What really matters
and why? Why even ask this question? It seems to me that things don't matter
without someone there to make them matter. Does a rock matter? Does it matter
to you? What does the question even mean? Can something matter and be without
purpose? It seems that it can because the idea that something may matter is
in itself a purpose. So when we ask "why am I here?", there may be
no purpose but it may matter that you are here. My life may matter to someone
that I don't even know. They may know me, or of me, or know a friend of mine
and through that friend have connection to me such that somehow I matter to
I suggest that
nothing really intrinsically matters, but that we all matter. We all matter
because we all are interdependent and therefore depend on others that we may
not even know. We depend on those who provide us with the food that we no longer
know how produce. We depend on systems that we don't even understand to provide
telephone, banking, healthcare and we even depend on the millions of bodily
cells that we call our body. So it begins to become clear that pretty much everything
matters somehow and therefore everything has some sort of purpose.
I find myself
asking questions such as "why am I here?", "what is my purpose?",
and "what is the purpose of this world that I live in?" Maybe those
are questions that will not achieve the goal that may lie beneath the surface
that is causing me to ask such questions. Maybe what I'm really trying to find
the answer to is "what am I to do with my life?" I may really want
to understand the "whys" and "purposes" so that I can better
understand what it is that I should be doing. So the questions are geared toward
understanding something outside of my own self that has an idea about what I
am to do with my life. Otherwise the question would be "what purpose do
I wish to create?" It is up to us to choose what we believe with regard
to whether or not there is an outside agency who has such an answer. Ultimately
we must choose what we will believe.
Maybe a better
question would be, "Since I am here, since I do matter, what shall I do
that fulfills me in terms of a sense of doing the right thing that will provide
to my needs." At least we can then look within ourselves to find what it
is that we feel that we need. Certainly our own needs are relevant. We all matter
and therefore we all at least have the purpose of being here for those that
we matter to, regardless of the degree or even whether or not we know of anyone
who we matter to. We each are here and therefore in one way or another, we matter
in some way to someone else that is also here. This may not be a great reason
to live for those whose lives are filled with despair, but it is a worthy reason
But I'm not trying
to make the case for just existing. I'm trying to make the case for something
much better. I'm trying to make the case for self empowerment and self needs
that are seen in the light of wisdom. I'm suggesting that we all matter and
that we have no purpose imposed upon us, or at least if we do, it will not be
found by pondering the words of others, such as these. It will be found by pondering
one's self and one's own needs in the light of one's own current understanding
to the life they are intimately involved in.
We each matter somehow. It's not enough for me to know that. My need is to feel happy and abundant and that my life has more meaning than just that I matter to the world somehow. I know that I do matter, therefore I know that I do have a purpose which is to live. But I must also be happy to some degree. It's what will make me happy that I seek.
Anatomy of Happiness
- Wanting and Needing
Perhaps we should first consider whether being happy is a worthy goal. Were I to design a universe, I would make happiness a foundational ingredient. I would design life so that happiness was what motivated life to go forward. Happiness would be a primary goal that would never dry up and diminish. That is certainly a prime goal in the lives I am aware of. But I've noticed that sometimes we don't feel that it's a worthy goal. I'm aware of schools of thought that feel that happiness is not spiritual and that a dispassionate existence is the wiser goal. Some say that suffering is spiritual.
Perhaps it's not happiness that we even feel that we are pursuing. Maybe it's just the satisfaction of a basic need. For some it is the simple need of satisfying an aching belly that will create great joy. From this we can see that happiness comes from satisfying needs. There are needs that are essentially requirements for life and there are needs that are the result of wants. We could say that wants are needs. We could also say that needs are really big wants. We could claim that we don't need everything that we want, but then who is to say where we draw the line between wanting and needing?
It's easy to find reasons
to believe that happiness is not spiritual. Happiness that is gained through
the hurting of others certainly has it's drawbacks. When one understands how
it feels to suffer, it is difficult to be aware of the suffering of others,
let alone be the cause of that suffering. Money has been used as the means to
achieving happiness. The acquisition of material things being the generator
of happiness. For some, happiness is more the absence of fear. In that case,
money becomes the means of lessening that fear.
For some there is the need
to take action that may not even be understood, because they have lost touch
with their own inner workings. We may be driven towards something and not be
fully understand why we feel that we need it. The accumulation of buried needs
can intermix with other buried needs and become distorted into needs that are
also distorted. Such needs are like a mixture of paints that no longer resemble
the original colors but have turned dark and muddy. It becomes more difficult
to find the origin of those original needs just as it becomes difficult to find
the original colors that mixed together over the years.
I believe that it is because
of such poorly understood wants and needs that wanting and needing have in some
circles become diminished in their stature and are even considered to be indicators
of weakness. Such terms as "wanting" or "needing" have become
expressions of distaste. But in essence they are the basis of what drives life.
Flowers "need" soil, water, and sunlight. They are not less because
they need. Neediness is not a state of lesser status. It is a state of being
that calls forth that which "needs" to give. We may want or need apples
and someone else may have too many apples and want or need to give them away.
Wanting and needing is the basis of life. Let no one tell you differently. But
wanting and needing are not necessarily to be associated with pain and suffering.
I want chocolate ice cream.
I will be happy with chocolate milk. I may even be happier with a glass of milk.
So we see that there are degrees of wanting and needing. It seems that the greater
the want or need, the greater the resulting joy. So we could say that wants
and needs lead to the experience of joy and happiness. We can see why the Buddha
suggested that we learn to not desire. Using different words, learn to not want
and need. Buddha seems to be operating from the premise that wanting and needing,
when strong enough and unfulfilled, lead to suffering. No wants and needs means
no suffering. That certainly is one approach.
But wanting and needing are an expression of who we are at that moment. I don't mind wanting and needing. I don't want to give them up. I exist and therefore I will encounter that which is to my liking or not to my liking. What is not to my liking could be said to be something that I don't want, which is a want in itself. I want what I like and not what I don't. This is very simple and undeniable. I believe that Buddha was pointing in a direction to give a means for a suffering person to begin to improve his life. Much like telling a child not to ride his bicycle in the street because he will get hurt by a car. A child will grow into an adult and will understand better how to avoid getting hit by a car while riding his bicycle in the street. The adult would not be unwise for riding in the same street that the child was asked to avoid. So we are learning to ride our bicycles more effectively and where we choose without getting injured. We are learning to want and need and satisfy those wants and more effectively.
Wants and Needs
What does it mean to effectively satisfy wants and needs? When we fully understand our needs, we have a better means of understanding how best to satisfy them. One means of looking at this issue is to divide our wants and needs into those that have had time to observe and those that are more immediate and spontaneous in nature.
Needs observed over time
Given time, we begin to see patterns in our lives, how we tend to do things and how things seem to work. We see that some solutions to our wants and needs only cause other related difficulties. Sometimes the results of our satisfying our wants and needs are well worth the satisfaction of those needs and sometimes the cost is too great. Trial and error are good companions in this step to understanding what works best for us. Eventually we all come to understand that hurting others to satisfy our own needs doesn't give us lasting results. I think this is the area that many people are learning about.
We can see it best by observing
children and how they choose to respond to their own wants and needs. Cheating
on a test may satisfy the need to get a good grade on a test, but that method
eventually fails and proves too costly in terms of both learning the material
and in the consequences of being caught. Looking back at my own childhood I
can see those areas that I do differently now. It's the nature of children to
grow up. Trial and error have served to help us understand how to respond more
effectively. These are wants and needs observed over time.
There is one fine point
to be made here. Time is a fundamental aspect of learning by trial and error.
It's quite a good way to learn. It is even a better means of learning when we
pay attention to understanding our wants and needs while we are in the midst
of one of those potential trial and errors. I'm suggesting that we remember
that with each encounter in life we are also in the process of learning about
ourselves, specifically our wants and needs and the resulting motivation that
is propelling are actions at any given time. This is one means of greater self
awareness. We are then at the helm of who we are as we make our way through
each encounter with life. In this way we can make better choices.
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