A parenthesis about living a meaningful life.

“What you’re doing is as useful as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!”

And yet, there we were, commenting on social media— extolling the virtues of living meaningful lives while binge-watching a carefully orchestrated stream of reality television!

Nonetheless, let’s say one of us decided that action was the very element that would lead to a meaningful life.
He decided he would scale a heinous-looking mountain each day to take food to a small group of poor people living at the top.
Of course, all the scrapes and scratches associated with extreme climbing would assist his elevation towards achieving “meaning!”
Self-flagellation might be frowned upon unless it’s for a good cause!

In such a manner the pursuit of meaning is mindfully engaged.
One treacherous foothold at a time.
It needs to be a tough and deliberate process!
Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the mountain had left without notifying anyone, therefore potentially rendering all hopes of deriving meaning from the mission potentially null and void?
But could there have been meaning in the climb itself?

Of course, it could’ve ended on a sour note as well, what if the people at the top were there, and rejected the food that was offered to them within a thinly veiled cocoon of validation?
Are there truly so many factors that bind the pursuit of meaning into a fragile thread?

Our dejected and disillusioned friend headed home and stopped at a toll-booth to pay that which the King was owed.
And without overthinking his position of importance within the universe he smiled at the lady who handed him his change in coins.
He was rewarded with a smile in return.
Without knowing it, his random act of kindness helped elevate someone else’s bad day into something that ended on a bearable note, infused with a civilized gesture.
But the intrepid rock climber would never know that.
Meaning isn’t always a handout, sometimes it’s merely a reflection, long after the sun has disappeared over the horizon.

How smart are you? Don’t tell us if you’re really clever!

Are you “smart enough?”
Do you worry about it?
You really shouldn’t!

If you’re not the “smartest” person on Earth it’s fine!
“Smartest” is an absolute based on perception, preference, and opinion.
It cannot, therefore, be measured within universally-accepted parameters.
Within specific disciplines, there are certainly people who excel, but then occasionally seem “less adequate” in other areas.

Unfortunately, we’ve been indoctrinated by the “sad and lonely genius” stereotype in movies.
That’s the person who is portrayed as a reclusive or undiscovered genius, and visual props, such as chess, maths or musical proficiency is used to convey the “intelligence.”
The same happens in books.
Our perception of “smart” is very subjective at times and easily impressed by “intelligence-cliches!”
We’ve been conditioned to believe someone who can play 20 chess games simultaneously is smart beyond belief.
Does the ability to master ostentatiously complex math equations push you into “genius” territory?
That’s possibly quite true, but can the math genius necessarily solve a survival puzzle on a desert island when he is completely out his depth?
Can he build an escape craft using only the materials at hand?
We don’t know, do we?
What about the poor sod who does not like either math or chess?
Should he be relegated to “average?”
Is the master mentalist who exhibits an uncannily sharp perception and a knack for recognizing social patterns any less intelligent?
I don’t think so!
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You don’t listen, but you care too much about “what they say!”

You don’t listen, but you care too much about “what they say!”

“A salivating monster with serrated teeth and severe halitosis is hiding under your bed.”
Ok, some childhood fears may surface!
For a few seconds, you’ll imagine that beast with bad breath waiting for you to fall asleep!
Once you’ve crossed the threshold of REM sleep he will reach up, shred your belly, and laugh while your entrails spill onto the floor.
But of course, you won’t pay much attention to my ramblings, because you know it’s a fabrication!

What if I improve these imaginary monsters a notch and escalate them into the “grownup world!”
I could mention in passing that “I think the company is experiencing some financial difficulties?”
I could add a devious additional embellishment such as “The cute blonde from the fifth floor said they were cutting telephone bills to save costs!”
Pretty soon all references to financial stuff get woven into an insidious, yet fragmented pictures of doom and gloom.

Exposure to fake news and poorly researched stories can have the same effect.
Yeah, we’re always so ready to leech onto dramatic drivel and inject it with enough emotion to light a small bonfire.
Instead of “listening” to the whole dynamic, our fast-food and fast-everything mentality taught us to skim over logic.
We’re so quick to formulate conclusions based upon “half-interpreted” potential facts.
Do we really “listen” anymore?
“It was on Facebook, therefore it has to be true! I recognized the name of someone I knew in that news report!”
“The opposition leader in parliament spoke his piece, so therefore it must be important!”
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Allowing undiluted-reality to wash over you

People who crave “authenticity” are often quite willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a “raw” and “undiluted” experience.

Sure, everyone wants to go on the authentic safari.
We want an authentic diving experience.
Gravity-defying roller-coasters must provide real thrills and spills— An adrenalin rush that made queueing for hours worth the wait!
The chicken curry you ordered must be authentic enough to conjure up the Taj Mahal with each bite!
And when you are ready to settle down one day you’ll search for a partner who is the “real deal”— Without knowing what it means.

Getting yourself that “authentic” piece of “something” is all good!
What confuses me is a decision to filter experiences through opinions, likes, dislikes, and fickle preferences.
Without digging deep into the definition of “reality” you can ask yourself how often you possess the capability to see reality for what it is.
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Freeing yourself from the illusion of perfection— And being happier for it!

Chasing “perfectionism” can easily become a security blanket.
Some of the so-called “perfectionists” I met in my lifetime were plain lazy and incompetent.
Especially those who proclaim they don’t want to attempt certain tasks for fear of not getting it perfect.
Tinkerers in dimly-lit backrooms can fiddle with things for years under the pretense that they want to get it “perfect.”
Often they’re just too scared to finish something because then they might expose their product or idea to open scrutiny and realize it was far from perfect.

“Perfection” is merely a word.
It’s a word that society loves to fling about.
“Perfection is excellence.”
No matter what the dictionary says, it’s rubbish.
Perfection is impossible.
Because “perfection” will always be subjective, no matter what!

You can test my theory and go bake a perfect cake!
Yes, according to all the parameters and instructions it might come out quite well!
It might even be labeled “excellent!”
But lo and behold, you will get those who wanted it sweeter, more textured, less decorated.
Now try and convince those dissidents that the cake was “perfect!”
Good luck with that quest!
Try convincing a hardcore rocker that you attended the “perfect” jazz concert.
At the first sound of “jazz”, you’ve already lost his interest.
Had he accompanied you it might’ve been the dullest two hours in his life!

We’ve all experienced what we labeled a “perfect moment.”
Not that it was perfect.
It merely felt like it.
There was that first kiss when time slowed down on a grassy meadow near a waterfall.
perhaps you only forgot about the pesky mosquitoes, the poison ivy you sat upon and the sunburn you got.
Not that the bad things mattered though, you got a sloppy kiss, you felt happy and over time your mind smoothed out the rough spots and left you with a perfect memory.

Excellence is sometimes merely “very good” or “very suitable” within a certain context for a specific group of people.
Still not convinced?
Ask a bunch of petrol heads what they consider to be the “perfect car!”
Then you stand back and watch the fight!
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When life overwhelms you— A view from the bottom of the steps

Growing up, I soon realized that physical obstacles weren’t shrinking, I was getting bigger.
Trees that once seemed unconquerable became accessible.
The wall at the back of the yard could be scaled with some effort.
Falling hurt less with each passing year until the top of the wall was breached triumphantly one afternoon.

A pretty girl who lived down the road could’ve very well have been the Princess in the Ivory Tower.
Nobody ever seemed more unapproachable.
One day we ran into another at a service station and simply ended up chatting without too much effort.

There’s a certain cadence to the way the universe functions.
There are times when we believe we are handling issues when we are merely “living through” a scenario.
We “grow through” tough times and often end up moving beyond the problems.
Do not by any means however allow your perception to diminish the grace you received to be able to weather the tough times.
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Why the caveperson started walking towards the mountain

One of the guests at a party attempted to tell a story about a caveman who decided to start walking towards the mountains…
Almost immediately a paleontologist silenced the narrator.
He proposed that the term “caveman” was outdated.
He said there were better terms for the character that the storyteller tried to depict.
A cunning linguist from the back of the room insisted that paleoanthropology was better suited to describe the ancient protagonist from the story than paleontology ever could!
The archaeologist in the group had a few bones to pick with much of the narrative as well.
He was very vocal about unearthing tangible proof!

Just when most reached consensus that “caveman” would be suitable as a generic term for a simple story a Professor in Geography questioned a meteorologist’s take on the caveman scenario.
A fight almost broke out.

One of the mathematicians in the group used doodles on a paper napkin to illustrate why the caveman couldn’t possibly have been able to navigate a straight route towards the mountain.
The nihilist didn’t care about any of this, because he felt there was no mountain.
At that point a feminist joined the discussion.
She was very adamant that the main character in the story could’ve been a cavegirl!
To preserve the peace, the term “caveperson” was voted in as a suitable alternative for “caveman!”

For any given story there will be as many opinions as there are people in the room.

We’re often so busy dissecting comments for some truth that we tend to forget they don’t necessarily enhance the original story.
Sometimes we only want to hear a story!

And due to the interference from third-party experts, we still have no idea why the caveperson decided to start walking that day…

The hand and the mountain

The hand doesn’t grow larger, nor does the mountain become smaller.
But what happens when you’ve walked far enough?
When you turn around and look at the mountain your hand can shield it from view.
All the deep crevices, treacherous rock faces and narrow ledges that you had to navigate earlier starts feeling like a memory.

“Getting perspective by moving away from the object” sounds so trite, but yet remains so true.
Perspective teaches us that we have a job, but the job isn’t our life.
One day we will leave it far behind.
Perspective reminds us that while we might be loved and valued today we will inevitably become nothing more than a memory someday.
Others will become memories for us.
Without us, life will carry on.

Moving away from something not only shows us how small something can be, but it can also show us how big something is.
Perspective illuminates that which is either extraordinary, irrelevant or important to us.

So think about it!
Next time you wish to understand something better look at your hand.
Switch off your computer, put down your electronic gadgets and hold up your hand.
What can you still see… Even with your hand in your line of sight?
Is it a person or environment that you truly love?
Or is it a problem that seems larger than life?
Does it seem like an insurmountable obstacle?
Then ask yourself what it would look like from a distance.
What would it look like if you moved away from it completely, not just today, but forever?

Illusions of perception— And red lines that help us observe!

Perception becomes your impairment when you’ve always been able to see without sharpening your ability to observe.

To counteract the illusion of reality stemming from an unmitigated belief in my own perception I started drawing circles around things.

Whenever I do venture into the nebulous netherworld of “online newsworthiness” my imaginary red marker becomes indispensable.
I draw thick red lines around terms such as “Everything you need to know about…”
Because quite simply it’s often nothing more than time-consuming inane clickbait.
Volatile opinion and repetitive comments are circled in thick red and black lines.
And next to all those circles I write “irrelevant!”
The circles remind me to focus less on seeing and more on “observing.”

I can also congratulate myself for finding the self-discipline to circle many forms of online communication after hours.
Especially over weekends, I don’t see the need to be glued to unsubstantiated and disturbing comments from those I’ve never even met.
This unbridled stream of “information”only serves to refract my experience of what could otherwise have been quality time spent with significant others.

Checking in on a friend or family member on Facebook doesn’t always necessitate a red line.
We should use technology for communication!
We have always done so.
Back in the days before the internet, we did make phone calls.
But due to practical constraints such as cost and being tied to a wire we also had to keep conversations relatively short.
A long-distance call to a relative abroad was a luxury, not a commodity.
So yes, let’s communicate by all means!
I’m only becoming more and more adverse against jumping into the polluted stream of “unfiltered opinion” simply because it’s so easy!
It has become too easy to expose ourselves to filth we really don’t need to deal with.

On a positive note…
I’ve also started making use of green markers.
I encircle many occurrences of empathy I see online.
It isn’t all bad.
In fact, nothing is!
Yin requires a Yang.