In Search of Lost Harmony

“We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” - "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau.

(Quite chaotic since this is another one of those essays where I am just trying to figure out stuff for myself as I go along)

Recently, my English class has been learning about Romanticism and the Transcendentalist era. While their origin conflicts with my own philosophy, I do find pieces of their ideas appealing as I pass by these crackling woods of a cozy fireplace. Do I plan to permanently live near those fireplaces? No, but it would be imprudent not to assimilate at least some of its warmth and sparks of wisdom. And so I dedicate this short essay to the epoch of almost two centuries ago, in search of repose amidst a time of inner turmoil, and ideals beyond my own, whilst fulfilling, somewhat tricky, positive nihilism.

Thoreau once said, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” The aphorism appears absurd at first glance, yet further rumination reveals a burning question: what is the point of passion, building the train, if all it does is encroach and ride over our lives? We work hours after hours, striving to become better, yet once we climb up to the point we dreamed of achieving, our desires only grow more voracious, and the mountain only grows twice as high. Such is the curse of humanity, the hedonistic treadmill bounded to us at birth. One may thus argue that true tranquility can only be attained within by finally stepping off the treadmill. Yet what is the point of living if we lose the passion that builds dreams and transforms society? If external accomplishment does not matter, is there a higher truth to strive towards? At least for me, a stubborn atheist, religion is not the answer. Positive nihilism tells me that I am the higher truth, in that I create the aspirations I wish to pursue, and the key lies in transmuting the external pleasure into an internal one. Albeit still prompted by external stimuli, the contentment comes from within, and so there is a higher reason to keep fighting, which stems not from materialism but from idealism.

The theory sounds palatable, and it is so to me, but nonetheless proves to be a challenge to implement. Everything is fundamentally meaningless, so I have to give meaning to everything myself, yet it is also incredibly easy to lose sight of the original assigned meaning, and when that happens, the delicate balance also collapses. Recently, I have been so overwhelmed with work: school, math, clubs, contests, etc. Everything just suddenly feels so burdensome, as if I am working solely to work.

And I don’t know, ... I think I lost the balance that I was just mentioning. These underlying problems manifest into bouts of irritating periods, like right now when I just don’t feel like I am doing the right thing. So I would swear to purge these bad habits the next day, the next week, or after Christmas break, which usually does happen, but fails to sustain itself and withers when the initial burst of energy wanes. Instead of leading a consistently happy life, my life currently looks like a boom and bust cycle chart from economics class. So I am writing this essay to assist myself in hopefully mitigating this hedonic treadmill, borrowing ideas from Transcendentalism to return to simplicity. The power comes from me - I am the one who ultimately powers everything. Instead of solely looking into the far future and setting remote plans according to positive nihilism, I need to focus on the present. Only then can I refind the lost harmony.

Come to think of it, positive nihilism and transcendentalism are really just two sides on the same coin. Both believe that the highest truth and sovereignty subsides in ourselves. It’s just that one emphasizes the meaning of the present world, and the other emphasizes our purpose in life. So really, all I have to do is balance these two ideals.

Anyway, this was a pretty weird/convoluted essay. Hope you liked it. Leave a comment to share your thoughts :D