Back in my early 20s when I was in the Air Force, I tried my best to be goth and embody the lyrics of Ministry’s “Everyday is Halloween.” I wore lots of black and hung out at Area 51, a goth club in Salt Lake City that our Wing Commander at Hill AFB told us to avoid. I was also reading the horror stories written by H.P. Lovecraft, the author who gave us the Cthulhu mythos and the dreaded Necronomicon (a copy of which I purchased out of fun).
I worked with an airman who was Wiccan and took the Necronomicon very seriously. I would half-heartedly read a passage, and my co-worker would quickly cast protective spells. He derided me for being so frivolous with such a dangerous book, as if one day I might summon demons out of the earth like in the movie, Evil Dead (one of the greatest horror movies ever made).
I thought it all rather silly, the Necronomicon a bunch of nonsense that was fun to get lost in. After all, how could something created in the mind of an author have any real influence on reality itself?
But there’s the rub, as it certainly influenced the mind of my co-worker, cultivating anxiety and fear at the mere sight of the book. Thoughts in our minds, regardless of their origin, have the power to affect our physiology.
I mentioned in my last article the seemingly contradictory act of people (like myself) standing in the cold and snow for hours just to visit a haunted house, to indulge in the “real” threat of being hacked apart by a masked maniac with a machete.
Even knowing our lives aren’t in any real danger, the fear we experience can make the chest tighten, the stomach do backflips, and pucker up our assholes into the size of a period.
In some ways, all this “adulting” we engage in—which drives our anxiety and depression—is just a big show, an obligatory haunted game we all play to survive. British philosopher Alan Watts argues that the self, the I which works so hard to succeed at all this adulting, is an illusion, and that “the whole value system—what’s important, good, bad, pleasant, painful, and so on—can be called into question.”
There’s no way to prove this, of course; nor does Watts attempt to. How could you? But the idea offers a useful thought experiment. What if the value of what is “good” (being partnered, having an abundance of cash) and what is “bad” (being single, living from paycheck to paycheck) is mere abstraction?
Our minds have the freedom to engage each day with a bit of silliness, like you would a haunted house. “All these games we play—social games, production games, survival games—are good games. But we take them too seriously. We think that the I is the only important thing,” writes Watts.
How can anxiety and depression thrive when there’s no I? When there’s nothing “real” for the I to fail at? If we take it all too seriously, we’re sort of missing the point. After all, we go to a haunted house not to achieve anything, but to just enjoy the experience itself.