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Posts tagged ‘the meaning of life’

Mind Travel

Space_Shuttle_Discovery

I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately, for reasons I will save for another post. But from inside my bedroom, where I have spent most of the past few days, I have traveled all over the world. All over the universe, in fact, in search of what there is, and what is real, and what is true, and I have made a few discoveries (well, ideas new to me, at least), all thanks to Netflix, and the “interwebs” and some good books, and my own imagination and reason. Which brings me to the first of these new insights…

1) IN MY MIND, I AM FREE. Absolutely free. It was Stephen Hawking who presented this fact to me. Those were his exact words, in fact, spoken from the wheelchair he inhabits every day, unmoving, depending on a computer for communication, and on numerous machines and caretakers to meet his basic needs. And while it seems like a given now that I’ve thought about it consciously, I never had before. It seems somehow inappropriate to take Stephen’s words – so profound in his case – and apply them to myself. And yet I think any human being could do it justly.

We are all constrained in so many ways by the circumstances of our birth and biology. We will never experience first hand another time, another perspective, another set of DNA, another childhood, besides the ones chance bestows on us. But like Hawking, all of us still can experience infinite other worlds, unconstrained by location or genetic ability or socioeconomic privilege. Our memories and imaginations, together, can take us anywhere – to bygone moments of our own previous lives, or to infinite other worlds, past, present, and future, so long as we can dream them up…or look them up on the world-wide-web.

And our minds can do this instantly. At one second this morning, I was jogging past a newly remodeled home, enjoying the neighborhood scenery, mentally constructing my to-do list for the coming work day; the next, I was breathing in the scent of fresh-cut wood and standing in my sixth grade shop class, seeing it all through the somewhat hazy lens of memory, but feeling acutely – for just a brief second – all the angst and wonderings and insecurities of middle school life in the 90’s. Smell is a powerful vehicle for mental travel, isn’t it? Like a time machine inside your brain. And speaking of time…

2) TIME IS NOT CONSTANT. Did you know this?!? I guess it has been common knowledge since the early 1900’s, but somehow it escaped me. Turns out, time flows, like a river, sometimes slower and sometimes faster. There are a couple of things that slow time down. One is proximity to mass. The nearer one is to a massive object, the more slowly time moves. Did you know that the 36 satellites orbiting our planet, which together support our global positioning system, each contain a super-precise clock that measures time to the billionth of a second? And that, in addition, this clock contains a mechanism to correct for the difference in time between earth and space (approximately 38,000 nanoseconds per day) that would otherwise accumulate and render the GPS system useless?

The other thing that slows time down is speed. The faster you travel, the more slowly time passes. As with proximity to mass, the difference in the passage of time at higher and lower speeds in miniscule. It is not until you are moving super, super, super quickly that there will be a significant difference. And of course you wouldn’t notice a difference. If you were traveling in a train around the earth at a crazy-fast speed, and had a very precise clock aboard the train with you, both you and your clock would perceive time as passing normally. However, when the train came to a stop and you stepped out, you would find that your clock was slightly behind the clocks that had remained stationary outside the train, where stationary people (and their clocks and watches) had also perceived time as passing normally. Crazy, huh?!?!

I guess Albert Einstein calculated/predicted these things in his Theory of Relativity. A lot of people didn’t really believe it completely, though, until we started messing around in space where we (and our fancy-schmancy super clocks) were removed a sufficient distance away from the mass of the earth and, likewise, able to achieve speeds that friction from the atmosphere on earth made previously impossible to attain. I don’t know where I was when they taught this in grade school. Maybe too concerned with those angsts and wonderings and insecurities I was talking about earlier. But Stephen explained it to me yesterday on Netflix, and now I am just like, WHAAAAAT?!?

I have been telling my mother since the time I was 11 or so that time is weird. And my conviction of this fact keeps growing.

3.) DISCOVERY IS AWESOME. One of the most exciting characteristics of life is the potential it holds to change us. In one moment our picture of the world can totally morph, or expand exponentially. To grow in our understanding of the universe and what it contains; to think consciously about it all – even about our own consciousness; and to ponder what it means and what we are to do with the precious, precious thing that it is – this, by my definition, is what it means to really live. I started my third career a few months ago, in a new field, mostly unrelated to the previous two which, in turn, were themselves fairly unrelated. And with each new work experience, I am filling in, bit-by-bit, the pieces of my self puzzle, figuring our what makes me tick. Discovery – for sure – is a big ticker.

I’m thinking about going back to school to get a PhD in neuroscience. Anybody want to fund that? 😉

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A Little Wrong + A Lot Right = Pretty Darn Good

Life is good. I just have to say that.

I came home from work tonight, after another crazy week of school, absolutely exhausted. I wanted to go out dancing, or even just to a movie this week, but I was too tired. And I couldn’t forget about all the stuff I have to get done tomorrow and Sunday.

I ate dinner at home alone on my couch, thinking in the process about how lame it was, and how I, as a single, 20-something who loves people and activity and fun and new experiences, should be out HAVING them on a Friday night, rather than eating a cottage cheese-based psuedo-dinner on my couch and going to bed at 9:00.

I started to get really sad and grumpy and bummed out.

And then I picked up the book I just checked out from the library, The World As I See It, which is a collection of some of Albert Einstein’s writings, and before I had even opened it, pulled my head out of the tiny little hole of my own life and remembered the rest of the world.

And it made me remember how totally awesome my life is. How much I HAVE. Food and home, family, friends…so much freedom…to be and think and say and do anything my heart and mind and experiences move me to.

And I remembered that life is not about DOING a certain set of activities or checking off a list of accomplishments that are frequent among people in my particular current age bracket. Life is about BEING. Regardless of age, race, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status, or anything else.

It is about being the human being you know you can and should be. It is about living and experiencing and taking it all in one day at a time and relishing the good and beauty, and learning from the pain. And it is about loving. Not just other people, but also yourself (which can sometimes be the hardest part).

Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

You can take that statement to mean a lot of different things, but one that makes a lot of sense to me is that our perception of things, how we interpret them and what meaning we attach to them, almost totally determines how we feel about them.

When I sit around thinking that my life is unsatisfactory or incomplete because I don’t have/do _______, ________, or ________ …it is! And it makes me grumpy.

When I remember that I am staying home on Friday night in my cozy, comfy apartment full of food and clothes and more, bought with the money from a good job, in order to get a good night’s sleep so that I can think and work and play and socialize and learn and live life to the fullest tomorrow, my life seems so great.

And it is.

Why is it that we human beings so often focus on the one or two little things that might possibly be wrong, when there are SO many things that are right?

I am tired of doing that. Need to flip my thinking around somehow, permanently. Do you think it’s possible?

The Hardest Part

Considering the fact that I have spent nearly my entire 28 years of life believing in the existence of God and seeing all of reality through a Christian lens, it is surprising to me how easily I have been able to let go if it. There has been a lot of mental effort and some mortality-related anguish in coming to my new conclusions about reality, it is true, but for the most part, it has been a fairly smooth theoretical transition.

The practical journey from faith to none, however, is turning out to be really difficult and painful…probably the most difficult/painful thing I have ever experienced.

It is probably one of the most gut-wrenching feelings in the world to know that you are breaking your parents’ (the two people who have loved you most purely and selflessly and unconditionally in your life) hearts, and be unable to do anything about it. (Trying to talk myself back into faith at this point is out of the question. I have seen too much through the crack in the door to be able shut it again and forget. And pretending would be even worse – relationships built on pretense are not relationships at all).

Along with the fact that I am causing deep hurt, worry, grief and pain to the people I love the most and, in their minds, separating myself from them in both this life and the eternal, I am also dealing with a degree of loneliness I have never before experienced. Close relationships – the kind that allow for the exchange of real, true, unfiltered thoughts and feelings from the deepest parts of your heart and mind – take years to develop, and many of the ones I have grown in my own life have been compromised. I am fortunate to have a sister and one close college friend with whom my relationships have been unaffected by my change in perspective, but losing that relaxed, all-knowing, complete openness with my parents, especially, has, in a way, set me adrift in the world.

On top of all that, there is a lingering possibility in my mind that somehow I HAVE been deceived. I can still look at my current self through my past eyes – as a selfish and/or deluded person, choosing her own way over God’s. I can hear my parents’ and friends’ remorse-tinged conclusions that Satan (or my own pride or fear) has blinded me, and their hopeful resolutions to pray me back into the kingdom. Those voices, that point of view, has been engrained in me from the time I was born, and though it no longer makes any sense to me on hardly any level, it is still my “default setting.” I still sometimes wake up in the morning “thinking like a Christian.” And so, there is still a little tiny inkling of fear that maybe they are all right. Maybe I, and the billions of people in the world who cannot, for whatever reason, believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” are all wrong…are all headed for Hell.

But then that thought – the thought of Hell – brings me back to my senses…reminds me of how I got here in the first place. It reminds me of all the contradictions I had to rationalize, all of the mental hoops I had to jump through, to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, believe in the Bible, even in a contextual, allegorical sense. No. There is no going back for me. Maybe there is a God. Maybe there is an afterlife. I am still open to that possibility (again, I am a “soft” atheist – I lack belief in a god, as opposed to a “hard” atheist, who believes definitively that there is no god). All I know is that, if there is – He/She cannot possibly be the God revealed in the Bible. Any god who would create, for the sole purpose of his own pleasure, beings with the potential to go bad and end up in eternal anguish, could not be good and could not be God. If God exists, he/she would be completely self-fulfilled. He/she would not need anything or anybody. And to create sentient beings able to experience pain and grief in order to meet some kind of need for “glory” him/herself would not be good or loving or “god-like” at all. This, to me, seems very clear.

At the same time there is a lot about life that I don’t know. And there are now some questions – BIG questions – that I don’t really have any answers for. But these I will get to another day. This post has wandered a long way from its original topic, not to mention grown ridiculously long. Oops! I will be done now.