As children, most of us think that the universe has no boundaries that we cannot eventually cross, contains no form that we cannot eventually take. When we are older, our experience stacks up to convince us that the roles and desires we struggled with for so long, were set in place by forces beyond our control -- and that the only reason we thought otherwise when we were kids, was because we weren't clever enough to see it happening.
It can be depressing, yes, but there's another side to this coin of knowledge. As we learn about the ways in which the world has forced itself upon us, and as we watch the same thing happening to other people, we get a feel for all the different ways that destinies can be curtailed. If we watch carefully, we can spot the exact moment when bad habits start, when pathways are chosen, the exact circumstances that push us through one door and slam another. We actually do become clever enough to see it happening. And what do we see, each time?
For example, I grew up in a house with two siblings. I thought every kid, everywhere, had siblings. Then I met a friend who had none. I thought everyone had two parents, who lived together, with the kids. Then I met a friend who had no parents, and lived with his grandmother. I thought everyone had next-door neighbors that were friendly, ... until I met some mean ones. I thought everyone had a market and a school within walking distance, until I traveled to a friend's house and realized it was a 45-minute drive into the wilderness. I thought everyone had electricity, flushing toilets, warm summers, dogs and cats, and a forest nearby to explore. All of those turned out to be optional.
I thought all kids were healthy - until I met some that weren't. I thought all parents valued their children - until I met some that didn't. I thought all girlfriends knew how to communicate - until I met some that couldn't.
Each time, I saw the pattern, and labeled the spots on my map: "Places I don't want to be." Of course it wasn't all disappointment, there were just as many "Places I want to return to," and "Places I want to stay."
We are each explorers of a continuously expanding frontier. We dream excitedly about the unknown territory just beyond the mountain or ocean that we grew up gazing across. Then one day we finally make the journey, and while knowing obsoletes the fantasies, it also shows us the patterns woven into our homeland that we would never have confirmed by staying at home. These things, that are different here, were all the same back there. They didn't have to be. That means that something caused them to be the same. With our minds open, we can figure out what it is, and why it matters, and how to find it again.
But without an open mind, travel is wasted on us. If we don't make a map, we may as well be asleep. We may as well be at home, asleep, and dreaming - for the end result is the same. We'd wake up back where we started with vague senseless memories of elsewhere, shrug, make breakfast, and wonder what's on TV. That catch is, travel by itself cannot stimulate that open state of mind. We have to create that desire to learn within ourselves, before we start walking, before we even move an inch.
How can one teach this? How can we inspire something so subjective as an enthusiasm, when most people don't even have enough food, and those that do are not called upon to do anything more than menial labor to keep the food flowing? Is the sense of wonder that has driven us down from the trees and all the way up into space, and filled shelf upon shelf with books of wisdom, truly an evolutionary tactic beyond our control? Will we eventually reach such a comfort level that it actually becomes unfavorable to explore, dangerous to have an open mind? Safer to stay at home and eat endless varieties of replicated food, and have endless varieties of empty stimulation to keep out of trouble? Is our ultimate destiny to become our own housepets, existing to provide love and a link to our animal roots, but otherwise devoid of purpose?
Housepets lead comfortable lives, but there will always be a fronteir, as long as people die and the universe expands. As long as our alloted minutes are not infinite, we are compelled to make some good use of them.
Sometimes I sit in a theater, watching a movie full of people having adventure on other planets or in other times, people who succeed against enormous odds, and all without ever having to take a dump, or scratch their privates, even once, ... and I start to compare these scenarios to my own life.
I get the creepy feeling that my own existence is very boring compared to the life I could be leading, out on a frontier somewhere. Out where my life would be at risk, every day, where the stakes would be so high that I wouldn't even have time to take a dump, or at least do it on camera.
After the film ends, I have to stand up, and shrug, and shake my head, and remind myself that there is a strong dividing line in my subjective existence, between what is real and what is not. The only dividing line there truly is. And that division is, no matter how limited my actual possibilities seem compared to fantasy life, no matter how much more rich and thrilling some fantasy world may appear, my actual life is the only one I can ever experience in the direct here and now.
Among infinite worlds and histories, possible and impossible, there is only one that I can experience directly and immediately, instead of through memory or imagination. Only one, until it peters out, and takes everything else with it.
Within that framework, the possibilities are not infinite, nor narrow. They simply are what they are, and my attitude towards them is the only real factor in affecting my potential happiness within them. Whether the landscape across the oceans is fruitful or barren, it is connected with the landscape here, and there are patterns and causes to discover. As psychologists say: People are lucky because they create their own luck. And to do that, I need to keep my mind open.
Hmm, this line of thought has become too abstract. It's probably bedtime.