Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Question to Ask Ourselves

According to Nietzsche, the test of our lives is to ask ourselves the question do you love your life enough that you would repeat it an infinite number of times? He calls this existential question eternal recurrence. 

When we love our lives then we can say yes, I would live this life over and over again.  When we live with no regrets, then we can say yes, I would live this life over and over again..  Most of us are apt to say, however, I would repeat some, but not all.  I would take the good choices, but not the bad choices, the the happiness but not the sadness, the satisfaction but not the dissatisfaction, the health but not the pain, the well being but not the suffering. 

But life doesn't work like that.  First of all, life is all of this—good choices, bad choices, happiness, sadness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, health, pain, well being, suffering.  To expect only the good choices and positive aspects is to live in delusion as to what life is.  Furthermore, we learn from those poor choices and negative aspects of life; we appreciate the positive aspects when we contrast them with the negative because we have the comparison.  We are who we are today because of everything that has happened to us and every choice we have made in the past.  Many of the choices we make teach us and help us to live better lives. 

It's important to remember, however, the interconnectedness of our life circumstances and choices.  For example, we were born into A, B, and C, and because of this choose D.  D makes us happy. We like that choice.  It takes us to E and F.  G, however, is a choice we wish we didn't make because it takes us to H and I, which are circumstances we don't like.  However, choice J provides us with something we really like, and it only happened because of G, H, and I, and before them A-F.  We see how difficult it becomes to separate one circumstance or choice from the interconnected strand of choices.  Nonetheless, Nietzsche's question is a philosophical one that asks us to look at our life in the past, present, and future with critical, creative, and contemplative thinking.  In the end, this will make our lives more meaningful.  We may decide we would not live this life again.  That's okay.  That means we have looked at our lives and are not satisfied with all of the choices.  Learn from this.  We may decide based on our past choices that we need to make different choices for ourselves.  That's good too. It means we striving toward a fulfilling life. 

Wisdom is the accumulation of choices and experiences and the contemplation of those choices and experiences. 

The choices we  have now and make now are because of the choices we have had and have made in the past.  Likewise, who we will become in the future is determined by the choices we have now and the choices we will make now.   Bottom line: choose wisely always.  Our lives depend upon this.  This emphasize on our lives as determined by our choices should not become the onus of our ontology, the burden of our sense of being.  Rather, this choice should become our freedom, our responsibility, our escape from the prisons of delusion we create for ourselves. 

Keeping this question--do you love your life enough that you would repeat it an infinite number of times?--at the forefront of our actions throughout our lives can help us decide how we live our lives by the choices we make for ourselves.  It is not a question we only ask at the end of our lives. It is a question we ask now.  It is a question we ask ourselves over and over again.  Why?  Because we are who we are because of who we have been.  We will become who we will become because of who we are now.  Past shapes present.  Present shapes future. 

One of the ways we can help ourselves to live without regrets and to say yes to our  lives is to live passionately.  Life is passion.  Passionately throwing ourselves into life makes us appreciate life.  Love is absolutely essential:  love of ideas and ideals, love of possibility, love of the present moment, love of self creation and creativity, love of others, love of ourselves, love of life.  Passions are forms of insight and ways of understanding the world.  Passions are compasses for orienting ourselves through the currents of life.  Passions are the vehicle that take us to the promised land of our happiness, our satisfaction, our peace—our well being. 

Therefore, we should always gravitate toward life enhancing passions like love, perhaps the greatest of all the passions.  The highest virtue is accepting our lives as our lives and loving our lives. When we love our lives then we can say yes to our lives.  When we love our lives, then we create our lives into, as Voltaire called it, “the best of all possible worlds.”  And when we have created the best of all possible worlds, then we can answer yes to Nietzsche's great life-guiding question of eternal recurrence: Do you love your life enough that you would repeat it an infinite number of times?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Become Who We Are

What we do with our lives is up to us.  We should not just accept who we are but make something of ourselves despite contingencies of birth or circumstances.  Self realization is to become aware of our disposition and talents and passionately cultivate them into something that brings meaning to our lives.   Nietzsche said, “Become who you are.” 

How do we do this?  By the choices we make.  By what we think, say, and do. 

How do we choose wisely to become who we are?  By self reflection and realization  By awakening.

We choose who we will become.  Fate is the world into which  are thrown and the disposition with which we are born, but it is by choice that that we use our fate to our advantage and make meaningful lives for ourselves.  Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher said, “Fate is the person we become and the person we were born to be.”  In order to become the person we are meant to be we must look inward, shine the light on ourselves, and in this illumination, transform ourselves into something important to ourselves.   We create ourselves and we create our lives.  Essentially, we make something of our lives.  Nietzsche also said, “Give style to your character; it is a great art.”

How do we do this?  By believing we will and then doing it.  Will is the push to empowerment.  Empowerment is knowing we always have choices.  Choices are creation.  We create our selves.  We create our lives.  The two are the same.  We are always free.  Freedom is basic to existence.  Legend has it that the Buddha's last words were, “Every person is his or her own prison, but every person has the freedom to escape. Make this the journey and destination of your life.” (translation mine)

Therefore, despite the contingencies and character of our birth and despite our circumstances, we can shape and create ourselves and our lives according to our fashion and our sense of freedom.  We must do this always and again, over and over, until our last dying breath.  Freedom is basic to our existence and responsibility is the essence of freedom. We should, therefore, become passionately aware of ourselves, our potential, and our possibility, pick ourselves up by our choices, and determine who will be will become and who we will be.   

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Choice, Passion, Freedom

That we are unique may seem like a cliché, but it's true.  Because of our individual circumstances, contingencies, and choices we make, we are individuals.  Although at birth we had no choice as to our situation, as we mature and obtain the ability to decide, we make ourselves and we create our lives through our choices.  At some point, we cannot blame anyone else for our lives.  We cannot hope for anyone else to change our lives.  Only we, as individuals, can do this.  We are responsible for ourselves.  Furthermore, we are always making individual choices.  It doesn't matter if the whole world is making them at the same time; ours is still an individual choice.  Responsibility is always responsibility of our individual choices and acceptance of the consequences that result from those choices.

Our choices, therefore, become our lives, and through our choices, we must passionately commit ourselves to a way of life.   Soren Kierkegaard said, “Existence is passionate commitment to life.”  His concept of passion, however, is not the passion erupting on stage like a Greek tragedy or exploding on TV like a modern reality show; rather, he advocated for an avocation of passion that is inwardly contained, a quiet intensity that emerges from our being and doing.  Passion motivates us.  Passion gives meaning to life.  When we allow our passion to guide us through life, then our choices matter because we align our choices with our passion. 

Because we can make choices, we are free.  Freedom, in this context, means personal freedom: how we think of ourselves, how we behave, and how we think of our behavior.  This personal freedom ties back to each of us an individual smaking choices, deciding how to live our lives, and accepting the consequences and taking responsibility once we've made our choices.  Being alive is taking hold or our lives, realizing our talents and virtues, loving ourselves in a very important way, and understanding that what our lives are about is manifesting those talents, revealing those virtues, throwing ourselves into the work we do, and becoming the people we really are. 

We are what we are and we become what we become because of the personal commitments and choices we make.   Absolute freedom is absence of ultimate constraints because there are always choices.  Freedom isn't the freedom to do whatever we want; freedom is to do what we want with full individual responsibility for what we have done.

Our freedom—that is, our choices—may take us to a situation or a life we may find difficult, unfulfilling, or absurd.  We may find ourselves asking, as David Byrne does in the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime, “Well, how did I get here?”  These moments are opportunities for spiritual practice.  They allows us to discover who we are and what we're supposed to do, taking us back to the two essential and existential questions we should frequently ask ourselves: Who am I? What am I doing?  We find  out who we are by doing and looking at what we have done.  Therefore, do.  As Jean Paul Sartre said, “To be is to do.” 

Ultimately, it's up to us, each of us as an individual.  So gear up the passions and live a passionate life.  Make a commitment to choice and responsibility for that choice.  Live with no excuses.  Practice self reliance, self realization, and self responsibility no matter how fast, how superficial, how stupid, or how furious the world. 

Expanding Awareness Meditation Practice

In his book Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment Ezra Bayda offers an expanding awareness meditation practice for quelling the anxious quiver of being.  I've used it several times to quiet, accept, and understand the stress I create for myself.  I find it very effective.   

The first step is to mindfully stop and sit for a few minutes and begin noticing only your breath.  You don't have to sit in a formal meditation position.  Anywhere is fine: your couch, your office chair, your seat on the plane, your car before you start it or stop it and move on to the next moment.  You become aware of your body.  You notice how you've placed your hands and legs.  You notice any tightness, soreness, or pain or the absence of them.  You pay attention to your breathing, the air filling your lungs, and the air released through your nose.  You count your breath and once you reach fifty breaths you begin the second step.

The second step takes you outside of yourself and into your immediate surroundings.  You mindfully notice where you are without any judgments.  You become aware of what you see and what you hear.  You place your emphasis on the senses rather than the mind.  You do this for several minutes.  If your mind wanders to whatever you are worrying or wondering about, as it is apt to do, you take a breath, notice your breath again, and the environment you hear and see.    

Once you've done this for a minute or so, you move on to the third step.  You move outside yourself and your surroundings and become aware of this tiny moment in the vast expanse of moments that have existed and will exist in  eternity.  You envision yourself sitting in this moment in the universe and eternity.  Here and now: this moment, right now: universe, eternity.  This is a good reminder that whatever worries you is small in the grand scheme of things.  You are grain of sand on a million mile beach existing for millennium.  This awareness isn't about the insignificance or meaningless of your life.  Quite the opposite: your life is significant and meaningful.  What is happening shall pass and you can continue with the ordinary and everyday importance of living a significant and meaningful life. 

These three awareness are expanding circles of awareness that create a sense of perspective and peace. 

Allowing ourselves to become mindful throughout the day and giving ourselves this short opportunity several times a day or week to calm our minds and to ground us in the present moment with more acceptance and ease and less anxiousness and unease allows us to appreciate the present moment and let go of our frustration and fear, solve our frustration and fear, and move forward confidently and calmly despite our frustration and fear.