Holding Hope Lightly

Things happen. The old joke tells us, “If you want to hear laughter, tell God your plans.” Whatever the cause of your disappointment, you will not get everything you want.

Your future depends on what you do then — what attitude you take to the downturns of life.

Buddhists say, “Live the life you have, not the one you want.If you aim for stardom in the National Basketball Association, but Mother Nature and your ancestors’ genes allow you 5’5″ (1.65 meters) of height, the life you want is above you, beyond your short reach.

A wonderful lifetime might still be yours, but it won’t be in the arms of your first love career.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said beings are “thrown into life.Moreover, we emerge in circumstances we didn’t choose; lucky, unlucky, or a mixture. Skin color, nationality, the care we receive growing up, our inborn body and brain all greet us from the start.

Over time, no matter those who love us, oversee or mistreat us, we are left to give control of our lives to others or take responsibility for ourselves.

What choice do we have? What does responsibility even mean?

Every individual decides whether to take a direction set by someone else (an advisor, parent, protector, or Divinity). If he accepts the necessity of following that route, he will find limitations imposed on his choices and behavior.

For example:

  • Go to church on Sunday?Yes.
  • Take the name of the Lord in vain?No.

But, as many have noted, there is no certainty of the authority behind those answers. If we accept them, we trust both the guide and his or her guidance. We take them on faith. The world of worshipful belief offers over 200 varieties of Christianity in the USA alone and an estimated variety of more than 4000 religions worldwide.

Instead, Heidegger advises, we can give our actions importance and weight from within ourselves.

The job entails examining the world of things and people, including our history and that of the world. We must behold life’s wonders and risks to find our own human and moral internal grounding for the beliefs and behaviors we create.

We can provide reasons for shaping our own life without an answer to the question of what external to us might ground our being. No absolute knowledge is possible, the philosopher states, of how we came to be, why we came to be, or what necessitates the continuation of our being and planet and all its other current and future inhabitants.

The boundaries we impose will be of our own making, knowing when to stand firm and when to give in, when to go first and when to wait, when to say yes and when to say no.

Whatever we decide, we will obtain mixed results.

Unlike the practical, industrious piglet of the “Three Little Pigs” fable, we humans discover that the effort required to build our security is sometimes inadequate to unpredictable whirlwind events blowing our houses down.

Nonetheless, we can hope our mindset will allow joy in the precious moments without demanding life to behave itself and be what it cannot. Grief and the best of times stand beside each other in all but the luckiest and unluckiest lives.

Potential insecurity follows from the freedom and responsibility of grounding ourselves without a religious belief system. Choosing one’s own path omits the comfort attainable by people of abiding faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving Deity. Religion can also be a buffer against mortality and enable a sense of support in periods of misfortune.

Either way, we make our selection and, if we are sympathetic to the array of other life forms present and ahead, consider more than our own happiness. Responsibility doesn’t mean doing anything we want. We must adjust our stance as our living of life informs us of what we require, what we love, and our duties to others and the world.

The psychologist Robert Wright reported attending a meditation retreat for several days. Little opportunity for conversation occurred. Rather, undertaking individual meditation was the focus, with occasional consultations from an experienced guide.

Wright has written and spoken about struggling to achieve a satisfying practice of this art. However, to his delight, he achieved a transcendent experience in the midst of a long meditation session, a sense of benign well-being and relief from the burden of life, something beyond his imagination.


Soon after, he told his advisor what happened. Our professor of psychology received an answer both sobering and enlightening.That’s fine, but don’t get too attached to it.

In saying this, his mentor reminded him that too much desire, too much “wanting,” would contribute to suffering. Nothing lasts, and the transcendental moment might not return.

What then?

In an ever-changing world, in an ever-changing body and mind, we are in transit. More joy may be available if we hold our hopes lightly: keep the shortness of our days in the back of our minds and our eyes on the possibilities of the moment we are in.

Cheers to the happiest possible life, my friends.

====================================

Letting Go is the name of the first image, the work of gnuckx. Next comes A Sunrise Over the Virgin River by Laura Hedien. A Semblance of Hope, a photo of Jojo Lacerona, follows. Laura Hedien’s March 2021 image of a Utah Sunrise completes the array after the Three Little Pigs video.

The first and third of these were sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Laura Hedien’s work can be found at https://laura-hedien.pixels.com/ She has given me her kind permission to use the photographs displayed here.

The Meaning of Life is…

Thoughtful people since the beginning of time have looked for the answer to the biggest question of all: what is the meaning of life? But recently I’ve begun to wonder whether perhaps it is the wrong question. The existentialists have long suggested that it is our job, each of us, to find our own meaning. But even if you believe in the idea that we must take responsibility for the one life that we have and view it as a creative act, to make what we can of it, I’m still not convinced that the question is the best one available.

What then might be a better question? The question I’m thinking of is, what are the meanings of a life, the purposes to which one puts that life? In other words, the meaning of a life, its target or goal, would be viewed as a changeable and changing thing, not just different from one individual to another as the existentialists suggest, but different depending upon the moment that the question is asked of any single life. It might be one thing when you are 15 and quite another when you are 50, still another at 75.

But first let us consider very briefly the answers to the original question, what is the meaning of life? One could go on at length about the various “isms: hedonism, stoicism, and so forth. I will not do this. Others know more about them and have already discussed them at great length. Still, one must give a nod in the direction of the meaning of life being the simple biological fact of procreation, continuing the human race. The religious might argue that the will of God for each individual as the meaning for that particular person, along with doing honor to God’s law. Then there are those who believe that life is intended to increase one’s understanding and knowledge, or to have the maximal amount of pleasure, or to perfect oneself by fulfilling your innate talents and capacities, or to make the world a better place than you found it, or quite simply to love in a deep and abiding fashion.

But, my current thought is that there is no single meaning for all persons, but changing meanings as we grow up and age. Early-on, the meaning of our lives is perhaps to be found in discovering what we can do, who we are, and mastering the extraordinary number of things any little person has to learn just to get out the door and off to school. Not far into the process one must determine how to relate to people, how to honor yourself without disrespecting others, figuring out where you stand in the pecking order of athletic, intellectual, and social competition. Discovering one’s vocation must be on the list, since most of us take so much meaning from what we do for a living, be it as a captain of industry, a scholar, a salesperson, or parent. All the better if what we do for a living provides a sense of fulfillment, creativity, acknowledgment, accomplishment, and growth.

Meaning is to be found in a life-partner too, in love, in family, in raising a child, and in risking your heart. And over time, friendships, especially if they are life-long, have great value and define us as people and as members of a tiny group of two or more friends or part of a community, pulling-together to do something worthwhile.

In war-time, loyalty, comradeship, and courage take special meaning; even to the point that, a few years before World War II, the Japanese government proclaimed loyalty as essential to the national morality. And, in the war itself, the idea of behaving honorably in the face of certain death, never allowing himself to be captured, guided the Japanese soldier and gave meaning to his service. Emperor, country, and comrades counted for a lot; even the importance of family sometimes diminished in the heat of battle, by comparison, when it was necessary to steel one self against the terror of combat.

Under less severe circumstances, learning is something that gives purpose as we work to understand ourselves and the human condition, as well as particular things about the world. Later on in life, for many people comes a certain generosity of spirit, a desire to help those who are coming after us, to lend a hand. And the shortness of time contributes to intensity of feeling, making the beauty of the earth, a smile, a song, an act of kindness, or an embrace all the more touching because we know that before too long, the sweetness of life will no longer be ours to savor.

Having taken all this time on the question I’ve raised, I think there is danger in spending too much time on trying to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life? If one has learned anything from life itself, it is that the time is precious and waiting in contemplation for a revelation of what we should do risks squandering the time we have. But most of us are comforted by a sense of direction, and one should try to determine what is of value, and to conform one’s behavior to what is important and worthy of effort and time. Indeed, mindfulness and commitment-based psychotherapies work very hard to encourage the person to become detached from things that are not important, and instead to focus him on his values and how to “live” them.

There is worth, then, in simply knowing that the clock is ticking and that the day is short; but only if that knowledge creates a sense of urgency in you and the desire to make the most of the time.

As John Donne wrote so long ago:

“Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”