Who we are and why. We are all born with a natural propensity for growth. Our bodies grow, our minds grow and we measure this growth in a number of ways. We grow as humans, chronologically, intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We grow physically. Daddy’s put pencil marks on doorway walls measuring the heights of their sons. In schools, the teachers grade our exams indicating the growth of our minds. We learn to read, to write and to communicate. We learn principals of arithmetic and mathematics, we learn rudiments of science and biology. We learn the classics of our generations, reading Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. By the time we have graduated from high school or college, we have been exposed to a number of mental disciplines all of which have some effect on who we are and all of which have changed us from who we were...
We grow spiritually. Exposure to religion teaches us something of our spiritual nature, shows us that as Men, we have a soul, and in that, we transcend the mere animal and physical world. We learn of God and the metaphysical world and, as we learn, we are led into a sense of humility by an understanding of what which there is to know, the universe of knowledge.
We grow intellectually and again, the lesson is humility. The educated man knows how much there is to learn and what the questions are. No educated person can be other but humble in light of the totality of knowledge. Only the truly limited intellect can take pride in his minuscule knowledge.
We grow chronologically. This is a function of the passage of time and one learns what a great sin it is to waste and, that finally, it is only time that we have to trade. Use it well. None of us have control over time, not any at all.
We grow emotionally. The depth of a person can be measured by his compassion for others and his feelings for al living things. No man can consider himself a true human being who takes pleasure in killing for ‘sport’ other living things. The “recreational Hunter” who takes some sick pleasure in depriving other living things of their right to live purely because he enjoys shooting them is a poor man-emotionally undeveloped and raw- stunted, and a weak specimen of a human.
During this process, we learn, to some degree, how to answer those questions we all pose to ourselves at one time or another.
These eternal questions underlie all philosophy and religion. It is hard to imagine a human being who has not, at some time, pondered these questions. It is impossible for all but the most unfeeling and dense not to seek answers to these questions. We all have to resolve these issues on some level no matter how elementary. When we lay back on starlit nights and gaze into the heavens we all have wondered at the mysteries of the universe and how we might relate to the greater whole, to ourselves and to others.
Life is a process of growing, growing taller, growing stronger, smarter and finally, hopefully, wiser.
From children who answer these questions on a childlike level, to the doctorial candidate 28 years later seeking the eternal verities, we all search for that level of understanding that produces the greatest comfort.
Those of us who cannot deal effectively, or at all, with these questions fall by the wayside and often, having no understanding of who they are, strike out in anger at those of us who believe we do. This anti-social behavior is the underlying foundation of most common crime against society.
Life drags us through it whether or not we wish to go. The unavoidable passing of time creates a moving walkway upon which we all ride. This time machine moves forward faster than any of us can move back. Events pass before us marking out particular passage of time. Those who lived during the Second World War, remember that time, seared as it was upon their memories and psyches. Likewise, we all are affected by the events of our times, The numbers 9/11 will always have a specific meaning for those of us who lived through that harrowing event and all that has transpired since, The degree to which events effect us depend on our proximity to them. Those in the buildings struck by the aircraft were most affected, they died. Those who engaged personally in the wars that have followed are similarly affected.
We all gather experiences as we move forward on our generation’s moving sidewalk though time. Nothing can prevent us being affected by exposure to the events of our times to a greater or lesser measure depending on our proximity.
We move closer to those events that bring us comfort and distance ourselves, from those having negative connotations and consequences. As the world grows smaller due to communications, travel, population growth and increasing interdependency of business and nations, this current generation has far more to contend with than those who preceded us.
There is only one way to come to terms with our lives and to reach some inner harmony and that is to increase our understanding of ourselves and our world.
What is the purpose of life? The purpose of life is clearly to develop ourselves as rational and spiritual human beings. What does this mean? Simply put, we all have to answer the eternal questions on ever increasingly complex levels corresponding to our emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. By not doing so we invite disharmony, discomfort, instability, anxiety and anguish.
We all see, every day, those around us who have not developed emotionally and come to terms with the basic questions of humanity. They fall into alcohol, drugs, disease and danger. They often wind up in jail or dead. Once we recognize that we indeed are the captain of our own ship and 100% responsible for our own lives - we know that we can steer the correct course- meaning that we will move in the direction that is best for us and toward that which brings us the greatest joy and happiness.
Those among us who never seem to “get it,” these sad semi-humans have either not the mental capacity or flexibility to see into themselves and are totally external, feeling only the wind of the moving sidewalk, not even trying to understand, much as an animal…they have no serious thoughts nor any memory of yesterday and no plan for tomorrow. They pierce and tattoo their bodies like primitive tribesmen and stare at the world through glazed eyes with diminishing capacity, looking totally absurd, forlorn and woe begotten….
It is entirely human to want to see into ourselves. This is a process that can be said to begin at that moment when one leaves childhood and recognizes for the first time that the moving sidewalk has an end. In other words, one comes to terms with ones eventual demise. This then is the end of childhood, the loss of innocence and a rite of passage from which there can be no return.
When one first comprehends death, the death of a family member or a loved one, the death of any living thing, a family pet, etc., this acknowledgement of the temporal finality of death delivers a clear message to all. As go they, so go I.
At this point, we can answer one of the eternal questions and answer it very well, Where are we going? Well, we are all going to die. That is the inescapable and firm answer to that question. What will happen then is a question for the religious scholar. More importantly, what we will do with that time remaining to us, how we will live our lives? That becomes a question over which we can exercise control.
Once we have realized that our time is, in fact, limited, we can work on a plan to guide ourselves through life. We have become partially human and now we need to continue the process.
Imagine life as a series of hills climbing ever higher into the far distance. You are like a train with the brain as the locomotive and your body the weight of the cars behind. As you travel the ever-ascending tracks, you have to develop more power as the path ascends. The energy fueling the locomotive is knowledge, education, discipline and emotional and spiritual growth.
Along the way you see many who have “run out of steam”, they lie by the side of the track, exhausted and rusting, some simply stop trying and begin to roll downhill, their body dragging the locomotive, gong, for want of a better word, ass-backwards” through life. Many fall off the tracks altogether and simply lay dying or dead- the headlights of their engines fading until they dim and finally are extinguished.
You however, persevere and continue to shovel the coal of knowledge into the boiler. You climb, dragging the body of the train ever higher…. There is no rest in this, the struggle of life. To cease is to begin to fall back into the valley and into the darkness. Ahead, at the top of the hill, is light, behind, only the darkness…
As you climb higher you begin to see the path of the rail bed, you see where it came from and where it is going. More importantly, you are developing an understanding of life itself…and, in this process, answering the eternal questions on a higher and more satisfactory level.
The headlight of your engine burns brightly, brighter still, with each load of knowledge you shovel into the boiler. You rise higher, see further and shine brighter. You climb from the dense dark and cold fog of ignorance and look at the world from atop high sunny hills, still climbing, but, high enough to see far more than the many below.
This then, is the point of living, to rise up into enlightenment, to see further and thus hopefully understand more, to continue to reach ever higher plateaus of understanding and gain finally some inner peace having answered to the very best of your ability, the very human questions of the ages.
Our growth is measured, indeed as is our very humanity, by that degree of understanding we have reached. One may call this wisdom. To have reached out for understanding is human, to have not is to have wasted one’s life, and lived, then no better than an animal, human only in an external resemblance but a hollow shell, and one who will remain at the bottom of the hill, dying in ignorance in the dank, dark fog of base existence. Such then is the sad fate of much of humanity. It is the unfortunate reality of life that most people, born with similar intelligence and similar capability, will remain terribly ignorant until death, achieving nothing, understanding nothing and never knowing inner peace.
Let’s discuss happiness for a moment. Happiness is the point of human life- that state of being wherein one has realized his goals and reached some understanding of who he is and how he relates to others. God gave us intellects and curiosity. What we do with these gifts is up to us. No person who can think, to reflect on himself and others, can possibly be without those most important of all human qualities. It is these qualities that create the spark driving us to find the answers to life’s questions-without the answers to which we are doomed to a sad, emotionally and intellectually disappointing and stunted existence.
The forgoing is all somewhat heavy and may seem a little frightening. That is normal, but don’t be afraid of trying… and, at that moment when you can, using your God given imagination, comprehend your own death, the importance of these words will sink in. At that moment, you will have begun along the path of becoming a fulfilled human being- what you eventually do with your remaining time will, to a large part and from that point on, determine your future happiness, or not!.
The beginning of something…………..?
Robert Firth, 1967 Saigon, Vietnam