Monday, April 6, 2009

my trip on the darjeeling limited (interactive version)

Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited received some flack its ending, in which the three brothers, portrayed by Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody, carrying their father's baggage (literally at this point) rush to catch a train already in motion. Realizing they won't make it if they keep up the way they're going, they drop the bags as time slows, running faster and jumping aboard the train just in time. Many critics thought it was much too obvious a metaphor for the talented auteur to employ, but I think that sometimes, the simplest, most obvious metaphors are the ones we need to delve the deepest into.

In ANTH 201 (Cultural Anthropology) we've tossed around the two-word term "cultural baggage" which essentially refers to the stuff we know about our culture, the rules, the norms and such. No one can escape culture, and it has been proven that as humans, we need some semblance of culture from birth in order to develop into a completely capable human being. Now obviously we can't choose where we're born or which culture we're born into, but even if we could choose, how would you make your choice? Think about that for a hot minute.

When I try to choose, I can't help but make my decision based upon what I know about our American culture and I'm sure the same happened for you. All that stuff that went into making that hypothetical decision is cultural baggage, and you can't shake it.

So if we can't shake it, can we shape it? As humans we can shape our culture as much as it shapes us, even though it's definitely more difficult to do. See any counter-cultural revolution going on these days. It takes a lot of persuasion to change the masses.

All cultural baggage aside, we all also have a lot of emotional baggage we bring with us everywhere we go, stemming back all the way to our childhood. All of this forms how we respond to the society around us and inevitably leads us to an age old question:

Who am I?

With all this knowledge about baggage and culture, how are we ever to discover who we actually are? Would we be the same if we were raised in a pagan African tribe? Would you still believe what you believe if you were born in Bolivia? Sudan? Berlin?

Chances are you wouldn't and if you think you do, you'll find it impossible to make that judgement objectively.

So what does that make us? If different cultures teach us to value different things, how can we know what we ourselves truly value? I don't believe we are simply awash in a see of forces without a chance to swim. I believe that as humans we innately have some agency, the problem arises in trying to find where it is.

On a personal level, I've been seeing a life coach named Roland at the behest of my parents (they want to show me that it's normal and not something to be ashamed of, which it's not :)) . We've been doing a lot of good work and I feel as if I've come along way from when I first started meeting with him. But I've been reaching snags these past couple weeks, and I believe I've finally reached the end of the thread.

My response to the things around me isn't one that's getting me where I want to go. So Roland has asked me to dig deeper, to excavate and take my thinking to a lower place to figure out what's really going on. I see now that for all my progress, I've not been able to rid myself of all the perceptions that led me to feel stuck and hopeless about a lot of things in my life.

The question I've been asking myself is who am I and what do I value, hoping that will lead me down the right path. While asking myself what I believe is entirely valid and necessary, it isn't the question I need to be asking myself in order to get unstuck. My beliefs should aid me, not hinder me. What I should be asking is:

Why do I see things the way I do?

And, how does how I see things affect my way of being?

Truth be told, that is a much more fruitful question to be asking and a much more useful vein to be exploring. I can't shake my culture, nor do I really want to. But there are many ways to respond to culture and society, just so happen the way I have been responding isn't in line with what I believe.

My past doesn't really haunt me. If anything, I'm just incredibly interested in figuring out how I was before I experienced all that has caused me to behave and respond the way I do today. I feel like a lot of answers are there.

So you see, I'm chasing my own Darjeeling Limited. Weighed down with baggage, hoping I'll catch my train in time. Doesn't seem like such a silly, obvious metaphor to me. While I know what it means, I'm still wondering, what does it really mean?

And the answers don't come easy, but I believe that I'll get there eventually. It starts today. I can start fleshing myself out right now because now is all I have. As far as I can see it right now, that's where my agency is. Here and now.

So let's do what little we can as much as we can. We humans were made for it.

I've talked a lot about myself here, but I'm curious, what do you think? Does any of this resonate with you? I'd love to hear about it and encourage you on your journey, we weren't meant to take it alone. So let 'er rip, I'm all ears!


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