On March 9, 1994, an American poet by the name of Charles Bukowski died of Leukemia. He was 73. When he was buried in Los Angeles two simple words lay on his gravestone beneath his name: 'Don't try'. As perhaps one of the most authentic writers to have ever lived, his final words topped off an extraordinarily influential life. These words have been subject to controversy and have encouraged discussion amongst enthusiasts worldwide. The statement seems pessimistic at first glance - almost disingenuous - but I believe that in this statement there exists a wisdom we need now more than ever. This post is a tribute to that piece of advice, with a full-hearted attempt at understanding just how important it really is.
to try, what does it mean?
Take yourself as an example. If you try to do a task or if something doesn't come naturally to you, would you agree that the thing you are trying to do is not incorporated into your behavioural mechanism? I am not talking about niches or skills that require practice and time to learn, but everyday tasks such as socialising with friends, watching certain films or doing certain hobbies. If you have to try to do something, that means that your specific personality design at present is not tailored to do the thing you are trying to do. It is clear that a person's natural inclinations form a major part of what makes them who they are. Our inclinations affect who we spend our time with, what we do, what we find funny, what we find meaningful etc. As a result, if you do something that goes against those inclinations you will have to force, tug, push and will your being into the thing. Let's say that the thing is earning money through a job. Let's say that the job is not in line with your natural inclinations and it therefore requires a push. To do this job, you will have to sacrifice who you are for whatever task is at hand, ultimately. If you are paid for the job then the monetary reward, from your perspective, will be for your effort more so than the utility of whatever you had to do. In essence, you will feel you are being rewarded for not being yourself. If we accept that your instinctive behaviours are an integral part of who you are, doing a job that goes against those instinctive behaviours will mean actively going against who you are in order to earn money through said job. If you do this continuously, you will become misaligned with who you are, and this misalignment causes unhappiness. Therefore, by allowing money to be the central cog in the machine, we are forcing a plethora of disconnect over the population. This disconnect leads to unhappiness which inevitably results in consumerism.
Intrinsically, I don't believe anyone really wants money. We need it, evidently. We have to have it to survive, but nobody really wants it. If you give it to a child they can demonstrate this for you. So, if the reward for our disconnect and discontent is something we kind of just need, but don't really want, isn't that just the perfect device to keep everyone miserable? Now, at this point you might say 'Well, it's about what the money represents. It's about what I can use the money for.' No, aside from basic survival requirements, you can buy holidays and alcohol with money: distractions and drugs. The problem is that we're treating our dopamine hits and numbing agents like they're Greek Gods. It's at this point that I want to reference an interesting study that brilliantly highlights the structural dystopia we're living in.
In the 1970's, Bruce Alexander conducted an experiment on rats which is now infamously known as The Rat Park Experiment. Alexander decided to place a family of rats in a cage and hook them up to an IV drip which fed them cocaine. If the rats wanted to receive a shot of cocaine, they needed to run on a wheel for half a minute. The idea was to find out how hard the rats would work to get their hit of cocaine. As you might predict, the rats ran themselves into a stupor to receive the cocaine and ultimately forwent food and sleep to get as much as they could. However, here's the interesting part: when the Psychologists took the rats out of the cage and placed them in a environment surrounded by other rats and nature, not a single rat ran on the wheel. In fact, not a single rat went anywhere near it. And this is the crucial point. The rats wanted the cocaine only when they were in a stressful and unhappy environment. When the unhappiness and stress had subsided, the rats showed no interest in getting their brains stimulated. Now here's the key: Human beings are no different. In fact, our reward circuitry is almost identical to that of a rat's. So how does this translate? Well, we look around us for things to distract us, to entertain us and to give us that feel-good chemical hit that we need oh so much because we're hurting. And this consumerist society continues to come up with new and interesting ways to dull that chronic ache, to take our minds off the misery.
When we buy our nice watches, cool trainers and fancy dinners what are we really saying? When we scroll through Tinder or binge a Netflix show what are we really saying? When we go to the pub or the cinema or the park or Barbados what are we really saying? We're crying out for help, someone and something to help with the pain, and we're crying out for it all damn day. "Please", we say, "Help me". This society, this consumer-centric society has made us all into hungry, scared rats just looking for that next hit of cocaine. But where did it start? Where does the unrest and unease and unhappiness begin?
It begins at the sacrifice; the moment of wager when you decide to abandon your basic behavioural drives and instead do what you're told, just like a good little boy/girl. Can you think of anything more soul-wrenching? The most widely accepted personality test - 'The Big Five Factor Model' - highlights the natural, instinctive drives we all have and gives the individual scores across five main personality traits: Agreeableness, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness-to-Experience. The test demonstrates the inherent behaviours that each individual possesses and the mechanics that govern our desires, our mood and our goals. The test highlights our distinctive and separate personalities - the fact that we all want very unique and individual things out of life. However, to achieve what our individual selves really want, we need to follow our natural wants and desires, no matter what. Therefore, Bukowski was right: don't try. Because trying is being someone else, it isn't who you are. We are now at a stage in our evolution where striving to follow any consensus, to follow any regiment, to obey any conditioning or blindly listen to any instruction is unwise. We need to strive to be ourselves. We have to allow life to conform to us, rather than twisting and bending to the demands of a society that is trying to dismantle who you are. People are scared, I get it. But the only way to salvation is to start to organise your life around who you are, and not organise who you are around your life. Start piecing yourself back together, bring yourself to blossom. If you want to blindly conform, you can expect your desire for distraction and entertainment and painkillers and numbing agents and bullshit to continue to rise. But aren't you sick of it? Aren't you sick of trying so hard to pursue nonsense that doesn't work? Why not instead say "I'm gonna be who I'm gonna be. Let the chips fall where they may." Because although you think you may have a choice in this, the fact is this: the more you make an effort and the more you try, the more you are turning your back on yourself and creating more and more pain. As Bukowski said - don't try. Your only duty is to yourself.
Finally, how are you supposed to live without trying? Here's an idea:
If it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it. Unless it comes unasked out of your mind and your heart and your mouth and your gut, don't do it. If you have to will and urge and exert, don't do it. If you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it. If you're doing it because you want love and adoration, don't do it. If it's hard work sitting there thinking about doing it, don't do it. If you're doing it to be like somebody else, forget it. If you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait - patiently. If it never does roar out of you, don't do it. If you have to talk about it to your wife or your girlfriend or boyfriend or parents or anybody at all, don't do it. Don't be dull and boring, don't be consumed with self-love, don't act with pride, don't do it. The few good ones in this world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. Don't do it. Unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or murder, don't do it. Unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it. When it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die, or until it dies in you. There is no other way. And there never was.
Your friend always,