Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Liberation Through Limitations

Let I breathe, Jedi knight
the more space I have, the better I write
if ever I write, I need the space to say, whatever I like
-- Jay-Z, "Change Clothes"

I've lived 26 years of a fairly unremarkable life. 6' tall, 215 lbs. A standard deviation above the Asian bell-curve but normal in almost any other group. Normal people would consider me strong, any dedicated strength athlete would consider me weak. Because I make much more than $2 a day, I am disgustingly affluent from a global perspective. Because I make much less than 6 figures, I don't really merit any comments in a New York perspective. I'd like to think that I'm a fairly active person with a lot going on in my life. But then I consider the friends whom I admire. One of them wrote a play that's going to go on a nation-wide tour one day. Another is a social entrepreneur who founded an abolitionist organization. Another directs urban missions. In the end, I'm pretty average.

In a cosmic scale, I'm pretty small. A rude, upstart, carbon-based life form on a moist pebble orbiting a below-average sized yellow sun on the tip of an uninteresting spiral galaxy -- who would take notice of such a speck? This carbon based life form may only live to 80 years, or if he's particularly healthy, 120. That doesn't even match up to a sea turtle's average. And in his 80 years of existence, he will never be as strong as the bear, as fast as the cheetah, as graceful as the gazelle. All the art and science he creates and discovers will be enjoyed by creatures equally as frail who themselves will succumb to the fate of all things that live.

How meaningless.

Let me be clear about the subject of that previous statement.

This course of discussion, this line of thinking, is meaningless. Humans and their pursuits are not meaningless. I used to believe in the gravity of those first two paragraphs. No longer. I grew up Buddhist and later became a Christian. Both of them taught me that I was small and had little control over my life. Buddhism told me to give up my desires because desire is the root of all suffering. Christian teachers told me that this was a clue to the majesty of God, that he did not suffer as we mortals do.

And now all I have for both these groups of teachers is my laughter. Derisive laughter.

I'm 26 years old. Given my lifestyle, I'm statistically poised for a good long life full of vitality and energy. But I don't assume it. The reason I push so hard and the reason I'm a fiend for efficiency is because I realize I could at any moment lose my life. I came back from Boston and found that I left the stove-top on for 2 days. If the pilot light went out and filled my apartment with gas, I could've come home and sparked an inferno that would've ended my life. I'm an aggressive driver. I push the limits everytime I drive. Sometimes I'm in a hurry. The other times, I just like to feel Honda engineering obey my commands. On a rainy day, I might slip up and careen over a guard rail. I think about the shock crossing my face as I slam into the railing, air bags deploying scorching skin, breaking bones, tearing tendons. I think about it but I never do slow down.At any moment, I could die.

So what's my response? Live without regrets. It's quite simple actually. Life tastes much better when you know you're not going to die and you have no regrets. It's made me a much more honest man. I haven't told anyone a lie in about 2 years. Their feelings and opinions just don't merit the time it takes to fabricate a story. I haven't done something half-heartedly in about 2 years. By not being nice, I've been liberated to be kind. By not wasting my time on meaningless chatter, I've been able to have real conversations. Because I've stopped doing what others said was required of me, I've finally been able to begin meaningful work.

Where does meaning come from?

Because something won't last past our lifetime, does it make it meaningless? If we have eternal souls, does that make our mortal lives meaningless?

My answer? No. Those things do not deprive our lives of meaning.

What I've been pursuing for the past 2 years is to find my own humanity. One of my greatest struggles has been working assiduously to undo years of Christian teaching and Buddhist indoctrination. For two and a half decades, I've been given the script that because we are not omnipotent, we are therefore impotent. Bullshit. For the vast majority of my life, my teachers robbed Man of its humanity to give God his glory, and now I finally realize  that crime vandalizes both humanity and its creator.

This post begins a series of reflections and inquisitions into this area. I feel that this crystallizes much of the work I hoped to do with this blog. I launched it because human potential fascinated me; I wanted to see my own. This is just another step along the way. In this series, I'll wrestle with both the portions of Scripture that make me hesitant to fully adopt this view as well as the ones that led me down this path. And well, who knows where we'll go from there. But I've been looking forward to writing this for a long time

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