Some gurus advise seekers to audit their lives: “What is truly important to you?” “What are your ‘values?’” These questions yield high-sounding but essentially dishonest answers.
Love. Harmony. Integrity. Fidelity. Family. Faith.
Dispassionate observation of where one lives and what one does produces the real list. The real list for most of us looks more like this: Comfort. Security. Face.*
An interesting place to observe our true values is the Subreddit /r/malelivingspace, where men upload pictures of their living rooms so that they can be critiqued by others and receive ideas for how to “better” them. Observation reveals that mens’ living rooms are basically algorithmic: a couch pointed at a television. Any other details after that are cosmetic.
A couch and a television as the centerpiece of a living room reveal volumes about the individual: They are the essential symbols of someone who values comfort and face. Someone with a couch pointed at a television is someone “normal.”
This isn’t a value statement: It is not bad to be normal. It is normal to be normal. But be honest: It is impossible to value “love” more than “comfort” and also own a couch pointed at a television. Mother Teresa lived in an orphanage and we live as we live.
Human beings have reciprocal relationships with our environments. One creates his environment just as one becomes his environment. The longer we live in an environment, the more we are that environment.
It’s for this reason that some have noted that where one lives is the most important decision he makes in his life, for it is also the decision about what one becomes. A man who lives in the wilderness grows a beard; a man who lives in the city does not. Look at your past living environments and the trajectory of your own life to discover the truth.
Last month I began studying drawing at Watts Atelier. I’ve been drawing for close to 18 months now and I decided I wanted the art class experience. I was expecting–honestly–something casual. It’s art, after all–not engineering. Instead I found myself in class with Serious artists working Seriously on their craft. I love it.
The art studio is ironically located in the back of a bland and inconspicuous business park. Walk in and you’re immersed in beauty and craftsmanship. Thousands and thousands of hours of study and craft have gone into covering the walls with drawings and paintings.
The Seriousness of the students is the inevitable result of the environment. The environment is the inevitable result of the Seriousness of the organization’s leader.
Watts isn’t exactly tidy by the way. Tidiness is vastly overrated. Jordan Peterson’s edict “Clean Your Room!” is not universally applicable.
Peterson’s critics note that the man can’t keep his own room clean. Therefore, what business does he have telling others to tidy up?
The truth is that some messiness goes hand in hand with being a creative person. And Peterson–love him, hate him, or accept the truth of human nuance–is one of the most creative people alive.** Watts Atelier isn’t tidy because creation needs clutter.
If you hear, “Clean your room,” and think to yourself, “I should clean my room,” then you know what to do. Likewise if you hear, “Clean your room,” and think to yourself, “fuck off, old man,” then you know what to do.
But through it all understand the life-altering implications of your tidiness or messiness.
Anyway, I have a couch for sale.
*I’m using the word face in the Chinese sense. Face is every bit as important in the West as it is in China.
**Don’t believe me? Try untangling the convoluted Maps of Meaning.