It’s great to live a life of courage and compassion… but all the courage and compassion in the world doesn’t make any of it any easier. All it can do is hopefully make it more meaningful, somehow.
~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2022/07/12/the-one-choice-all-fulfilled-people-make/
I’d go further: The more courage and compassion I muster, the harder it gets. Compassion gives me a big “why” that burns inside, driving me to the next, harder challenge. Courage begets more courage; With each win won through courage, it becomes easier to again deploy courage intentionally. It seems that courage and compassion lead to the tackling of increasing great and difficult challenges. Meaning is great, but I haven’t yet figured out how to use any of it to pay the proverbial rent.
[The common refrain is t]hat what you do for work doesn’t define you. That the health, hobbies, and relationships you cultivate outside the office are more important. That you’re a human being, and not a human doing, damnit.
It’s the kind of thing that sounds great in the abstract. Yet, no matter how often we rehearse it cognitively and rhetorically, it never entirely resonates viscerally.~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/you-are-kind-of-your-job/
I define “work” as: The things I do so that I can trade the results with others. We can all trade in many ways, but a common way to trade is to use money as a way of storing and exchanging value. I don’t think I’m veering off into economics. That definition is critical. There are an enormous number of things which I do that, by that definition are not what I’d consider “work.” How much work one does in terms of hours-spent is going to vary tremendously (and it’s going to vary for countless reasons). There are 168 hours in a 7-day week. If one works 50 hours a week, that’s fully 30% of your total time. Conversely, if one works 5 hours, it’s 3%.
Let’s take it as true that what one does for work matters. That it matters in a real way, which affects your physical and mental health. I do believe that one is able to outgrow this need for meaningful work; I do think one can grow from our inherent nature of a being in need of meaningful doing, to become simply a human being as Mckay (and many others through history) has pointed out.
As one works less, doesn’t it become increasingly important that each moment of work be good work? A couple good hours a week used to make those 50-hours-a-week good. Where’s the “good work” balance for 5-hours-a-week? This inherent need to do work that matters gets stronger as one’s trading-with-others needs diminish. This seems to me, to suggest that the necessity of shifting to the “human simply being” becomes more urgent.
The answer depends on whether he recognizes that though he may have subdued his external obstacles and enemies, he must overcome psychological foes — depression, anomie, angst — which are no less formidable for their ethereality. He must embrace the fact that though this world may be thoroughly charted, explored, and technologized, there remains one last territory to conquer — himself.
~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/advice/sunday-firesides-mans-last-great-conquest-himself/
I would argue that all the external conquering and subduing was the easy part. That existential dread? That’s not so easy. The first part of solving that problem is of course realizing it is a problem for oneself. Yeah, I’m working on that.
Nothing you create is ultimately your own, yet all of it is you. Your imagination, it seems to me, is mostly an accidental dance between collected memory and influence, and is not intrinsic to you, rather it is a construction that awaits spiritual ignition.~ Nick Cave from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/01/20/nick-cave-creativity/
This is a thought which seriously concerns me; What exactly, if anything, am I accomplishing in the totality of my life? In a very micro sense, I’m simply holding back entropy ever so slightly in one minuscule niche of the universe. I like to imagine this is like pushing the cuticles of my finger nails back: Comforting and aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately pointless because my nails continuously grow until they don’t at which point I won’t care any more. I’m not being morbid or pessimistic here. There’s nothing wrong with that micro-scale getting things done. I take comfort in the fact that pushing entropy back a bit is—quiet literally—all that anyone can do.
It’s when I shift to a much larger scale that things look quite rosy. I sleep well at night, (both literally and figuratively,) because I like who I am becoming, and I plan to keep at it. Along the way, a quite large number of people have said the equivalent of “what you did there made my life a little better.” What more could one attempt?
So begins her obsession with dominating the mind by dominating the body, which would follow her throughout her life in various guises — running, karate, yoga, cycling, skiing — always ambivalent and self-conscious, until it finally resolves into a glimpse of the larger truth beneath the mechanics of illusory perfectibility: that we exert ourselves so violently on keeping the package of the body intact in order to keep it from spilling its immaterial contents — the soul, the self — into oblivion.~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/01/01/the-secret-to-superhuman-strength-alison-bechdel/
Ah yes, “oblivion.” Good stuff. Popova is referring to a graphic artist, and midway through the article is an exquisite cartoon example; the author drawing, figuratively and literally, a metaphor for life involving a hill and a bicycle. Reading that cartoon brought to mind my beloved practice of meditating on death. (Try this explanation.) Closely related I often call to mind the impermanence of things. Sometimes I mix the two, thinking…
This is my last sip from this [my favorite, morning coffee] mug. (Knowing it will one day be broken.)
This [regularly scheduled weekly] conversation with this person is our last one. (Imagining when priorities change and we’re no longer working together.)
This conversation I’m recording for a podcast is my last one. (Because I will die.)
This dinner with this person [my mom, my spouse, etc] is my last one. (Because one of us will die first.)
The goal is not to be morbid and depressed; The goal is to maintain a realistic perspective to enable wringing the absolute maximum enjoyment and appreciation from every single waking moment.