From email update May 5th:
DEATH OF THE COOL
Lately I’ve noticed that The Cool is slowly and steadily dying away from me. Can’t say I’m sorry for its passing. Despite its beauty and allure, The Cool gets in the way a lot. It crowds out the tender, more delicate qualities — sincerity, earnestness, silliness, openness. Chokes their roots, hogs the water, blocks the sunlight.
I got rid of a good deal of it in high school, and shed some more in college. But The Cool is sneaky, and very tenacious. It can assume different forms. Some are cliché and therefore easy to spot: Beautiful Woman, Brilliant Student, World Traveler, World-Weary Activist. Others, though, are harder to detect. Some of The Cool’s most clever disguises include Polite Young Lady, Devoted Daughter, Good Friend, and more recently, Serious Meditator. It catches you off your guard.
Still, I’m getting wise to the tricks of The Cool, and I see it weakening. If there’s ever a funeral, you’re invited to come and celebrate. :)
Do you think that “The Cool” in its most insidious form might look down on humanity with its mundane joy in friendship, work and devotion.
identity. or whatever.
“There is no spoon.”
@Dad, well, I think yes and no.
Certainly, I absolutely agree with you, The Cool can draw strength by negating the importance of other people’s pastimes and pleasures. Like, Oh, only frivolous people have friends. I am The Cool; I am a loner, above all those small-minded, superficial people. And, Oh, only cogs-in-the-machine do work. I am The Cool; I realize how hopelessly and pathetically most people waste away their lives with work. And especially, *especially,* Oh, only very weak-minded people, ignorant people, have devotion. I am The Cool; I would never delude myself that way. If only people would be like me, quit this useless devotion and face the facts of reality, then the world might actually get somewhere.
Et cetera. :)
But on the other hand, in other instances, I think The Cool very much wants friends and work and the *appearance* of devotion (like, everyone else looking and saying, Oh what a Devoted Person). But only inasmuch as all those things enhance the self-image of The Cool.
Like, Oh, I have all these friends; I must be such an amazing person. Oh, I work so hard, harder than anyone else I know; I must be such an amazing person. Oh, I am so much more devoted than any of these clowns; I must be a wonderful, amazing person. I am The Cool.
The Cool may want all these things as legitimizing markers, but only to boost its own ego. It never wants to actually *engage* with *real* friendship, *real* work, or *real* devotion.
Whether by negating or hoarding, The Cool needs trappings of personhood, of identity, in order to maintain itself. This is its sole interest. But sometimes it’s hard to see that. For example, lately I’ve noticed examples of The Cool in contrition. Wanting to apologize very vehemently and publicly; wanting to feel very remorseful and sorrowful, which may *look* uncool, but oftentimes has the fundamental motivation of self-preservation. It’s very tricky.
Anyway. Insidious all around, for sure. :)
@bk: haha, yes. :)
We met one night last spring in the Eliot dining hall, where we were both working until well past sunrise. We were typing away at the same table, and I peeked over at you before working up the nerve to ask if you were Katie Loncke, having first heard your name through Cambridge Common. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember feeling challenged and peaceful and fired up all at once because of you. (I think I might have friended you as soon as we parted.) In any case I’m grateful that we met and that you took the time to have a real conversation, not least because I found this blog and posts like these. So thank you.
Your explanation of The Cool is so apt. And you’re right, it’s so insidious and tricky. because…once you recognize that The Cool has reared its head, there’s nothing you can do but to *try* to shed it, right? To *try* to push The Cool’s smug thoughts out of your head, aim for genuine interactions and feelings? But then once you succeed or are at least getting a little better, you sometimes find yourself inadvertently being happy about your improvement. And then The Cool is suddenly back, just like that, even when your desire to change was originally genuine and not for the sake of your self-image. It seems like I won’t be rid of it unless I step outside my own head — unless I permanently turn off some capacity to be self-conscious that I’ve never lived without. … I don’t know if I’ll recognize myself without all these The Cools.
Anyway, this is all just to say “Yes!”; this entry hit me so close to home that I couldn’t help but come out of lurking. thank you again for writing.
Hi CK’09 — yes, I remember you and that night/morning in the dining hall! Thank you so much for coming to say hello, then and now. I hope you’re doing well.
And with insights like this one, odds are you’re doing just fine. :) You’ve got the paradox exactly: there’s nothing we can do to kill The Cool. That’s because The Cool thrives on reaction — whether craving or aversion. Wanting to be genuine, or not wanting The Cool to be there. Same thing. The more we “*try* to shed it,” the stronger it becomes, like a strain of superbug that resists every antibiotic you throw at it.
So if there’s nothing we can do, then what’s the solution?
That’s just it: there’s nothing to do.
So do nothing.
The Cool feeds on action, and at the same time it can’t withstand pure, non-reactive presence. Presence that accepts everything in this moment, as it is — not as we would like it to be, but as it is.
So if you can notice The Cool arising in yourself, that’s wonderful. Next, try observing it without reacting. Accept that it is there, and then see how long it keeps up its antics. As long as you can keep from reacting to it, The Cool will naturally weaken and gradually die away. It may come back later (it almost certainly will), but again, don’t react. Just observe with total equanimity, smiling and knowing, ah, here’s The Cool again. Let’s see what it’s up to this time!
Now, staying fully present and watching The Cool without judging or reacting is not easy. In my experience, it is extremely difficult. My Cool knows me better than anyone else, and knows exactly which buttons to push to make me identify with it. Sneaky li’l thang. :)
Luckily, everything we need, we already have. (Or, more accurately, we already are). Plus, there are people and techniques that can help us. If you can take 10 days this summer and attend one of S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana meditation courses (with various locations in the U.S., all of them 100% absolutely free of charge), I personally feel it’s one of the best things one can do for oneself. It has helped me so much, I can’t even begin to explain.
I also just finished reading two books by Eckhart Tolle: The Power Of Now and A New Earth, and found them really useful. (As a bonus, reading books with such titles in public provides a prime opportunity to observe The Cool without reacting, since The Cool will obviously tell you to Put Down That Ridiculous Trash Immediately What If Somebody Sees You!! ;) )
Does all this make sense? It’s a little hard for me to explain in words the experience of everything that has come up for me lately. I’m borrowing heavily from Goenka and Tolle’s explanations, since they’ve had a lot of practice at verbalizing it. But the best news of all pertains to your last, great question: “I don’t know if I’ll recognize myself without all these The Cools.”
Wonderful question. The Buddha’s answer to this is anatta, or no-self. The state of nirvana. Tolle calls it The Source, or Life. Many people call it God. My buddy Patrick calls it “my divine friend.” A state of total peace, surrender, and boundless love. That is who you are — who everyone is — without The Cool.
Is that The Cool talking? ;)
Thanks again, CK’09! Good luck, and definitely keep in touch! You are on to something.