The meaning of life is listening to Pavarotti, feeling the sun on your face, drinking a bottle of wine, and then another. The meaning of life is having a safe and healthy society, a happy family life, good health, a loving wife, work that you like, smelling the smell of a new car and the ocean air, being able to hit a bull’s-eye, coming home with the fish and not another fish story.
said Carmine Pucci, a butcher.
People ask: “What is the meaning of life?”
My own answer is: “Living is the point of life – mindfully, with presence… and, to paraphrase Carmine Pucci, coming home with the fish and not another fish story about the meaning of life.”
ref: The Meaning of Life, by David Friend and the Editors of LIFE, 1991
Fish image available from Shutterstock.
There is a chandelier in my sitting room. It’s hung too low. I bump into it with my noggin now and then. Everyone tells me I need to get an S-hook and raise it up a bit. They assure me that it is an easy fix.
But I am not interested. This problem is a solution. This chandelier keeps me awake. Chandeliers are meant to illuminate, aren’t they?! This one does so even when it is not lit.
- Who is there?
related: essays on pattern interruption/choice awareness
What Would Henry Rollins Do
Rollins once wrote:
He tells me he’s doing better now
It’s been a long upward crawl up from the sewer
The bottom floor was hell for real
He used to be addicted to junk
Now he’s addicted to talking about
How he’s not addicted to junk
Counting the days he’s been clean
He talks about junk more now than when he was using it
Makes me think that no one gets away from it all the way
The more he talks, the more I see the monkey
Breathing down his neck
Singing sweetly in his ear
Telling him to come home
No one over gets away
No one ever crawls all the way out
They become living documents
Tributes to the overwhelming claws of the 10 ton monkey.
Rollins, a modern-day rascal sage, is right and Rollins is wrong. He’s right about the “addiction to talking about addiction” and he is wrong in prognosis: you can get away if you are willing to let go of the identity of an addict. As a clinician, I’ve seen this happen many a time. The key to getting away is this: recovery need not be your only existential accomplishment. Recovery need not be your only source of identity. Document not your recovery but what follows it. And the monkey moves on to look for another back to ride on.
Comparing 12-Step and Non-Step Models of Addiction Recovery (IRETA – the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions)
The Bananas of Slip/Lapse/Re-Lapse Prevention (Somov, 2003-5)…
Being isn’t a given.
Being is a taken.
“To be” is a verb, a documentation of action.
Being isn’t a cause, being is a consequence
of willing oneself into continuation,
a consequence of taking a breath,
a consequence of taking a chance,
a consequence of taking responsibility,
a consequence of taking a life (via eating, self-defense, etc).
Shakespeare knew it.
And so did Shopenhauer (the grandpa of European Logotherapy, in my opinion).
On the way home from work, at a stop sign, I noticed a pigeon walking circles around an empty bag of potato chips.
Does this matter?
It depends on your existential filter.
A Sufi teacher, Sayad Ali Shah, once said:
“You must become as aware of insignificance as you think you are of significance; do not [just] seek feelings of significance alone.”
Why is that?
Because what doesn’t matter matters too.
That, in my understanding, is the real meaning of logotherapy.
“Tat tvam asi” is an ancient Vedic mantra which means: “You are that” or “That you are.”
What does it mean? It means that Universe (Reality) is not inter-personal but intra-personal.
What does that mean? It means that when you look “outside” you are looking “inside.”
What does that mean? That means that you are seamlessly embedded in a beginning-less, bound-less, cosmic Oneness of all that is.
What does “it” mean to “you”?
Same as ‘”it” means to “me” – “it” means peace… from our dualistic illusion of separateness.
In sum: “I” = “It” = “You” = Oneness (of all that right now is)
Only All That Is requires no quotation marks.
image: “Tat Tvam Asi/I = You” by Pavel Somov (circa 2010)
related: Old Vedic Trick by Pavel Somov
Freud once wrote: “The strength of the [...] wishes can [...] be detected behind the prohibition behind them.”
I think this line is essential to understanding the struggle of compulsion.
Abstinence feeds (uncontrolled) desire whereas moderation extinguishes it (through controlled satisfaction).
A caveat (to preempt misunderstanding): socially unacceptable, zero-sum desires and wishes (e.g. to harm another person) must be suppressed for the social contract to work; suppressing the rest of the desire only feeds it.
This is no axiom about human behavior but merely a point to consider and possibly learn from.
Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego actually means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.” “The I” is “the information” that you have about you.
The ego-based view of the self is as unstable as a table on three legs. There are three issues with ego we need to examine, and they all start with the letter I. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information. Let’s take a closer look.
Ego is Information
Ego is a collection of self-descriptions, just a bunch of words written down on the mirror of your consciousness. Let’s say I point at the moon with my index finger. Is my finger the moon that I am pointing at? Of course not. Now ponder this: are you the information that you have about you or are you that which this information is about? Are you a self-description or that which you are describing?
Ego is Identification (with the External)
Identification is a process of pointing at something external, at something outside of you, and equating yourself with that. We’ve already touched on that earlier in the chapter. Identifying yourself with what you are not is absurd. Identifying yourself with something that you are not is like pointing one finger at yourself and the other finger at something else and then claiming that you are pointing …
Mori Ogai once wrote:
“Neither fearing nor yearning for death, I walk down the descending slope of life.”
Sounds like surrender?
Acceptance is power.
Psychologically speaking, koans are a unique way to inoculate a human mind to the anxiety of uncertainty. When we encounter uncertainty, we are stumped. Uncertainty frustrates us with its enigmatic nonsense. Koans, in their unanswerable quality, effectively simulate such moments of uncertainty.
Author Hee-Jin Kim explains: the koans are “realized, not solved” (1975, 101). Admittedly, this explanation is a bit of a puzzle itself. But here’s how I make sense of it. A koan, once again, is an unanswerable puzzle. If we take it on, we begin banging our dualistic head against the nondual wall of the unknown . At some point, we realize that there is no solution, and we settle into a don’t-know mind.
This realization, of course, comes up pretty early in the koan work. And it serves as the true beginning, not the end of the process. Knowing in advance that you are working with an unanswerable question, you accept your limitations. No longer trying to know the unknowable, you calmly remain with the question in a state of not knowing. Knowingly, you keep chasing the tail of not knowing in a process that, I believe, very much parallels the day-to-day mystery of life.
Thus, the potential therapeutic value of koan work as a kind of one-question-therapy that can help soothe the perfectionistic thirst for answers.
Here are a few of the koans [from the Present Perfect book] that I developed to challenge perfectionistic thinking for my clients and my readers: