Ask Andrew W.K.: "How Do I Stop Obsessing Over Little Things?"
Andrew ponders your questions. Photo by Ashley Eberbach
[Editor's note: Every week New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
I have serious trouble letting things go. For instance, I sold my first truck over two years ago and I still can't stop thinking about it and wondering if I should've kept it. And today, someone threw a bottle at my girlfriend's car, so I reacted by chucking some orange drink at them. Now, hours later, it's still bothering me. What advice can you give me on clearing my mind and letting things go?
- Cluttered Mind
Dear Cluttered Mind,
Nearly everyone wakes up everyday with a sense that something is wrong. And oftentimes, the something that feels wrong is hard to place. It could feel like something's missing inside of them or in their life, or that they did something wrong or messed up in some way. Or, most often of all, that there's just an indefinable sense of uneasiness about life in general.
This feeling that something is wrong can be quite strong in some people and can generate strong reactions. In other people, the feeling is very, very subtle. But it seems just about everyone has some version of this feeling, and many of us stick with the idea that this feeling is a sign of something being not-right with us specifically. In actuality, this feeling that something is wrong is actually the one and only thing that's actually right.
That feeling is the feeling of being alive itself.
It's a physical, emotional, and mental sensation -- like a flavor of thought or a color of feeling and it's very, very, very hard to identify and pin this feeling down enough to study. It's so intense to feel, that it usually is easier to chalk up to being part of some sort of "problem," rather than realizing it's not a problem at all -- it's just the intensity of existence. So, many of us chose to associate this feeling with some "real-life" problem that we can identify, obsess over, and in some ways try to deal with. This is sometimes called "free-floating anxiety" or even more broadly, "the human condition."
It's the pain of existence -- which is often interpreted negatively, but can also be a stimulating and extremely pleasurable pain -- much like a sexual orgasm, or scratching an itch, or drinking water when you're thirsty. It gives us some momentary relief when we can find something to worry about and try to solve -- like that truck you sold, or your orange drink confrontation -- just so that we can give an identifiable name and event to this otherwise baffling feeling of being alive.
Just about everyone does this in one way or another -- it's pretty much the root motivation for doing anything at all. The human experience is the act of wrestling with, reacting to, and engaging with this feeling, and it's hard to say which is the best way for anyone to go about managing their own experience of this sensation of being alive. In many ways, finding somewhat trivial problems or pursuits is a perfectly healthy and therapeutic release for what can otherwise be a maddening and seemingly unsolvable puzzle. A lot of what we fill our days and heads with are distractions, so we don't have to confront the reality of our own existence head on.
However, it sounds like you've gotten to the point where you can tell that obsessing over these trivial distractions is holding you back. You've already taken the first step. Now see if you can start to tune in to what these "problems" have been distracting you from. You'll probably find that you can dive in pretty quickly to what's really going on. How deep you want to go is up to you, but once you decide to go past the surface of your own existence, it's pretty much impossible to turn back. Get ready and have a fun and very intense time -- it's the ultimate party!
Your friend, Andrew W.K.
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