Missing the Essentials!

“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest— whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards.”

So begins The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.

15 years ago, I remember sitting in a University lecture hall studying Camus. “So what of Camus’ question of suicide?” the professor asked. We discussed the problem of suicide passionately for 35 minutes.

I had semi-seriously contemplated suicide the previous year. I was extremely depressed. To me life was meaningless! Why had I not noticed this fact before? At that period in my life, I had not yet read Camus, but if I had, then his question would have made perfect sense to me. Life had its moments for sure, but were those moments really enough?

A year before that, I had become a vegan. I did not change my diet much, I had just stopped eating meat and dairy – I tried to eat a few more nuts and grains here and there. I felt fine at first. Apparently, it takes a number of months, even years, before your B12 becomes sufficiently depleted for you to notice. To this day, I really do not know exactly what I was missing, but I definitely noticed that something was very wrong. Apparently, the question I was really contemplating back then was “Is my life, missing a few essential vitamins and minerals, really worth living?”

I improved my diet and I started exercising. That was all it took. By the time of that Camus lecture I was a very happy person. (And I have been to this day.)

Camus’ question sounded absurd to me. “Why not commit suicide?” If Camus had been happy, he would not have asked this question.

Happiness is its own reason for living; you do not need another. I spoke up in class, “Perhaps Camus was just depressed. Maybe he simply needed to exercise more; maybe he was simply missing a few essential vitamins and minerals.” The class laughed in unison mostly dismissing my comment. No, no this is Camus; he is a serious philosopher, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His ideas are important and profound.

However, the professor was not laughing. He looked at me and nodded. He understood my meaning and asked a better question: “If one is full of joy and contentment, then does one actually need a philosophical reason to live? What could possibly compel you to commit suicide if you were and continued to be happy?”

Not a single person in the large lecture hall had an answer.

Of course, Camus’ question is a serious question for most people because most people are simply not happy.

This is just my way of reminding those of you in the northern hemisphere that the darker days of winter are coming. Spending hours and hours of your time meditating is wonderful, but do not forget to do the easy things too – like taking your vitamins.


A Terribly Scary Realization

Not long ago, while buying groceries, I had a terribly scary realization. I realized that I was treating the checkout clerk as a means to an end. (i.e. treating her as if her only reason for existing in that moment was to scan my items so that I could get on with my day, get on with more important matters - such as walking to my car, driving away in my car and getting stuck in traffic - you know those sorts of very important things.) Treating the present moment as a means to an end is characterised by impatience - we act and feel as if we want to be doing something else. I don't want to be talking to this checkout clerk, I'd rather be walking to my car. And then I don't want to be walking to my car, I'd rather be driving in my car. And then I don't want to be driving in my car, I'd rather be home having dinner. The pattern repeats without end. I am simply never satisfied with the present moment as it is naturally unfolding. Have you noticed that throughout the day you sometimes use the people that you meet as a means of escaping the present moment? We think, perhaps subconsciously, “How can I use you to get me to the next better moment?” We treat people as objects, as stepping-stones, as a means to an end.

We should never treat people as a means to an end. People are ends in themselves – just as their experience of the present moment is an end in itself. Everything always comes back to this moment and those who are experiencing it.

Today I want to share with you a simple but powerful exercise. Use the following exercise to help avoid treating the present moment (and each person that you meet) as a stepping-stone for the next “better” moment.

A 'Live-in-the-Moment' Exercise

At certain times throughout the day pretend that whatever you happen to be doing will never end. Suppose you are doing the dishes. Imagine that you will never finish doing them. What a dreadful thought – doing the dishes for the rest of time. Or perhaps waiting in line. The next time you are waiting in a queue imagine that you’ll never reach the front. Again, that would be a perfectly dreadful situation!

So why would we want to do that – why would we want to pretend that our present situation will never change? Well, if all future moments will be identical to the present moment then living in the present moment would be a cinch. That is to say, it would be pointless to long for some future moment if all future moments will be identical to the present moment. The present moment is already here! You would certainly not feel compelled to use the present moment as a stepping-stone to get to the next better moment if the next better moment will be no better than the previous better moment.

You can play the same game with your inner state (a feeling) as well as your outer state (ex. waiting in line). Imagine that your inner state will never change. Suppose you feel bored – now imagine that this feeling of boredom will persist for the rest of time. This is very interesting and rather frightening. If you really do this well, really convince yourself that your inner state will never change, it can be quite startling. You might even have a mini emotional breakdown. And in some cases that might be a very good thing to have.

Fully surrendering to this moment by pretending that it will loop endlessly may bring about the most remarkable inner change. Yet be careful, for longing for that inner change to occur (focusing on some future moment) will surely prevent you from fully surrendering to this moment. It is a nice catch-22.

Now after pretending for a time, remember the following refreshing truth: No state or situation remains the same even for a nanosecond; everything is always continuously changing. Enjoy the changes – in both your inner states and outer situations.


P.S. It has been a long time since my last post. My daughters are now 3 ½ years and 11 months old. I am enjoying the changes too, a lot of them. See you in another 11 months. (Maybe sooner, we’ll see.) Tallis