Category — Creating Meaning
This past weekend I attended the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. It was a very significant experience for me and I am still collecting my thoughts about all I heard and experienced. This conference attracted many of the big names in Atheism including Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling. While I’ll likely compose a post about what I learned from each of the speakers later on, today I wanted to focus on something that the above two men were asked not at the conference, but on the Australian television program Q&A.
The Monday before the conference Q&A hosted a program with Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell asking a whole host of questions about religion and its place in society. At one point Richard Dawkins was asked by Cardinal Pell “Can science explain why we are here, rather than how we are here?” Cardinal Pell went on to say that it is science’s inability to answer the why that demonstrates why we need religion in our lives.
Richard Dawkins wasn’t going to let that one through! Instead he answered in true Dawkins style, that this sort of question isn’t even valid, necessary or worth asking. Dawkins intimated that this in fact was a silly question and science has more worthwhile questions to be answering.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied with this response. I have spent a great deal of my life wondering why and what for. It is only in recent years (which brought about the advent of this blog) that I have changed my perception on this question, realising that there is no inherent meaning to us being here, but rather an opportunity for each of us to find what makes our individual lives meaningful. What has naturally stemmed from this for me is that there is no longer a need for religion and that in fact religion focuses our attention in an entirely wrong direction (an after-life rather than this life). The more I realised that religion was not necessary, I also realised that all of it seemed totally ludicrous, and that the stories surrounding religion weren’t even very creative or very good stories.
As it turns out, the very next Monday, A.C. Grayling was on Q&A with some other panellists and he was asked by a member of the audience whether he agreed with Richard Dawkins’ position on asking the why questions. His response was like a breath of fresh air for me. This portion of the show went like this:
BEN PEAKE: My question is for AC Grayling. Last week on Q&A, Richard Dawkins said the question of “Why are we here?” is a silly question which doesn’t deserve consideration. Do you agree? If so, why do you believe that so many people find it important that that question has an answer?
AC GRAYLING: The problem with the question is that it is a question begging a question. If you think it is a valid question to ask, you have already made the assumption there is an answer external to what is the case about us, which is that as intelligent monkeys, we are essentially social animals, we live in communities with one another and we have a responsibility to think, to use the intelligence we have got and to make meaning, to make purpose in life. There isn’t an antecedent purpose which you can cite as the answer to that question “Why are we here?”. The fact is we are here, we have to get on with it, and make the best of it. And the way that we make the best of it is to make life meaningful. (Emphasis my own)
A.C. Grayling, a brilliant philosopher, was able to explain quite concisely, the problem we all seem to have with this question. We assume that there is an answer, because many of us want there to be an answer.
Let me explain it with this analogy, something that I have some experience with. Many people spend years talking to a psychologist, trying week in and week out to understand why one or both of their parents couldn’t love them. Sure, some weeks they complain about their partner, others their work colleagues or their problems with being close to their own children. In reality though, each week (just like each day) they carry around with them a question from their childhood – why did Dad leave, why was Mum always angry at me, why wasn’t I good enough, why was I not loved?
This question will never be answered, it can’t be answered because there is no answer. No matter how much someone might want to know the answer, none will come. The problem is with the question. Instead of wanting to know why, the time would be better spent implementing strategies to focus on the now and also might be better spent by understanding the reasons behind why one feels it is necessary to repeatedly ask this question of themselves over and over.
Accepting that we are complex enough to pose a question to which there is no objective answer is difficult. Furthermore, coming to terms with an answer that puts the responsibility of meaning on each of us individually is too burdensome for many of us. Relinquishing the comfort of religion when we realise that it no longer serves any purpose nor delivers any meaning is extremely confronting for many.
The meaning of life is not an absolute. This will take some time to come to grips with, but it is a worthwhile cause. Turn your focus instead to how you can make your own life personally meaningful and rejoice in the fact that this is how life really works. After all, do you really want some pre-determined purpose? Wouldn’t you prefer to choose what enlightens and enlivens you? I know I would and do.
April 19, 2012 1 Comment
Living a life with foggy or undefined values is like driving around in the depths of darkness. You can’t possibly know where you are heading or even where you want to go unless you have taken some real time out of your everyday busy existence to pause and ponder what is truly important to you.
I think when people hear the word “values” there is a tendency to stifle a huge yawn. It isn’t a very inspiring word and for me at least tends to conjure up memories of sitting in religious education at school talking about what morals and values were depicted in an equally uninspiring biblical story.
These are not the sorts of values to which I’m referring. Instead, think “guiding principles” or “life beacons”. What I’m talking about here are the essential elements in your life that make you who you are, and more importantly, guide you into being who you want to be.
Yet still, this may all seem a bit intangible and have that whiff of an impending activity involving brainstorming and butcher’s paper. In fact it’s the exact opposite of this. Your values aren’t determined by you coming up with something that sounds like it might be good. Rather, you already know what you need in your life, even if it has been buried under the layers of inauthenticity over the years.
If you feel bored, stressed, depressed, frustrated, angry or sad with any area of your life on a daily basis, then this is a clear sign that you are denying your own values and that you are suffocating under the weight of your own disappointment. You might already realise this to some extent, but feel powerless to know where to start in establishing any real change. The first step is to identify what values would occupy the life of your dreams.
As an example from my life at the moment, I can see very clearly where my situation is out of alignment with what I value most, and doing so is an important first step in changing the situation. I value freedom above almost anything else, and this includes the freedom to choose how to spend the hours of my day. For me this isn’t just a wish, this is a guiding principle in my life. Above all else I know I need to figure out a way to align my life with this value.
Another value that is imperative to my sense of self is meaningful engagement. There are many people out there who are just fine with doing a job five days a week, 48 weeks a year, that is neither meaningful nor engaging. This is certainly not me. I am finding that I feel physically ill at not being involved in activities that I feel are meaningfully engaging. As I’ve spent time over the last year brainstorming possible occupations for myself, almost everything I think of has been rejected after a day or two, and this is owing to this one value. For example, I’ve considered freelance writing as a possible career change, but the thought of spending time on assignments that I don’t feel are engaging or meaningful almost makes me shudder. Sure, some might think that adhering to a value like this severely limits my options and is a tad unrealistic, but I’m not out looking for something a bit better, or even something significantly better, I’m looking for the exact right fit. I’m looking for the extraordinary and the deeply fulfilling.
To give one more example, contribution is another value high on my agenda. This value has been integral to my decision making since I first contemplated university courses back in high school. When people were telling me I should become a lawyer or an engineer, I chose teaching because of the opportunities I saw in being able to contribute something to the lives of others. I have long been interested in shaping and contributing to young people in particular and I still am. Teaching mathematics is no longer the correct avenue to fulfil this value since it doesn’t align with my other values, but I will still carry this value of contribution with me into future decision-making.
If you don’t take the time to clearly and succinctly define what you value then you’ll be stuck where you are, possibly indefinitely. Once you identify your values they then serve as the cornerstones or beacons that guide you out of the mire of your current situation and into the brighter reality of tomorrow. If you don’t take the time to really get acquainted with what you need in your life, then you will have nowhere to shift your focus. Ultimately your focus will continue to be on your feelings of anger, depression and frustration, rather than on new feelings of excitement and curiosity at what is coming up next.
As you sit at work today, instead of watching the clock tick over or distracting yourself with yet another cute and goofy photo of a kitten, sneak a moment for yourself to identify your top five guiding beacons. Send them to yourself in an email, keep them on your phone, put them in your calendar and set a reminder for yourself to view them each day.
This is the beginning. This is how you will change your life. This is how your focus will begin to change and with it your external reality.
I would love for you to share even just one of your values with me and with those who stop by to read this post, so please take a moment to share in the comments below.
March 26, 2012 4 Comments
Before I begin I have to give you a bit of an idea about how much I detest exercise. I’m not one for discomfort, not at all. You’ll never find me volunteering to rough it and in the harsh Australian sun you’ll find me hiding inside worshipping my air conditioner. I love holidaying in winter where I can walk around all day and never work up a sweat. I like to confine my body to what it was naturally born to do, namely walking. I’ll also include dancing there as I’ve been known to dance all night long at weddings and parties since the age of 3.
The thing about exercise is that I just never understood it. I didn’t understand (and still don’t) why people would want to spend their lives chasing a ball or hitting and catching a ball. Sport seems so boring to me. I also didn’t know why people would ever want to get hot and sweaty. If there’s one thing that makes me extremely uncomfortable it has to be sweat and humidity.
When I think about exercise I think about that line out of Back To The Future III where Doc explains the future to people in the Wild West.
Doc: And in the future, we don’t need horses. We have motorized carriages called automobiles.
Saloon Old Timer #3 : If everybody’s got one of these auto-whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore?
Doc : Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun.
Saloon Old Timer #3 : Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?
My sentiments exactly, no kind of fun at all!
I was hoping to go my whole life being anti-exercise, or as long as practicable. I don’t buy into the notion that exercise influences weight and I know it’s probably 85% diet and only 15% exercise.
My husband talks to me about all the good endorphins he gets after a big cycle, but all I see is all the salt that has dried on his head after he has sweat buckets creating these endorphins. Better endorphins can be created in much more enjoyable ways!
But in October last year I decided the time had come for me to start exercising. This wasn’t the first time I had decided this by any means. I’ve had two gym memberships over the years. Both times I can safely say that the membership became just another card in my wallet. I didn’t know what to do at the gym, what equipment to use or how long to exercise for. My sporadic attempts didn’t build up enough momentum to allow time to see improvements and working out in a class full of people must have reminded me too much of school.
I’ve tried some at home gym equipment, including a treadmill and an elliptical trainer. One ended up on the verge I think and the other is waiting for me to get around to selling it. I’ve had a few workout dvds, including yoga and Zumba, but I quickly got bored and was frustrated at not seeing any significant improvements.
But in October I decided that my body was old for a 31 year old. My shoulders seemed too tight, my bones a bit too creaky and my limbs unforgivably flabby. So I decided I had to get serious and stop with all this “girly” exercise and instead get hard-core (for me at least). There was no point doing something just for fun. For one it wouldn’t be fun for long, and anything that fun probably wouldn’t give me decent results in a time frame I found favourable. I wanted variety, a challenge and some results.
So here I am, seven weeks into my P90X program, working out 6 days a week for about 75 minutes each day. For someone who considered themselves allergic to exercise, working out 6 days a week is an accomplishment in itself. It’s nearly a miracle. I would now consider working out a habit I’ve formed, even if some days I’d rather not do it. More amazing still is that I’m sweating buckets and not totally hating it. Perhaps my face is even showing more of a dewy freshness?
Do I now love exercise? No way. What about those endorphins? Nope, got none of those. Fresh air? Nup, I exercise inside.
So what then? Why do I keep doing it? Why do I even look forward to many of the days of the program?
The sense of accomplishment.
It’s hard for me to believe just how strong I’ve become. I can feel muscles everywhere, and the many days I’ve spent barely being able to walk or get up and down from the couch is certainly a testament to how hard I’ve been working.
Each week I can do more push-ups (normal, military, you name it), lift heavier weights, do more sit ups and go longer and harder in the cardio. My triceps are firming up so fast that I’ll never have to fear tuck-shop lady arms. My calves are rock hard and my thighs aren’t too far behind. My abs have a way to go but I know I’ll get there.
The real breakthrough was the other day when I decided to do a Zumba workout to mix it up and I realised that I barely broke a sweat nor did it even seem difficult to me. The sense of achievement was astounding.
Physical fitness is a real achievement for me because I’ve never had a natural skill nor affinity for exercise. I wouldn’t say I’m uncoordinated, because I do love to dance, but I’m the last person who does anything too out-doorsy or joins team sports.
By most reviews, the P90X program is considered quite challenging, and I did doubt whether I’d be capable. But the challenge and personal achievement possible is what has kept me going. As Tony Horton says about his AbRipper X workout, “I hate it, but I love it”. And that’s where I am now.
If you hate exercise like I do, don’t go for something fun, go for a sense of accomplishment. Whatever you dislike most, turn it around so that your focus is on achievement rather than fun and enjoyment. Push yourself to your limits and you just might find a new aspect of yourself, your personality and your capabilities that can add a new dimension to your life.
January 7, 2012 No Comments
I’m not much of a fan of New Year’s resolutions, or monthly goals or any goals for that matter. Too much planning and proclaiming doesn’t leave much room for flow and freedom, and for someone like me who is constantly thirsty for peace, freedom and insight, making a commitment to a goal is a significant turn-off.
Having said that, I think we all need some sort of over-arching purpose or goal to keep us in tune with our essential selves and what we truly want to achieve and experience.
A life without any purpose or focus is a life that stagnates. If each day goes by without you making the necessary choices to fulfil your potential, then very rapidly you will find yourself at the end of life wondering who you could have been and what you could have experienced and contributed. If you choose to delay making choices about your direction you will end up on a default path in life. Your attention will be bought by the advertising you consume and you will slowly become an archetype of the consumerist model.
All that is necessary is that you choose a theme for yourself for this year, 2012. This theme may not last the entire year, or perhaps it will extend into next year, but a theme is a useful place to start.
A theme is just an over-arching beacon to guide your focus throughout the year. It will ensure that you spend some of your time focussing on what is important to you and it will act as a personal motto, popping into your mind throughout the day, reminding you of who you are and what you want to achieve and experience.
I came across this idea from reading Tammy’s latest post on Rowdy Kittens where she explained what her theme was for 2011 and what her theme will be for 2012. In both instances Tammy has used a single word to define her theme and this struck me as a very powerful idea. This single word will serve as a mantra that you remind yourself of often. It will come to mind just when you were tempted to while away the hours in front of the TV or on the net. This word will gently coax you back, encouraging you to devote some of your time to what you hold most dear.
Here are a few suggestions of useful themes for 2012 to get you started on your brainstorming:
Health – this could mean eating better, exercising more, drinking more water, drinking less alcohol, meditating, breathing more deeply, stretching, sleeping
Unplug – this could mean watching less TV, spending less time on Facebook, or Twitter or Email, spending less time aimlessly wandering the net
Less – this could mean eating less, buying less, consuming less, doing less, working less, interacting less
Energise- this could mean eating better food, reading inspirational stories, watching motivational documentaries, engaging in energetic activities, meeting with upbeat friends
Learn- this could serve as a reminder to read more non-fiction, to educate yourself about healthier eating, to enrol in a new class, to take an online course, to learn a new form of exercise
Whatever you choose it will serve to remind you, in each moment, but especially during times of wasteful idleness, of the fact that you are always working towards being the best version of you and making the most of the time that you have. This word is your higher self calling your lower self to join in on gaining the best experiences and on creating the most personally meaningful life possible.
My theme for 2012 will be Create. Within this I will focus on: creating connections, creating and completing pieces of writing, creating ideas, creating my very best physique, creating a foundation for my financial future, creating more space and time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and with this theme in my mind I will no doubt uncover many opportunities to create.
So how about it? Why not choose a theme for 2012 and see where this leads you and how it just might improve the quality of your life this year.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and especially what theme you have chosen for 2012.
January 1, 2012 4 Comments
I can’t trace back to an exact date when I started taking the red pill, but I know that I’ve been taking it in small doses all my life, and for the past sixteen years regularly. In case you’re not sure what I’m referring to, it is a reference taken from The Matrix trilogy, now used popularly to refer to waking up to reality and truth.
Once you begin truly thinking for yourself, examining the whys and the hows, and being slightly suspicious of the truth behind everything you hear and think you know, there is no going back to the innocence and ignorance that you may have enjoyed before. No matter how much you might wish to go back to a life where you accepted the status quo, you can’t go back.
After some time, you will find that you are on the outskirts of the status quo, watching everyone participating around you, while you wonder what might be left for you. You can’t participate with those who are seemingly content with the way things are because you don’t understand how they continue to fail to awaken and they don’t understand what’s wrong with you and why you just can’t be happy. This is where I find myself now.
So what are your options? What are mine? All of us who find ourselves here on the fringe, on the edge, have to find some way to live outside of the status quo as much as possible, while we find a way to build a life and a world of our own imagining.
Eventually, more and more people will leave the status quo and will come to join the rest of us. This is how the world will change. It won’t happen in the space of a few months, or even a few years. It won’t be a sudden change in the world. Rather, individuals have been changing their lives. Now these individuals have started to gather with people similar to them and small groups are forming. Small, yet growing, movements are leading by example, sharing their ideas and knowledge, often in blog form, and more individuals feel drawn to experiment for themselves, and find a way to live true to their essence on the outskirts of the status quo.
So I’ve kept you in suspense long enough haven’t I? How am I going to live outside the system that I can no longer tolerate?
I am going to retire early and simplify my life. By early I mean at the end of 2015, at 35 years of age.
What were you expecting? Something more dramatic? Something more magical? Or perhaps you’re wondering how?
I will probably write further posts to explain some of this in more detail, especially if there’s any interest. But here are the bare bones of what I intend and what I am doing so far:
For the first 9 years of my working life I have saved hard (and then my husband joined me) and we have a house that is paid for. Thus our largest expense, the mortgage, is no longer an obstacle.
I no longer see our house as a “starter home”. I refuse to buy into the notion that I need something bigger and newer in a nicer location. The energy (time spent at work plus denying myself mental and intellectual freedom) that would be required to “upgrade” our house and lifestyle, is not something that is worthwhile nor feasible for me.
I could technically stop going to work now and rely on my husband’s income. There is no way I’m going to do that though. My financial independence is essential to me. I could not be the feminist that I am and simultaneously rely on my husband for resources. This might not sit well with some of you, and it may offend others of you, and yet this is what I am. And so, I will spend the next four years, saving and simplifying, so that I may achieve my financial freedom.
I have been reading the book and blog by Jacob, over at Early Retirement Extreme, and so much of what he says resonates deeply with me. As a numbers person myself, I enjoy his analysis and the way he has crunched the numbers for himself. To that end I have begun creating a few spreadsheets which calculate daily expenditure, average expenditure and projected savings progress. I aim to save at least 80% of my income over the next four years.
As I save I will learn more about how to simplify my life and how to become more self-subsistent. Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a big consumer, most people know I don’t even enjoy going shopping, there is more I can do to combat my consumerism. I am reading about how to eat more simply and am making progress with this. Grocery expenses are our largest expenditure. I intend to learn how to sew and to expand our vegetable garden.
I won’t be able to be completely self-subsistent and will thus be living somewhat inside the economic system of our world. I will focus on buying only those things that are a need, with the intention of buying quality items that last almost a lifetime, rather than succumbing to the need to upgrade constantly.
Once I have a high level of savings, I intend to live off the interest earned. I don’t intent to “play the stockmarket” or to become a financial wiz. Unfortunately none of that really interests me. At this stage I intend to earn interest from my savings (either from a term deposit or a high savings account) and live off that interest. At this stage my aim is to live comfortably and happily off around $12k – $15k a year. I realise that this wouldn’t be possible without living within the economic structure we have in place and until I come up with a better strategy, this doesn’t bother me too much.
What I have presented above is put in basic terms, but it really isn’t much more difficult than that. I have always said that if only there was a job where you could get paid to be an eternal student, learning whatever you want whenever you want, then that would be my dream job. Unfortunately there is no such occupation, and unless I find a patron soon, I will have to fund my own dream.
The only thing I’ve ever truly wanted is to be free. I’ve tried to convince myself from inside our world system that I am, but since taking the red pill I know I’m not. I can’t just get on with it and be happy with the way things are now that I know better. Having had this brief hiatus from “the real world” I now know how sweet it is and that this is the life for me.
To reach my potential and to find deep fulfilment I need time, space and flexibility. To achieve this I need to exit the world of work and to do this I need to exit the world of consumerism.
I’m not the first to do this, and I know I won’t be the last. I’m joining one of the small movements.
And what will I be doing from 2016 onwards? I don’t know yet. I envision that it entails more sustained writing and a deeper contribution to moving this world in a new direction. But it is too soon to start talking about that.
I may find that I don’t meet my target or that my calculations were optimistic. I may find a need to continue with part time work for either financial reasons or otherwise. This is all ok with me. I know that either way, 2016 will be the year of my true freedom.
What will you do now that you’ve taken the red pill?
I’d love to hear what you think about this or address any questions you might have.
December 20, 2011 5 Comments