. We have evolved the impulse to process information, find patterns, and solve problems to be central to our nature. However, it is the infinite richness of the material world which makes it unknowable, not any deficiency.
-Nihilism allows for material existence to be experienced directly, without the screen of a belief structure super-imposed. The tone of this meeting is related entirely to one’s mood and temperament. When approaching a world that is infinitely rich, it is easy enough to see what you’re looking for, and find that its implications match your expectations. It requires the suspension of ones impulse toward the search for meaning to avoid experiencing one’s surroundings merely as a reflection of self.
what you’re looking for, and find that its implications match your expectations. It requires the suspension of one’s impulse toward the search for meaning to avoid experiencing one’s surroundings merely as a reflection of self.
-If reality is not a reflection of self, then it follows that to turn inward is a step away from any other reality except the experience of ones own mind, which we are learning more and more is colored by it’s physical existence, through chemical im/balances, genetic tendencies, and experiential conditioning.
-However this does not imply that we are inadequate to our surroundings. We are creatures of existence. It merely means that to know the world as it is, one must resist the impulse to find patterns, hold beliefs, and mistake mood for truth.
-To submit to the impossibility of knowing is the only way to feel at home in the world. Once this step is taken, it becomes possible to thrill in the joy of physical existence and it’s infinite possibility.
Malaise as a psychological state is a creeping terror of lethargy. It has many causes, like hives. The world feels bloated and empty. Here is the way out:
– Accept that this is a serious problem. Mental discomfort is generally classed as lesser than physical pain, but this is a mistake.
– Stop trying to escape. You can’t think or work your way through malaise. The attempt to do so often has the opposite effect, wasting what little energy clings to you, and giving you the impression that you’re trapped in a system of two parts: struggle and collapse. This is a binary that can swallow lifetimes.
– Instead of being driven by pain to struggle, sit still, and wait. Wait for a flicker of desire. This is desire in the positive, not the ache of a lack of something, needs unmet, but the kind of wanting which can provide warmth, energy, and direction. On a small scale, you’d think of this as a whim, or impulse.
– When you feel even the smallest desire, notice it. It can be anything. Maybe you’ll find yourself with the impulse to go lick the wall on the other side of the room.
– Wait until you have a whim to do something unintimidating, that won’t cause an immediate negative reaction, and do it. You should feel a small thrill of relief. You’re out.
– Start to make decisions this way, pausing to quietly wait for a whim to rise up through the murk, and carrying it out.
Elizabeth Van Loan is an artist, writer, and filmmaker based between Chicago and Ionia, Michigan. All images courtesy of the artist, ©2017.