Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Matters Most?

In the end what matters most is
How well did you live?
How well did you love?
How well did you learn to let go?

I have a banner in my apartment that has this quote on it. It's nice, right? It's true, right? Yet somehow it always seemed a little empty to me...like I didn't understand it on any deep level. And then.

The other night I watched a DVD called Encounters at the End of the World. I thought it was going to be a nature-documentary, but it really turned out to be a human-nature-documentary. The film-maker/narrator was a rather melancholy man with a german accent and some unusual opinions. The film is more or less about the interesting people who find themselves at McMurdo base in Antarctica - what they do, where they've been, who they are, and why they're there. Very interesting people for sure, but the filmmaker got a lot of them looking as melancholy as he was. At one point he said a few things about how some scientists think that humanity's time on this planet is coming to an end sooner or later, and that really got me thinking (in a depressed fashion).

It would be arrogant to assume that humans are going to be around forever. And the end of humanity is a very unusual and sombering thing to contemplate. Unless we figure out how to build a self-sustaining spaceship with warp engines or find a well-placed wormhole or two, human life in this universe may cease to exist. What then? What was it all for? Where's the meaning?

The extinction of humanity adds a very different perspective on human activity. If we are going to be all gone someday (and maybe soon) what was the point of all the suffering? All the religious wars trying to get us all to believe the same thing? Indeed what is the point of suffering to create art, to track history, to do everything we assume to do for posterity? If no one is going to be around to know us, to understand us, what is the point of having lived and created and contributed to anything besides pure survival?

I tried to think of a way that we could have these things mean something in a self-referring way, like it matters because it affects the people who exists NOW, even if in the future nothing of us remains. And I agree that efforts aimed at reducing suffering and making people happy NOW are meaningful. But what about the pain we undergo? What about the 80 hour work weeks with 4 hours of sleep each night, the pain-staking labour some people have to do. What about the unnecessary suffering we are causing each other in the pursuit of some goal. With the perspective of humanity's demise, any goal other than reducing real suffering in the here and now truly seems meaningless to me. Why are people pushing themselves so hard to work so long to get some stuff that really adds nothing in terms of lessening suffering in their lives? Why are we sacrificing real relationships with each other - moments of true communion - to get more stuff or status or just plain money? When there's no one left to understand and remember, does it really matter if you were the President of your company or the mail-clerk? if you had a 20 inch television or a 64 inch television? if your lawn was green or motley?

Nothing. It won't matter a whit. When viewed from this perspective, what matters most?

How well did you live?
How well did you love?
How well did you learn to let go?

Now I understand. My interpretation: Enjoy your life, work to end suffering and cause joy, and don't worry about anything else.

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Disclaimer

I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.