A life of courage, joy and independence.
The Good Life Meditation is my daily effort of recounting, considering and developing my personal life objectives and principals. I perform the action of verbally listing and describing these points each day, typically at dawn, as a start and readiness to the coming day.
AFFIRMATION OF HUMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS
I must recognize respect and abide the rights of individuals and minority groups within society such that these are not compromised in the pursuit of the common good. The lesser of society shall not be neglected or trodden upon in service of the many.
TODAY’S THOUGHT & ACTION PLAN
I will think and act every day in a deliberate and purposeful manner, watching over my thoughts, husbanding my actions, regardful of the impact and consequence of my every decision and substantive move.
Our most lasting value is reflected less in deadlines met, or goals achieved, than virtuous commitments fulfilled. Define what constitutes the aim of virtue, and let their pursuit and fulfillment be your highest end
Beware any feigned virtue which cloaks its mandate in tradition, faith or dogma. Any truth with something to hide, or which cannot stand alone without insubstantial aids, deserves to let fall under the weight of its own weak folly.
Apathy becomes a virtue the moment it is applied to events and circumstance beyond our control. I’m apathetic to the desert heat, though I take pains to protect myself from its effect. I apply apathy in good measure to the morning traffic, while reminding myself to leave for work a little earlier tomorrow. And the cancer which may one day destroy my body, and take my life, is equally deserving no more attendance than the reasonable application of the physician’s art, and the competent aid of good council in setting my affairs in order. Instead of worry, my time might be better spent with loved ones and engaged in earnest living. Apathy is our tool and respite from whatever effects us yet is beyond our control. More powerful than fortitude. More tactful than desire. And far, far more graceful than giving up.
But how can I maintain my apathy in the face of the suffering of others? Do not mistake apathy for indifference, where the missing quality is caring, or the ability to care. Indifference simply fails to care; while apathy considers what truly can be done, and applies its energies towards these more effective ends. Compassion and apathy coexist well together. For who can be a more effective caregiver than the man or woman who recognizes, guides and controls their own emotions and whimsy, and then offers always the most genuine and heartfelt love?
I wrote the lines below to my daughter this morning who begins her first day of work at her very first job.
We shoulder daily the great apparatus of human endeavor. It matters little where our hands or minds find purchase, as long as the grip is firm and engaged towards virtuous ends.
Very often I only remember to apply apathy after the opportunity has passed. Today something happened, and apathy arrived in time to prevent the moment from taking control. I was riding my motorcycle to work in the commuter lane. Traffic in the normal lanes suddenly began to slow, with red brake lights coming on up ahead, and I went on the alert for drivers suddenly veering into my open lane to avoid the growing congestion. This happens often, as drivers frequently ignore the double yellow lines which divide the commuter lane from the normal lanes of traffic, and fail to see the motorcycle occupying what they think is an empty lane. Sure enough, a dark sedan swings in behind me. It’s a safe distance back–no danger of collision–though my ire rises suddenly when I note the driver is alone…in the carpool lane. It’s a minor thing–this lane is reserved for motorcycles and cars with two or more occupants–though my mind immediately begins rehearsing an old internal monologue of injustice. How selfish the driver is. How inconsiderate to those who make an effort to arrange carpools, or who drive fuel efficient vehicles. And what of the state of society? Where’s the Justice? Have we lost our ethical footing? It’s a long rant. Almost a manifesto. But just as I was getting started. Just as the first flush of indignation began to rise in my cheeks. I suddenly remembered apathy. That lesser known or regarded virtue of self discipline. Apathy, the ability to recognize what is–and what is not–within our control, to then administer our attention, thought and action towards ends we can actually achieve, and away from futile anger and needless upset. I caught myself. I saw that I could do nothing in that moment about the inconsiderate lone driver behind me. I became apathetic to his trespass, and in so doing I recovered control of my emotions, my thoughts, and the apparatus of my ethical framework and actions. Instead of fuming at the man, or worse, engaging him in some way, I asked myself what I could do to improve the social circumstance that perhaps led to and even encouraged his action. I decide to write this blog post. And to share the experience with my daughter. To remind her of the virtue of allegiance to fair and just laws. And to hopefully instill in her some example of life best practices, and the powerful utility of a virtue called apathy. A virtue which helps us recognize true limits, and apply our energies where they can do the most good.
Apathy came to my rescue again today. I’d composed and sent an email to the team, in which I neglected to state an important fact which I should not have overlooked. When this was publicly pointed out to me, I immediately felt shame, regret and frustration rising up to twist my heart into a knot. But then I remembered my apathy, which first calmed my nerves, and then helped me to identify the factors surrounding this upset. I was then able to note what was both within and outside my control. The fact of my error could only be corrected, but never removed. To let this mistake take control of my well being therefore was both foolish and ineffectual. Better to temper my emotion and apply this energy to a quick response, publically acknowledging my appreciation to the person who provided the correct information, and then to consider steps I could take to avoid such error again. I calmly composed and sent the email. I then collected my thoughts and reminded myself in the future to carefully review complex matters before weighing in with a response. Apathy directed me away from what I could not control, namely the fact of my error, and towards what I could, which was remediation, and the development of new behaviors to help prevent such mistakes in the future.
The fact that our species has lifted its head above the fray of tooth and claw, to look around and wonder, to imagine virtue and conceive it’s worthy ends, does not deny the fight which must, for now, go on, and to which we are amply built to participate
Ever since departing from social media, and turning off all mobile notification save contact from instant messenger, my phone has become a mute, loyal and worthy companion. It no longer disturbs me with tweets, or posts, or likes, or news, or events. It politely answers only when I ask it questions, which leaves me freer to think, and to act, as I see fit. When the phone does buzz, it’s always someone I love. Always someone dear. Never a robot. Never an algorithm designed to adjust my thoughts, or behavior, or spending. I’m not a technophobe. Just a man who treasures the possession of his moments.
Virtue isn’t complicated. It’s just the pursuit of the well being of thinking creatures. It’s making decisions, and performing actions which make life better, in objective, meaningful ways. Clean drinking water, good education, equality between the races and the sexes, clear communication, good medicine, and prioritized attention to the most needy and suffering among us. Well being also includes the preservation of healthy habitats for wildlife, clean, open spaces for recreation, and the humane and conscientious treatment of those with whom we share the planet. These things can be decided by all of us through reasoned discussion. There’s no need of dogma, revelation, or miracle to pursue such ends. Virtue is what we agree is good. And then the doing of it.
Coming back to the USA brought many changes. A new job, new home, new commute, a different diet, new things to do on the weekends, new worries, new challenges, but very few new friends. In fact, almost none. I can probably count on the number of fingers I need to eat a cookie, the people I’ve become close to since returning to America. My wife probably needs fewer fingers than that. We talk about it sometimes. We both find it a little odd that neither of us has made much effort to cultivate new friendships, or even maintain old. Our daughter on the other hand has more new friends than we can keep track of. We’re meeting or hearing about new people in her life all the time. Yet Yumiko and I have seemingly returned to our base configuration of just having one another. We make no effort to expand, and have little interest to do so. We like things the way they are.
A good weekend these days includes a few meals out as a family, a movie together, some grocery shopping, and lots of free time to just do whatever we want, alone or together. We like it this way. We feel like we’re settling into our 50s in a more personal and intimate way than ever before.
A big contributor to this change was my departure from the JVLOG community, which is a Japan-based network of YouTube content creators who often share much of their personal lives online. I shared a lot…over six thousand videos across ten years and twenty channels! Being on the business-end of a camera became a big part of who I was then. It made me feel like I had many more friends than I actually did.
I now enjoy maybe two or three really good conversations a week with people who are not my family. That’s enough. I don’t want any more good conversations than that. And I certainly don’t want any bad conversations.
I suspect Yumiko and I will continue to settle in deeper this way. There seems to be a renaissance brewing between us. A rediscovery of the first decade of our life together. A time when we just had one another and nothing else.
I can easily see us going on this way. Watching our teenage daughter grow and go. Devoting our energies to her well being, until she needs us little, and then retiring our focus to our own humble living.
I see a small, one bedroom apartment by the beach, and within walking distance to downtown. I see a dog. I see some favorite TV shows together, some restaurants we like, movies on Sunday where we spilt a bucket of popcorn. I see me alone in the desert for a day or two every other week, while Yumiko does her things. I see grandkids and old age. I see helping one another through the difficult last decade. I see a sad goodbye, followed by some time alone for one of us. I see a good life together. But I see very, very few friends from this point forward.
The Season of Philosophy is that time between The Great Life Adventure and the period of our mental and bodily decline. Wait too long and the words will never come, or have no way to get out.
The Great Life Adventure is that experience in life when you step from knowledge into ignorance and return with less, and then continue losing more for the rest of your days.
The experience of The Great Life Adventure is like having a small hole appear in a bag of gold dust we carry everywhere secured to our waist. The gold is our certitude, and the security of our cherished world view, and our knowledge, and everything we believe. It’s best if the hole comes early, is very small, and has time to drain away much of our treasure before we realize what we’ve lost. The adventure was a success if, once discovered, we then make no effort to mend the hole.
Anxiety is an ambush predator. It takes advantage of sudden, unexpected circumstance or worry to pounce upon our back, thrust its claw into or chest, and twist hard the beating heart which drives its fury. The experience is tangible, tactile, and deadly real. When it happens to me I usually find myself wishing some retreat, some way to get away, some relief from whatever external happening I imagine is the cause of my anxious worry.
At age fifty three things have changed. I’ve learned there’s little I can do to alter external circumstances which are beyond my control, and which are the source of my worry. Simply wishing I was away from the problem is a fantasy, as long as I want to retain my duty and abide my responsibility. Wishing others would be different is likewise folly. As is the demand for justice where no enforceable law has been broken. After all it’s not illegal if someone is lazy, incompetent, or simply does not care to do their job well. These things are all largely outside our control. And it’s worthwhile to remember this when anxiety strikes. If only to remind ourselves of the bounds of our power and control.
What we DO control is our reaction and response to whatever is happening in the world around us. We decide what we will feel, think, say, or do, in almost every circumstance. We’re especially in control of our inner world, which is the place from which our external actions arise. This internal world is the focal point of our power and control, and the realm we must master should we become invincible to external onslaught. Not immortal. Not impervious to pain. But invincible to whatever we recognize as not ours to control.
A very busy work day is our problem if we fail to manage our time well, and let our responsibilities pile. That’s our bad. It’s good to feel pain in that circumstance. Let it soak in and prompt us to do better. But if the day is madness because some system or process fails, or someone calls in sick, or our boss lays on too much work, or it’s a Monday. Then what are we to do beyond reasonable protest and a request for help? If these attempts fail then our natural response may be to worry.
But this is where things have changed for me. Instead of anxiety, which is a form of fearful standstill in the face of a threat we cannot seem to overcome, why not try temperance, and apathy, and recognizing the nature of others, and the nature of circumstance, and most importantly the true scope and reach of our own power and influence, our own nature.
We temper our anxiety when we deliberately limit our consumption of anxious thinking. This process involves literally pausing before we ingest a thought, to examine it and lay it aside if it us found to be unwholesome. To only consume the thought if it is good and worthy, and helps us towards worthwhile and virtuous ends.
Apathy is our tool to disarm whatever is beyond reach of our direct control. This is done by first recognizing our inability to reach the thing, to then let it go, and then plan some contingency or scheme for a better world in spite of the thing, using the powers we do have.
Finally, nature. I ask myself: Is it not the nature of lazy people to be lazy? How foolish of me then to continually expect otherwise. Is it not the nature of systems or processes to sometimes fail? Why so distraught then over system or process failure? What about Mondays? Is it not their habit to come once each week between Sunday and Tuesday? If these are true and accurate descriptions of the nature of these things, then let me get over my foolish expectations otherwise. Let me strive to recognize the nature of all things, and though I may cautiously hope for better, I will expect nothing more than their nature.
These are the changes which give me better control of worry and anxiety. The tools are temperance, apathy, and the recognition of the nature of things, along with my own nature, and my desire for reasonable justice and the pursuit of a more virtuous life.
Is there any end which can’t be reached by faith? This fact should raise our guard. That every world religion uses the same path to a different truth must tell us something about the path. Can they all be right? Can this method be used to any end? Is there any claim which cannot be believed by faith?
Happiness depends upon no factor more than our willingness to be content.
The nothing beyond life should be a terror were it not so easily imagined around, or avoided altogether through the petty pleasures, dramas and distractions of life. I’ll busy myself with living, or imagining a life beyond this living, rather than look past life’s end to the apparent nothing that offers nothing.
The claims “God must have done it” or “God must be behind such design or action” have only the power of hypothesis. These statements alone lack sufficient force to persuade anyone other than those already inclined to believe. To convince further, the authors of such statements must next pass their ideas through the rigors of well designed test and critical evaluation. Simply saying so is insufficient proof. And appeals to faith only weaken the case to the point of disregard.
I’ll live where I can’t touch bottom. Swim always where dark, cold water touches my toes, and where imagined threats eye me hungrily from way down in the deep. I’ll leave the shallow waters now and never return. Never again to stand with my chest and arms in the air. Self-condemned to tread water with difficulty until I’m dead, and then to sink at last to the same blind depths where we all must one day go. Never again safe. Never again certain. Always in doubt. Always at peace. Confident only that I’ve found a very good way to live.
Faith is the sin of belief as a means to an end we could not otherwise achieve.
It’s increasingly evident where I’m now headed. As it’s the same place I was going thirty years ago. Only then I’d never have arrived. Not a chance. I had to go the long way ’round.
Its clear to me now there’s no direct path from where I was at age 23 to where I am now at 53. I was facing an impossible climb then. It’s a lucky thing a changed course at the very last moment. Truly, not a second to lose.
Now I’m clear the rough stuff. It’s relatively smooth passage the rest of the way. Even if I live to one hundred. Even if I die soon from accident or disease. Even if I suffer ’till the end of my days. Even if I must watch my loved ones die first.
I’d like to apologize for so much introspection. Yet what else of real value do I have at this, the autumn of my life? I can talk of love, charity and benevolence to others. All good things of course, and things within my power. Yet these are given traits and qualities of any man or woman who has tried to live well and good. That’s the reason I write of these other things. Characteristics of a more alien and foreign nature. Things discovered on the path I’d never planned to take, and never knew existed. Never even knew I was on.
I’m watching my mind squirm and wriggle now. It’s wants to escape. But it can’t go anywhere without me. And I won’t let it. I won’t agree to what it wants. The experience is a little like a resolute parent watching with folded arms while their child tantrums on the floor.
The part of me that protests is very ancient. Very primitive. And very, very wise. It’s not me really, but instead simply the part of my brain developed of millions of years of survival. It’s the part of me that’s survived every single life and generation from my parents right back to the protozoa which were our common ancestor. This part of me knows danger. Knows how to spot it. Knows what to do to stay safe. And screams at me now to run away.
The warning voice is telling me not to go out to the desert tonight. It remembers the awful experience two weeks back. It know the heat, and dehydration, and solitude which are waiting to wring my age-weakened body like a sponge.
I won’t listen… And though I respect and appreciate that warning voice, and the vast epochs of time which give its shrill words credence. I think I know better now what’s good for me. I know there are far worse things than mere suffering or death. The Risk of Avoiding Risk.
Fortune once held sway over my well being, as I judged myself blessed or cursed by its caprice. This same force now flails at me like a child; weak arms pounding little fists at my every vulnerability, connecting with dull force and vain impact. The difference is my abandon of well being as a function of well being. Instead now, virtue alone defines and measures my success or failure in all things. Of this fortune has no say.
The withering edifice of my person shall carry all that I am to the bottom of the sea. There are no lifeboats on this vessel. No preservers to strap on before the stern goes down. With a little courage, the band plays on to the last moment. Dark waters below. One last breath.