Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Meaning Of Life

In one of my writings I tell the story of a man who searches the whole world for someone who can tell him the meaning of life. Finally, after much struggle, he finds a guru at the top of a mountain who tells him, "Life is just a bowl of cherries." When the man gets upset, the guru says, "All right, life is not just a bowl of cherries."

The purpose of the story was to illustrate the first principle of Huna: The world is what you think it is. Logically, then, life means what you think it means. That, however, is neither satisfying nor very enlightening. Isn't there a better, or at least a more clear, way of discovering the meaning of life? Well, of course there is, because there's always another way to do anything (a corollary of the second and seventh principles). I'll suggest two ways right now.

The first way, however, requires that you give up the notion that the meaning of life can be put into words. The meaning of life expresses itself in the living of life, not in a set of words about the living of life.

It only takes a little observation to realize that life is a process of change and growth, adaptation and renewal, healing and learning, creativity and transformation. When the process of life is expressing itself freely the subjective experience is one of physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual pleasure in varying degrees. If you strongly resist any part of the process of life, you will experience varying degrees of physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual pain.

There is a natural kind of resistance in life which plays the role of a change agent, or catalyst, to enhance the process. It is natural, for instance, to experience an initial resistance when anything changes in your life, whether for good or for bad. Regardless of the nature of the change, or even what we might term the "volume" of the change, what matters most as far as effects go is the way you respond to the change. In 1967 two U.S. Navy researchers named Holmes and Rahe published a scale of positive and negative events ranging from the death of a spouse to taking a vacation or spending Christmas alone and attempted to correlate the number and type of changes within a year to a person's state of health in the following year. In a follow-up study, researcher Suzanne Kobassa of the University of Chicago noted that some people with high stress scores didn't get sick, and others with low scores did get sick. She also noted that those who had high scores and didn't get sick shared some common characteristics: a life plan with established priorities (3rd Principle); a high level of self esteem (5th Principle); an internal sense of control (6th Principle); and an action orientation (7th principle).

To make this concept more clear, negative effects of stress only occur when the initial resistance to the event is acute (very strong) or chronic (sustained over a period of time). Extrapolating from the information above, this would tend to happen when a person
  1. does not have a life plan or priorities;
  2. has a low level of self esteem;
  3. has a sense of being out of control; and
  4. gets stuck in reactions rather than taking action.
Change is part of the life process, and so is resisting change. That's what creates a wave. Change is only a problem, and only causes pain, when reactions are unnatural, rather than natural. An unnatural reaction, which is probably better called a learned reaction that resists life instead of promoting it, consists of some combination or variation of Fear, Anger, or Doubt. The more fear, anger or doubt you apply to any part of the life process, the more physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual pain you will experience. In short, as you participate more fully in the process of living, then your life will seem to have more meaning, and whenever you go against that process, life will seem less meaningful.

The second way of discovering the meaning of life takes a different approach. In this case, it recognizes that when many people ask about the meaning of life, they are really asking "What is the purpose of life?" And underneath or behind that question is "How can I make my life more meaningful (i.e., important, purposeful, or worthwhile)?"

Unfortunately, the best answer I can give to that question is to start doing something that you believe is important, purposeful, or worthwhile. You don't need anyone's permission and you don't have to live according to someone else's idea of a meaningful life, but sometimes other people do have good suggestions. It will be much more difficult to just start doing something to the degree that you
  1. do not have a life plan or priorities;
  2. have a low level of self esteem;
  3. have a sense of being out of control; or
  4. get stuck in reactions rather than taking action.
On the other hand, if that's the case, then you can get a good start on giving your life more meaning by resolving those issues first.

If you are one of those rare people who are born with a clear purpose, or one of those equally rare people to whom God, or angels or spirits have told you directly what you are to do (and you have believed the message), then congratulations. You are probably only reading this article out of intellectual interest. But, if you are like most people in the world, the bad news is that, while it's not impossible that some external source might someday give you a meaningful purpose that you find acceptable, the greater likelihood is that that won't happen. The good news is that you don't have to wait around for external sources to make up their minds. You can, whenever you wish, screw up your courage, take a deep breath, make a great leap of faith, and choose your own purpose.

So, friend, how are you treating life today?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Today Is Different

Once I was taking a morning walk through a familiar neighborhood, beside a familiar golf course, along a familiar coastline, past familiar trees and flowers, to a familiar cliff overlooking the ocean. 

My Body was giving me perceptions of sights, sounds, smells and feelings while my Mind was registering patterns and making interpretations. "That's a street, that's a path, that's a tree, that's grass, that's a cloud, that's the ocean...." said my Body. "Ho hum, here's the same old walk again," said my Mind."Borrring!"

Then my Spirit interrupted. "Wait a minute! Look again. That leaf wasn't there yesterday. Those clouds and those waves are not the same ones, either. And did you ever notice that particular ridge outlined in that particular way by the sun? Look again. Today is different."

Suddenly I realized, in a very real and physical way, that my Spirit was right. It was not only a different day, it was, by any meaningful definition of reality, a whole new world. It only seemed the same because I was looking at it through old eyes.

One very useful characteristic of human beings is our ability to recognize patterns, and to apply pattern recognition to our environment in thousands of practical ways.
In the natural environment we can learn weather patterns that will help us to prepare for planting or hunting or sheltering, animal and plant patterns that will assist in our food gathering and production, rock and land and water and star patterns that will help us on our journeys. I have used such patterns on numerous occasions throughout my life for such things as finding my way through the Sahara Desert, navigating across stretches of open ocean, and getting in and out of wilderness areas on Kauai.

In an urban environment we can learn street and traffic patterns to help us go where we want to go, building and address patterns to help us find what we want to find, and people patterns that will help us to define who is doing what and why. In my travels around the world I have encountered people wearing many different kinds of costumes whom I was still able to acknowledge as policemen because of pattern recognition. And this same abiity has enabled me to drive a car in various countries, even when it was necessary to vary the pattern for driving on the left or the right.
We can recognize a forest, regardless of the types of trees that are in it. We can recognize dogs and cats, regardless of the specific breeds. We are really, really good at recognizing patterns.

However, there is a serious potential problem with pattern recognition. The problem occurs when we stop looking at the world as it is, and begin looking at the patterns instead. When we stop looking at people, and look only at patterns of people, we can fall easily into the traps of racism, prejudice, bias and bigotry. When we stop looking at our environment and look only at patterns that we superimpose on the environment, the we lose touch with the power and healing and adventure and awesome variety that actually exists there. And when we stop looking at ourselves, and look only at some perceived pattern of ourselves, we tend to identify with the pattern and become afraid of change.

Perhaps this is the key to the age-old idea that most people are asleep and that a true perception of reality requires that they wake up somehow. If so, then they aren't really asleep at all. They are just looking at the world through old patterns, through old eyes. The solution, then, is not to wake up; it is to look differently.

Not everyone wants to do that, but if you do, here is a suggestion. In some classes I do an exercise which consists of having people look at a familiar environment and find something new in it. To begin with, "look" with any of your senses for something you never noticed before, or use a sense that you've never used in a particular way for a particular thing in that environment. As a variation, when you enter a new environment, purposely look up, down, and in the corners for details that you might normally gloss over. With a lot of practice, you'll be able to sense your world differently more often. And if you forget, as I still do from time to time, trust that Spirit will remind you.

Finally, if you are truly interested in learning how to see differently, it's a good idea to study just enough science and metaphysics to understand that the Universe is changing constantly, even while it keeps repeating patterns. Which means that the patterns are always changing, too. There is power in that knowledge, and if you love life enough you can find it by putting your old eyes aside and using new ones.

Yesterday was, and never will be again. Tomorrow isn't, and can't be reached. Today neither was nor will be. Today is different.