A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Your Money Or Your Life

What is important to you? Your money? Your life? The quality of your life?  And what are the elements of a ‘life of quality?’  What is to be done for a culture in which these have become trivial matters with easy answers, but answers that are finally given to the wrong questions?

I grew up watching a man, a brilliant man, living in the darkness of his answers – such a darkness that he could never reach outside of it, and it was not to be entered; it was a canceling space.  I vowed a vow accumulated from a thousand moments of disappointment never to let that space take me over.

Teacher after teacher pointed to its openings, seemingly everywhere; portals at every corner.  I always slipped away; quicker and more elusive than the darkness.  The loves of my life offering from the dark margins, seemingly, the brightest light, only asking the acceptance of living in darkness.  And I eventually tried.  And could not.

It has been my impression that the doors to that darkness are everywhere; always accepting entrants. It captured my father when he was a young man, and my mother until her old age, most of my teachers and many of my friends.  Accepting life “as it is,” accepting the realities of our time, has become the saddest and most egregious acquiescence; a world of questions without answers or answers without questions.

As a child I wondered at the wastefulness of life: a tiny bird, dead from flying into a window (I had not yet wondered at windows); the multitudes of ants washed away in floods, coating the water in places like a thin red carpet; rotting dolphin still undulating, now only from the surf, stinking far beyond stinking…  I learned that life is more than these deaths, really has nothing (or very little) to do with them.  A dolphin still in the waves off shore leaping and watching me with a great still-seeing eye; the ants that raged up my foolish leg; the bird that flitted around a palm tree on an unseen puff of breeze: these could instantly replace the deaths in my feelings just as they did in the world.

Back to my question: what are the elements of a life of quality? I know now that the answer is to be found where the question is not asked.  It is like your car keys; there is no reason to look for them if they are clipped to your belt. 

But then again it is possible to give up looking once all apparent options have been exhausted.  That could be our situation today.  It is hard to ask the question, to go on looking, when there seems to be no possibility of a satisfactory solution:  “Your money or your life.”….  “Give me a moment!”

It is an old joke – Jack Benny I think – and a sad one; sad that it causes sufficient tension to power a laugh.  I am reminded of the first time that I taught school – a section on psychology in a life science course – seventh grade.  To develop the proper context for the lesson I said, “Now imagine that your father has been hit by a truck.”  To my modest surprise the room was filled with various forms of laughter…except for one little girl who began to cry (no, her father had not been hit by a truck; and yes, it was a terrible question to ask).

What do we as a culture see as contributing to quality of life?  There are the standard answers: health, good friends, being loved and loving others, spiritual clarity and depth.  And others: a job one likes, useful work, safety from deprivation and want, a sufficiency of wealth to meet both needs and most reasonable wants.  Still others: more wealth than most other people, a job that pays a lot, a job with a lot of power, domination of others.  But there are a growing number in the society who would answer with a list of minimums: to not be afraid, to not be hungry or thirsty, to not be sick, to have enough shelter and clothing that danger and discomfort are minimal.

We have been trained to seek the answer in objects or actions.  Those in the know have been telling us for 3000 years that those are exactly the wrong places to look – in fact, to look at all is defeat.  Every thoughtful person who has lived with some depth of experience understands this at some level even as we continue relying on having and doing.

What makes this important, so important, is that the Great Many are entering a new age.  The earth cannot continue to supply humans with the life to which we (about a third of us) have become accustom; the transition will be demanding and dangerous.  The economic and power elite will attempt to dominate us for their own ends, and we will attempt to mimic them and dominate each other.  How to live in such a time, how to live with some grace, dignity and satisfaction is my concern; not for me, an old man who will only see the beginning, but for those who are now young and who will grow into the fullness of the changes and difficulties.

We are not starting out well, just as we must.  Having lost, deeply seriously lost, our connections to what being a living thing is, the rediscovery will not be easy, just necessary.  The way is there for us to find. 10 million other species can help show the way… if we give them a chance.

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