Every discomfort is only an abortive metaphysical experience

In the last few days I’ve returned to the philosophical pessimist Emil Mihai Cioran, who I initially started reading during the first lockdown only to find his work a bit too cutting for my current situation. This aphorism from The Trouble With Being Born has been reverberating in my psyche since I read it on a train earlier today:

Everything is a game – without such a revelation, the sensation we haul through our usual lives would not have that characteristic stamp our metaphysical experiences require to be distinguished from their imitations, our discomforts. For every discomfort is only an abortive metaphysical experience.

It left me preoccupied by a tendency I have observed in myself and others to somatize difficult feelings; ontologizing them as bodily sensations beyond the scope of cognitive or emotional awareness, in some sense external to us even as they plague our most intimate experience and constrain the scope of our being. Ian Craib suggests in one of my all time favourite books that there’s a growing cultural unwillingness to tolerate disappointment, the inevitable frustrations of a recalcitrant reality which can at best meet only some of our aspirations while frustrating others:

Some part of us wants immediate satisfaction, wants it all and wants it now, and whilst we might try to rationalise this away with our knowledge that it is unreasonable, our gut reactions belie our heads … I spend my life surrounded by other people, who are more or less independent of me and constantly doing things on their account. As a consequence, I have to adjust to them. If I am to control my own life, then I will first have to control the lives of all those around me.

Ian Craib, The Importance of Disappointment, Pg 5-7

Cioran’s aphorism leaves me preoccupied by the latently metaphysical character of disappointment. The discomforts we feel, from the mundane to the profound, index this propensity towards disappointment and challenge us to confront the reality of an existence in which they are fundamentally unavoidable. But instead we avoid, evade and explain in the hope we can go around the discomfort in spite of our gut knowledge that the only meaningful option is to go through it.

It’s not just that we can learn about ourselves from our discomforts, we can learn about the nature of reality and our place within it.

(Yes I’m aware of how much Cioran would despise the conclusion I’ve drawn from his aphorism 😂)

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