Life is not a lottery, it's a landscape. You can drift around and see what happens before you die or you can choose to climb a few mountains.
There are 20 posts tagged Meaning (this is page 1 of 1).
Values Without Conviction
Photography As Art
Why do so many people spend so much time photographing things? We take photos of ourselves, our babies, our friends, and our pets. We photograph the things that make us feel, those moments that appear to give our life meaning, to make it worth having lived.
We witness the beauty of nature but quickly separate ourselves from it, sacrificing the purity of that moment, for what? With such haste we dutifully capture as if witnessing some alien landscape, as if we were alien explorers sent to an unknown world to document for a future generation the fleetingly precious moments that make up our transient existence.
We make baseless uneducated assumptions about what importance future generations will place on the interestingness of our lives, while the truth is they'll likely be just as preoccupied with their own existence as we are with ours, doing whatever activity helps them avoid the unbearable thought of their own impending doom.
The self-portrait speaks the loudest to me. It's as if the soul inside turned the camera on itself and cried out, "I am here! I exist! My life has meaning!"
What is it about human nature that attracts so many of us to capturing moments of time? Is there something in our subconscious, something that remains aware of the limit on our lifespan, something that feels driven by a sense of self-preservation to seek out anything that might help slow or preserve time?
And where is all of this heading? For how much longer will the human race be obsessed with this newfound ability to capture reflections of time, to create something that appears to be uniquely ours but in reality whose value and meaning fades as quickly as the memory of its creators' existence?
When I was a teenager I came across a nature calendar that contained the exact same photo I had taken of a particular waterfall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The photographer must have taken it from the exact same spot that I stood to take mine. But there was one difference: he used a slower shutter speed and that made the waterfall look misty as it came down the rocks. It was more beautiful and aesthetically appealing than mine, which, having been taken with a faster shutter speed, showed the water frozen in its tracks.
At first, the photo in the calendar filled me with a sense of pride. It was proof that I probably had an intuitive eye for composing 'good photos'. But that's where the story ends. I never again looked at that photo in the calendar. I didn't keep a copy of it and I never saw it again. Instead I enlarged my photo of the waterfall, along with several other photos that I deemed 'frame worthy', added it to a cheap frame, and hung it on the wall.
It didn't matter to me that someone else had taken the exact same photo, of the exact same waterfall, at around the exact same time of the year. It didn't matter to me that the other photo was better than mine. My photo meant more to me because I took it, because it was my photo, a frozen moment of my time captured by me.
But is there really any difference between my time and your time? If ten thousand people take a photo of the Taj Mahal, is there really any reason for me to take a photo of it? And then why take any photos in the first place? What happens in the distant future when everything has been photographed? When every single angle that could be captured, has been captured?
These thoughts lead me back to photography as art.
We create art as a way of expressing ourselves, as a way of capturing and communicating to others what we feel, but true art is not created because the artists' feelings have great importance, but rather because what the artist expresses -- the expression itself -- allows others to experience more of life.
If we focus our time and effort on creating art, then that is time well spent. But what is art? Art is not capture (what the camera does) but rather expression (what is done with the camera). The difference is subtle but important. One requires thinking about what you're doing, understanding why you're doing it, and constantly seeking to improve, while the other lets you get away with laziness and ignorance, pointing a device in the direction of your feelings and pressing a button.
After decades of taking photos, I can see that I have the skills to pursue photography as art, but is that what I want to do? Is my time better spent pursuing writing as art? Or is there some intersection of the two that will allow me to create better art?
And with a newborn on the way, I can't help but wonder: How much of my daughter's life will I be a photographer-dad and how much will I be a dad-dad?
Finding Your Why
I was sitting on the balcony of my apartment in Ulcinj, Montenegro, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The sound of small construction echoed through the valley as men worked on roofs and inside houses preparing for the big tourist season that was just around the corner.
I looked over at one of the workers on a neighboring roof and wondered, what's his 'why'? Why is he doing what he's doing right now? He likely wants to earn money to feed himself or his family or to provide himself or his family shelter.
What are his 'whats'? What does he do that backs up and reinforces his why?
Well, he spends large amounts of his time doing work that is laborious and difficult. He travels whatever distance is necessary to get to that work and he acquires the tools necessary to complete the work.
I've been listening to the audio version of Simeon Sinek's book, Start With Why, and the insights are fantastic. I highly recommend it. The premise of the book is that everything starts with why and that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." But this principle extends much further than just business. In fact, it applies to everything in life.
Everything starts with why.
This got me thinking about my own 'why'. Why do I do what I do? At first, the answer seemed obvious. But in reality, this is exactly the trap that nearly all businesses in the world fall into: they confuse their why with their what and their how. (Simeon gives many real-world examples in his book, all of which are quite eye-opening.)
I decided to make two small lists in a text file on my laptop, a list of my whys and a list of my whats. I didn't bother with the hows immediately but instead focused on making sure that only real whys were put on the why list. Here are my raw, unedited lists:
WHY'S (Why do I do it?)
- I believe in living deeply
- I believe in thinking beyond myself
- I believe that technology will unite humanity
- I believe in living and thinking deeply beyond myself
- I believe technology empowers human evolution
- I believe that technology is a catalyst for human progress
WHAT'S (What do I do?)
- Publish and share things online
- Value quality, strength, durability, thoroughness, thoughtfulness
- Seek other perspectives
- Remain realistically optimistic
- Dig deeper
- Ask Why
- Think deeply
- Think deeply about what matters most in life
- Question the status quo
- Seek change
- Learn new things and share what I learn
- Live minimally, while maximizing the potential of available tools
- Think sustainably
- Ponder the future
- Ask what role technology plays in human evolution
The whats list came surprisingly easy, but the whys list was hard! I started adding things to my what list and it kept growing. Every time I thought that I had a why to add to the why list, I realized after a bit of thought that it was actually a what, not a why. It was something that reinforced my why, not the why itself.
Eventually the real whys began to emerge and I was easily able to cross-check them. From Simeon's book, I knew that whats should always reenforce whys, so I was able to take any of the whys and ask myself, "do my whats reenforce this?" If the answer was no, then I knew immediately that it wasn't really my why. (Asking myself that question assumes that what I do is already in alignment with my why, which I feel that it is, or at least that it's pretty close.)
If you're interested in trying this exercise, take a few minutes and follow these steps:
- Make a list with two headers: "WHAT'S" and "WHY'S"
- Start with listing what you do, the things that you love doing in your spare time and that you see yourself always doing in the future.
- After you have 10-15 items on the list, start looking for patterns and overarching themes. Start asking yourself, "why do I do these things? Why do they matter to me?"
- Now slowly, but cautiously (remember, whats are easy to confuse for whys) add things to the whats list. If you come up with something that seems like a why but ends up being a what, simply transfer it to the what list.
(If you try this exercise and you're willing to share the results with me, I've love to see them.)
I certainly haven't figured out all of my whys or all of my whats, but I do feel a lot closer. I will continue with this exercise and add a third list of hows. Then I'll keep revisiting this and checking if what I'm doing in my life properly reflects my core why.
Exercises like these can be helpful for everyone in many ways. They help clarify why we wake up in the morning, why we do the work we do, and why we make the choices we make. But it's easy to miss the why. If you go back and re-analyze the construction worker that I mentioned earlier, you'll discover that even his whys go much deeper than food and shelter.
If we get more clear about our why, then we can make better decisions and better choices and live more productive, happy, and harmonious lives.
For some additional reading on this topic, check out How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love.
When I talk about following my heart and doing what feels right it may sometimes sound like life becomes a cakewalk, an easy and sunny path you walk down without a care in the world.
The reality couldn't be further from the truth.
Your heart wants you to grow, to be challenged, to face difficulties that seem insurmountable. It wants to nudge you closer and closer to the edge of oblivion, to hold your hand when you're unable to walk and then slowly let it go, challenging you to walk on your own.
It does this with love, the same way a mother holds her child's hand as she's learning to walk, guiding the her to grow to new heights and new potential, encouraging the child to risk what seems like everything, and doing so because the mother knows through experience that falling is part and parcel of living.
But not all difficulty is created equal and not all challenge is meaningful.
It's difficult to climb a hundred stairs, but the meaningfulness of that difficulty changes dramatically when you're climbing those hundred stairs to save someones life. You can climb stairs all day and night and they won't mean as much as that one sprint to save a life.
It might be stressful to manage a team of people and tackle a big project, but the meaningfulness of that project and the worthiness of that stress changes dramatically when the project you're taking on is aimed at accomplishing a goal that, when reached, changes someones life for the better or leaves the world in a better state than you found it.
No matter how many meaningless projects you accept and no matter how many pointlessly stressful situations you face, you can be sure that neither are making you a better person. They're not helping you grow and they're not helping the world become a better place, no matter how much pain you endure.
Your ego wants you to believe that all challenge and difficulty has meaning, that all sources of stress have value and purpose. Your heart intuitively knows that this isn't true. It knows that without spending your time doing things that actually have meaning and purpose behind them, you have no reason for existing.
Your heart is allergic to things that are meaningless, so wear your heart on your sleeve. Put it right out there for the whole world to see. Let it guide you. Let it take you wherever it takes you. Trust it no matter how risky or how illogical it may seem. A true heart calling will always bring you to a place that's worthy of the challenges you face.
If you follow your heart, if you give it your trust and let it guide you, it will lead you to your purpose for existing. Life won't be easy. You won't get through unscathed. You'll fall down and face challenges that seem insurmountable, but every single challenge you do face, every fall and every scratch, will be worth it. It will be meaningful.
If you follow your heart, every challenge you face will make you a better person and for that you'll grow to love your life.
Unrealistic Passions and Dreams
Life Isn't Safe
We all die. We all get hurt, make mistakes, and experience pain that seems impossible to overcome. Life isn’t safe, but a life spent trying to avoid all risk and discomfort is the best way to avoid living at all.
It’s true that some risks are not worth taking, but most risks will mean the difference between living a life on repeat and creating a life forged in sweat, on the steps to a breathtaking summit.
So believe in something impossible. Dream. Search for meaning in your actions. Apologize and forgive. Find harmony in moving forward. Risk. Take action. Do something worthy of your own admiration. But most of all, love, and embrace who you are.
Life is short, and it’s fragile, but it’s worth it.
To Fly When We Were Born to Walk
It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will look to the sky and see airplanes a bit differently than you do now. It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will hear the roaring hiss of a jet engine and look up with a new sense of admiration for who you are.
I’ve watched thousands of airplanes fly over me. I’ve flown in hundreds of them. I’ve watched the earth float by beneath me, studied how these machines work their magic, how humans build their wings, and how pilots master their controls. I’ve even been lucky enough to pilot one myself.
But when I hear one going by, no matter what I’m doing, I still stop and tilt my head to the sky with a childish sense of wonder and watch this mechanical work of art float past (a rather dangerous distraction when I’m driving; I’ve lost a hat this way).
On several occasions in the past few months I’ve found myself on the beach, gazing at the birds and watching as they glide across the ocean. Seconds later I’m presented with the opportunity to observe a similar bird, this time a manmade one, its shiny metal body and heavy engines pushing itself across the sky.
How are these manmade creatures of flight different from those found in nature? They’re both built for the same task: to fly, to temporarily defeat gravity and make use of an invisible force, to float through an invisible landscape.
The natural creature is certainly the more elegant and it’s far more attune with its surroundings. While it blends into the landscape and reacts to the flowing currents of air, its clumsy mechanical counterpart pummels through with sheer force, relying solely on the most basic and most fundamental principals to stay aloft.
One creature was created by nature, the other was created by us, a creation by a creation, a new species of flying creatures designed, engineered, and built entirely by humans. We saw birds flying through the air and we wanted to experience that flow, to obtain that mobility.
For thousands of years we tried manufacturing feathers. We tried making ourselves as light as possible. We tried jumping off cliffs and making contraptions that seemed to mimic the wings in nature.
Everything failed and many lives were lost, but we continued building, testing, risking, and experimenting.
As we began to understand the invisible landscape, we learned to combine visible shapes with invisible forces. We manufactured structures from whatever materials were available and even began inventing and shaping materials that didn’t exist naturally.
Elegance wasn’t nearly as important as function. What mattered was obtaining flight. And so we took to the skies in birds made of wood and metal, eventually refining our models and smoothing our designs.
When I look to the sky now and I see an airplane flying over me, what I see is an example of what it means to be human, that innate desire we all possess to recreate the things we hold with respect and admiration, that need to prove to ourselves and to others that nothing is beyond our ability.
We create because that’s who we are. We live our lives making choices and decisions based on hopes and dreams because we believe. We believe that even the remote possibility is entirely possible, that despite all the odds, the impossible is only two steps away from possible.
To create, to turn thought into action, to push and fight and struggle against all logical reason and bring life to visions and ideas, to shape hopes and dreams into tangible moments of reality and string them together one by one, to learn how to fly when we were born to walk, that is what it means to be human.
Notes: "The art of life becomes literally artless."
If you think of your art. What is the ultimate purpose? Once you have reached your goal, nothing really happens except if you were changed in the process. Your art is you not what you do. But for that you have to reach the zone at some point.
It's even difficult to put into words. Because how can I define that I'm the art when I write? The text seems to be the art but actually it is just me and a laptop in a special moment in a special place where everything is aligned so I can deliver this. That is what matters.
Now how could we extend this state of clarity? Is there a way to let go and be detached that life becomes the artless art? Can we live entirely in this mental state.
Two days ago I read this article about what people regret just before they die. This article mentions the "phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives". Probably because there is no goal anymore, no need to act and everything gets detached. The art of life becomes literally artless.
Written by Manuel Loigeret in When your art becomes artless
Urgency vs. Importance
Urgency creates an attention poverty. It deprives us of the present moment and encourages us to make rash decisions, to act before thinking and to commit before considering.
Urgency disregards priorities and blatantly ignores what's important. It demands nothing short of immediate, unmindful action.
Things that are urgent are fleeting. They lose their value and their sense of importance with every passing moment and they feel important because they're fleeting.
We buy something because it's on sale or jump into a conversation so that we're heard; we stay on top of what's trending or keep up with our favorite shows, authors, or magazines; we stay with our job because it's a great opportunity or we indulge in the luxuries of life because, hey, life is short.
We chase these things because they're fleeting, because the unstoppable and relentless marching of time ensures that they will be gone, possibly forever, if we don't act now.
But what's important, what's truly important, remains important. It doesn't fade into the background when we ignore it. It doesn't disappear after a few days, weeks, or years.
It doesn't matter if we're rich or poor, if we're ten years old or a hundred years old, if it's Monday or Friday or if it's the weekend with a full moon: the important things remain important.
The important things are here to stay. They remain with us, patiently waiting until we're ready to sit quietly, bring our mind home, and give them the attention they deserve.
Urgency will never wait; you'll never catch it. Chasing what's urgent is a fools game. But embracing what's important, that's something that has meaning. That's something that has real value.
The urgent stuff will always be running away from us, but the important stuff -- the stuff that gives our life meaning -- is waiting patiently with open arms.
Ten thousand years from today
The wind blows today as it once did ten thousand years ago, yet we think about today and it feels special, unique, ours. We await the sunset each day with a sense of anticipation, placing importance on this particular day, on this particular cycle of experience, treating this one conscious moment as if it were ours to command, as if the center of the universe existed beneath our feet.
And perhaps it does, but can we imagine for just one moment the absolute insignificance of our existence?
Billions have come. Billions have gone. Billions more, holding just as much sense of self-importance, will come still, and then be forgotten. They will look at the wind just as I, and wonder just as I, and a few, for slightly longer than average, will be remembered, their thoughts re-thought, their words repeated, their actions reexamined; but they too will fade.
All that remains unchanged, untouched by the vastness of time, is change itself, the heartbeat of the universe, pulsating and breathing like giant creature full of stars and galaxies and universes.
And we? We exist in the belly of that beast, a crucial but unaccountable part of a larger organism, one of far greater scale and embodiment than our feeble imaginations are capable of comprehending.
We are like the billions of microbes living within each of us, unheard and unseen, their struggles in our digestive tract, their trials and tribulations, their pains and hard work, their concerns and worries and frustrations, all meaningless when we change the perspective to that which encompasses their existence.
Will our legacy be like theirs, one of symbiosis, one of attempting to coexist in harmony with its host? Will we search for meaning and seek to understand our place in the universe? Or will we quarrel, amongst ourselves and with ourselves, living out our lives unconscious and ungrateful for the crucial role we play in the fabric of the universe?
The pulse of the universe will go on, oblivious to our ballooned sense of superiority, unaffected by the insignificance of all that we consider of utmost importance. Our place will be replaced by others, some of whom will seek harmony, some of whom will ignore it, and yet others who stare at the wind marveling at its transparent embrace, ten thousand years from today.
A Three Step Plan
I see it everywhere, often in marketing and things that are demanding my attention. "Three steps. It's simple!" But does it have value? Is it worth it? You could have a three-step-plan for life too: be born, age a little, and then die.
Sometimes things aren't so simple and easy. Sometimes, the things really worth doing are a lot more complicated. You can tackle them in a simple way, sure, but life isn't a three-step-process and neither are most things worth doing.
I admire and even advocate simplicity, but not at the expense of doing things that matter.
Homesick in a Strange and Privileged Land
I was holding back tears and trying to swallow intense emotions that were bubbling to the surface. The room was dimly lit and the stadium-style seats were the most comfortable chairs I had felt in more than six months. I looked at the cup of coffee in my hand and, closing my eyes, I slowly touched it to my face and felt the warmth of its contents.
Only 24 hours earlier I had been in another country, a place on the opposite side of the world so foreign and so different that it was easy to forget that I didn't just arrive from another planet. Obvious differences stood out, but it was the subtle differences that really made the biggest impact.
The first thing I noticed was the faster pace of life. It's not so much the physical speed of things, but pace at which you're expected to respond to and process information. Simple things like paying for something at the register or answering the telephone felt hurried or rushed. Even conversations seemed needlessly accelerated. It feels as though you're expected to think, act, and operate like a machine. Continue reading