Some Big Questions with Small Answers

From time to time I take stock by asking myself some big questions. In case you’re interested, Vera, here are my answers as of today (in other words, either the questions or answers, or both, could change):

What’s the purpose of life?

Perhaps there is none. My focus is on experiencing life fully.

What stands in the way of contentment and happiness?

Three things come to mind: 1) desire, 2) the need to make a difference and 3) the idea that I and the world should be something we’re not.

Is there a creator-being (God)?

No one knows. Moreover, it’s a question that need not be answered.

What is the prime age?

Physically, our 20s and even into our 30s. Cognitively, our mid-20s to mid-40s. Emotionally and psychologically, we can improve with age; there is no reason to believe we ever have to peak (subject to disease).

What’s the most important factor to consider in deciding where to work?

The attributes of the people who work there: their purpose, expertise, standards (both performance and ethical), and values.

What deserves more attention than it gets?

The inner life. The external receives nearly all our attention.

What are the most precious things in life?

Authentic, caring relationships. And experiences that excite us.

Is money the root of all evil?

No, although it’s the root of much evil. But ego plays a major role, too.

If there is no god, is there even such a thing as evil or sin?

Depends on what you mean by it. Clearly, there are things that harm oneself, others, or the earth. Call it what you want.

What would I do different if I had the opportunity to start over?

Not spend so much time looking for answers that don’t exist. Seek deeper understanding and become more aware of the knowable. Recognize the dangers of the ego and desire. Waste less time in meetings and watching TV and sporting events. Accept reality, expect nothing from others or fate, and be less judgmental. Eat less sugar and sugar-containing products. Be a better listener. Start my own business or firm. Be less attached to, dependent upon, and concerned with others and the ego. Value relationships more. Work less and play more. Live more in the moment.

What’s the best movie I’ve watched, the best book I’ve read, the best president we’ve had, the best college, etc.?

I’m tapped out with our obsession with rankings and hierarchies. They’re a distraction and waste of time.

What constitutes a good book?

One that’s worth reading more than once. If you want to know what authors and books I value, come and look at my bookcase (and the floor surrounding it).

What would I do different in rearing my children?

Be less concerned with imparting values and what I thought was knowledge, and regulating conduct, and more focused on helping them discover things and gain a deeper understanding of people and themselves. Ask the question “why?” more often.

What do you think of organized religion?

It demands I embrace too many ideas I no longer believe are true or necessary or even beneficial. And I’ve grown weary of the way the institution manipulates people through guilt, embraces obvious charlatans, and condones — indeed, helps perpetuate — ideologies and power structures that subjugate and pacify people. So organized religion no longer has a place in my life. Even more personally, it filled my psyche with the seeds of self-doubt and self-loathing, which nearly killed me. All and all, the dangers of organized religion are under-appreciated. That said, its rituals and ethical foundations can play an important and beneficial role in the world. And some of the most admirable, authentic people I’ve known I’ve met through the church (although, admittedly, some of the most deceitful, fraudulent, and despicable people I’ve met have been regular church-goers).

What’s unexplainable in life?

Most things. Of the many, two stand out in my life: 1) a vision in my 40s (very different from a dream) and 2) a born-again experience in my early 50s (bearing absolutely no resemblance to what evangelical Christians think of as being “born again”).

What do I hope to understand better?

My own mind.

What do I hope to control better?

My own thoughts.

What is the most destructive force on earth?

Fear.

What do I fear?

Too numerous to list. Someday I hope to fear nothing. My fears today are fewer and less powerful than they used to be. But I still am fearful of too many things. Courage is harder to muster than one would think.

What are the two most important words ever spoken?

“Fear not.” – Jesus

What are the three most important words ever spoken?

“Love one another.” – Jesus

Am I optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Neither. Moreover, my views of the future are of no import, either to me or to anyone else. I have no idea what the future holds, nor do I need to. My focus is on today. I looked forward to getting up this morning. And I expect to have the same excitement tomorrow morning.

Whom do I admire?

People who risk or sacrifice something to help others. And people who are authentic and don’t pretend to be somebody they aren’t. People who do their best. People who are honest (with others and themselves).

What traits serve people well?

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and courage.

What’s most important in life?

Inner peace.

What do I want to be remembered for?

I’ll be dead. Such questions don’t interest me. They seem silly and narcissistic.

 

 

To Have Goals or Not, That Is the Question

It’s easy to meander through life. Life will take you along for the ride. You don’t have to have a plan or goals — your own, that is. Society will provide you with all the goals you require. And before you know it, the journey will come to an end. And you’ll have lived your life — the one life has dictated for you.

That may be good enough. It might even be great. Who’s to say? Only you, I suppose. And me.

I’m sitting here this morning wondering not only about my country’s goals but also about my personal goals. For what time I have remaining.

Right now I feel my country is pursuing the wrong goals. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. Obviously, many people have different ideas about what’s important and what we should be pursuing. I hope they’re right, but I have some serious reservations. I fear we’re in the process of making a bad situation worse. I hope I’m wrong.

In the meantime, I have my own matters to address. What are my goals? What do I want to get out of life? Continue reading

Broken by the World. Isn’t Everyone?

In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”

Young people often fail to understand Hemingway’s words. But age tends to reveal that which was previously hidden. With age comes a realization that Hemingway was right.

For most of my life, I didn’t feel broken. But that changed. I won’t get into all the ways it changed here. Or when. Suffice it to say the world broke me. Continue reading

The Odds of Losing My Mind May Have Gone Up, But So What?

The fear of losing one’s mind wears on a lot of people. And for good reason. Alzheimer’s is a hideous disease.

No one wants to suffer from dementia. But quite a few of us will. That’s one of those stark realities of life we like to ignore. And for good reason.

Recently, I learned my odds of developing Alzheimer’s may have worsened. It seems people with severe or moderate head injuries that knock them out for a significant period of time, or who suffer amnesia as a result of the injury, are at significantly higher risk. No one seems to know why, but the correlation is clear and statistically significant.

A few months ago I was knocked unconscious for a considerable period of time when my head slammed into my steering wheel and back (I was wearing my seat belt, but the front airbag did not deploy). I can’t be sure how long I was out; however, from the EMS report I know it took the ambulance 16 minutes to arrive. I also know that, when I regained consciousness, emergency personnel were already on the scene. Moreover, I suffer from amnesia. So, based on the medical research, it seems my odds of contracting Alzheimer’s just went up.

My reaction to that possibility (if not probability) is, So what? I have more pressing concerns.

I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but such data really don’t alter my outlook. Not in the slightest. And here’s why.

I assume each and every day could be my last. So my focus isn’t on the long term. I don’t worry whether I’ll live to 70. Or 80. Or 90. Or lose my mind in 10 years. I am much more concerned with living now. More fully. Better. Really live and not just put in the time.

Putting in the time is a present risk, not a future potentiality. And it’s a risk that too often is realized, especially when I lose sight of the fact of the contingency of life, which I’m apt to do. Frankly, I waste too much of my time.

If I needed a reminder of the contingency of life, the accident was it. I know it could have gone differently — much worse. But what nearly happened to me was no different than what could happen to any of us, any day of the week. Life is contingent.

Which is fine. What’s not fine, however, is the way I squander my time — now, when I have my wits about me and am not suffering from any form of dementia.

I’m constantly amazed — and disappointed — by the amount of time I squander. To me, this represents a far greater threat than any increased risk of contracting a particular form of dementia in the future.

And it’s not related to my semi-retirement status either. The fact of the matter is, many people with full-time jobs fritter their time away, too. Many are just putting in the time. In fact, the distraction of full-time employment may make it easier to fritter one’s time away. Busyness easily can create the illusion of materiality and significance.

We all have specific risks of contracting particular diseases — conditions that may undermine the quality or duration of our lives. Sometimes they are passed onto us by our ancestors (genetic predispositions). Sometimes they are the consequences of our own actions (tobacco, alcohol and drugs). Or trauma (accidents). Or the environment. But no matter the specific risks or causes, it’s clear and obvious the end game is the same for each of us. It’s clear that each of our moments is equally valuable.

I may lose my mind, but, in the here and now, I’m much more concerned about losing a significant portion of my life: by squandering my time, by being a fritterer.

Ensuring that doesn’t happen requires thoughtful intentionality. And an awareness of what matters — what adds, what negates.

Unfortunately, merely putting in one’s time is a risk I’m not always adept at handling. Yet I’m keenly aware it represents a real and present danger. No one should have to be knocked unconscious to get that point.