The meaning of life

Let me begin by saying I like food; I make it everyday in my own kitchen. Food can undoubtedly be one of life’s finest distractions, though as I’ve been explaining to my three-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, no matter how cool food is, tomorrow it’s all poo-poo. But America is totally obsessed with food. Chefs and cooking shows fill countless hours on TV, even though fewer people than ever are cooking. Considering America’s skyrocketing obesity, most people are likely sitting on the couch for hours scarfing fast food while watching others on TV down seven-pound burritos in ten minutes. Our food mania, in all its forms and vast portions, is getting very strange; commercials feature heaping plates followed by ads for super weight loss pills and ultra-fitness programs. Beyond these two poles is boredom, I guess, widely considered by most people life’s worst enemy.

The internet dominates the business section of the paper and online news. Facebook, Linked In, Google, Groupon…the money and energy pouring into web-related business is gigantic, but news reports all but ignore the dark underside of this frenzy. Note: President Obama fields a 140-character Twitter question from House Majority Leader John Boehner as if it’s serious debate; is there a more perfect example of how absurdly dumb and ridiculous politics in America has become? Like food, I have no objection to the web and use it everyday. I like my cool iPhone, check my email and Skype my friends, but honestly, beyond that, who cares? All things considered, I’d rather spend my time digging in the garden.

What of boredom; why do we spend so much time avoiding it by any means necessary, and what is it, actually? People are highly social, not unlike most species of the primate family. We are born into society and are quickly acculturated into its habits, strictures, moral frameworks, proprieties, and beliefs. We have active and creative minds, biological and chemical bodies, basic needs like food and shelter, strong sexual urges, and not least of all, emotions. We like to view ourselves foremost as thinking beings, but thinking is not separate from feelings; what and how we think is wedded to our emotions.

Thus each of us is an assemblage or collection of many diverse elements which we call “self,” as if it’s a fixed, single, unitary entity. Yet, change or replace a piece or two, and who and what we each are will change. Accordingly, there is no fixed self actually, just a sense of self or what we might call an evolving continuity of persistent patterns of self, like a weather pattern.

We experience a taste of no fixed self when we run out of distractions and the internal chatter that feeds their continuity falters. We could say ego, our projection of self, gets exhausted and objects of enjoyment like cool food or the internet no longer suffice. We are then left facing the empty mirror of mind; when and if that experience feels bad, we call it boredom.

Though it can feel uncomfortable and takes some getting used to, time intentionally spent facing the empty mirror also holds great promise; it is a gate to knowledge and wisdom about the world as it really is: magical, timeless, selfless, dynamic and awake… beyond, way beyond, completely way beyond cool.

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