“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I lie in bed thinking. And then I thought that this mass in my head was doing it. And then I thought, what a marvelous thing, that all those neurons, synapses and whatever, like electrical wires are coursing through the mass that resides inside my skill. Such a strange mass it is, a lump that if you didn't know what it was and found it in your yard, you would think you ought to buy it.

 We carry a powerhouse atop our shoulders, yet we spend most of the day whining and throwing chemicals at the powerhouse, spurring it to work better, run faster, be smarter, get with the program, and make us happy.

I'm not a spring chicken, and I suppose that brings with age comes a certain amount of urgency to get things done. I read once that if you want to know about death, ask a 70-year-old. They've been looking at it across the street for a decade."

 I say, yep, look at it, then get on with life—that's what you're here for.

What is my purpose? What is my dream? What is my passion? How can I be of service? How can I feed my soul good things when I hear so much bad stuff? How can I combat negativity?

These are the questions of the ages, yet one lone soul dared to stand up and say, "Our purpose is to live in joy."

Do you believe that?

This morning I heard Oprah quote Maya Angelo. "I come as one. I stand as ten thousand."

 For Oprah, it was her people behind her, those with price tags attached should they ever be sold. They were listed in a slave ledger, Donna, $900; Lydia, $800, an 11-year-old girl, $500.

Oprah will not let herself forget where she came from.

I grew up thinking that war was just the worst thing that could ever happen. I heard about Hitler, and I saw the pictures of skeleton people with skin stretched over their bones, people from barracks, emaciated, so when I hear someone say, "Let's kick their butts," or happy that we "Bombed them back to the stone age," my heart aches. I carry those remembrances.

Oprah daily sees a painting that has prominence on her living room wall. It's of a slave mother standing on the sale's block holding her daughter's hand.

 Should we remember or forget? Is this remembrance a constant damper to our joy? Must we flagellate ourselves with something we didn't do and can't erase from the past? Two friends and I once visited Dachau, the German  Concentration Camp whose slogan is "Never Let Them Forget."

 Yes, never forget, so we never, never repeat it, but isn't it time to move on, to be better people? 

It's time we lived in joy. Although neuroscientists say it is built into us to have a "Negativity bias." Dr. Rick Hanson says we have Velcro neurons for negativity and Teflon neurons for happiness. We can, however, gently retrain our neurons. "Aim for a thought that feels best," Abraham instructs us. If we hold a kind thought for 17 seconds, another kind thought will join it.

I don't know where the 17-second rule came from, but it's a great idea that one kind thought will join another.

Yes, when we walk into a room, I agree that we carry 10,000 people with us. But could it be that those people, instead of being slaves and victims, are warriors? They are our mothers and fathers. They are the ones who escaped tyranny. They are the ones who immigrated to this country to make a better life. They were the pioneers that crossed the prairies to build a home. They were the suffragettes who fought for women's right to vote. They are the ones who formed unions to give workers a living wage. They were our grandparents who farmed and fed a nation. They were the ones who wrote a Constitution to ensure that democracy shall prevail. They fought for gay rights, birth control, a woman's reproductive right to choose, and the end of child labor. And they are still out there building wells in Africa, trying to stop the selling and enslaving of women for sex. They are the ones who believe that not one person on the earth should starve and that people should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the strength of their character.

 See how long that list is?

 Long ago, President Truman, who became president upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, placed a sign on his desk as a daily reminder: "The buck stops here."

  "Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny." -- Mahatma Gandhi

 "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something."–Edward Everett Hale

"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."--Abraham Lincoln

 November 19, 1863