Thursday, February 26, 2009
Who is Running My Show?
I just read an article on Leonard Cohens new tour even as he turns 74. I have always found him to be an interesting artist with unique singing style and meaningful lyrics. The mixture of his traditional Jewish background tied to pursuit of "Zen" provides an interesting approach to understanding self and the world around you. His most interesting quote that caught my attention in the article was..."The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show".
I have had a running battle of reason pretty much my whole life between how much in life is "pre-determined" by forces greater than us, and how much is SELF determined. Coming from strong religious influences early in life, I have not been able to escape the sense that life has "destiny"...that there is a certain level of predestination that determines what events shape our lives, who we spend life with, and which influences our minds and therefore our actions. Based on that perspective, I have never doubted that the things I go through are for a reason and part of an overall pattern my life is "supposed" to go through. I also have NEVER had one suicidal thought even in my darkest moments...and there have been some. Yet, I have had a number of people in my life who have admitted to times where they considered ending their lives because of extreme anxiety or pain related to what they were living through. To that extent, I have always been grateful for the basis of meaning in life my core roots provided me...perhaps it's even a genetic thing. I come from some pretty strong, productive family members who shaped my life early on.
On the other hand, I have also had a strong sense that we all have "free will" and have significant resource in our lives to shape our own futures. I believe in basic scientific facts and theories, such as "A is A", and "to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". Based on these reasonings, I am not fatalistic nor irresponsible for what happens to me in this life. I am the ultimate reason either good or bad things happen to me. I put myself into certain situations or relationships that can hurt me or help me. I alone am responsible for my daily choices of how I spend my time and with whom. To that end, life has a certain amount of clarity in my mind and I have a sense of self determination where I can accomplish any rational objective that I can think of if I am willing to discipline myself or move self in the right directions.
Even in this interview with Len Cohen, he describes how he now has to make more money in his life because his manager who he completely trusted with his money and livelihood stole about everything that he had. Now at 74 he HAS to go back to work in order to have enough "juice" behind him to support his life and style. It appears his focus on the "spiritual" and lack of attention to his bank accounts put him in this precarious position. Now, on one hand we can just blame the manager/friend who was just too freewheeling with someone else hard earned money and took advantage of the situation. But ultimately, it was Cohen's decision to not think or worry about money and let a third party totally have that control. Cause and effect in action.
Throughout life I have run into various attitudes and beliefs about fate, life and self. It concerns me how high percentage of people in the first world society I come from have what I call "fatalistic" attitudes about life or their experiences with success and/or failure. Many people of faith have a core value of trusting God for their welfare and fate. I think as a core value, it is a healthy thing to believe that there is an order to the universe, a benevolent and loving God who cares about you and created you for a purpose. I personally believe that we all are born with purpose and potential, no matter what religion or culture we were born into. The Einsteins, Beethovens and Buffets of the world come from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems, yet they have contributed immensely to overall values and ease of life we currently enjoy because of their inventions, art or example of financial management. Each productive person in history I believe draws from a certain level of inbred values that pushed them to produce, create and perform at levels that have few comparisons. Is the source of their success human or spiritual? Do we thank God for their contributions to our world, or do we thank them directly...or is it maybe a combination of the two?
Many of these questions have no provable definitive answer. It goes back to the old rationalizations of "what came first, the chicken or the egg?". Obviously there are many things that WE have control over and thereby responsibility for. What and how much we eat, how we sleep, our psychological state of being all contribute to how healthy and productive we are on a daily basis. Some of us are almost fully utilizing and pursuing our potential and focused on some goal(s) and contributing positively to the world around us. Others are so weak mentally or physically that they are producing little or nothing and are usually a load on the society around them versus a "producer". Many have no goals, no direction, no future. Many look at life so negatively and maybe from a super depressed state of mind that they just cannot be counted on to elevate the people around them to a higher purpose or state of mind. That leaves a majority living in a mode of "victimization". We can't do things or change what we want to change around us because of what OTHERS have done to us or the world at large. We get so bitter, so frustrated and so discouraged that we can hardly get out of bed in the morning. Even if we do, many people cannot think of anything else to do but plant themselves in front of the TV or computer screen and just watch life pass by us in the eyes and viewpoints of others. We have no fire, no originality, no will to make things better at least in our immediate vicinity.
I think people like Len Cohen have had the luxury of spending a lot of time in monasteries or some in "divinity schools", contemplating life's meaning or more than that, to discover "God". Most people in the world are so busy just surviving, finding food and clothing for them and their children, they have no time or energy for this introspection. There is no doubt in my mind from what I have observed so far in life that having a simple outlook or focus based on strong, un-questioned "absolutes" brings a more simple happiness to daily life for most people. The more educated and "advantaged" among us have a more complicated task to sort all the options and know for sure what to think or believe. It is easier to choose between 1-2 options versus almost unlimited ones that lie in front of some people.
I understand to a certain level Cohen's statement about "not running his own show". I think he is inferring that all things fall back to a divine predestination in life which when you think about it can make things real simple to digest whatever happens to you and takes all responsibility off your shoulders. I'm not quite there...at least yet. I think our results in life are based on a sum of all the people we have known, all the books we have read, and all the first hand experiences we have been through. Some of those people, books and experiences we had no choice about...they were forced on us by circumstances in life that we have to work through. Yet, I would argue that MOST of our lives WE run the show regarding who we pursue to spend time with, what books or information we pursue, and what experiences we want to have. There are a few things we cannot obviously control that happen in life, but I do believe in a God who gave us a mind and spirit to control our own destinies, at least within the confines of life's "game board" we find ourselves playing in.
The people I respect the most in my life and who I want to emulate are those who are "self made". People who have thought about who they are and what they want to do...then put a plan together to do it. They don't listen to or hang around negative "naysayers". They don't suffer fools lightly or need to be around other people very much because they are so focused and fulfilled in reaching their dreams, living to the max of their imaginations. They are not waiting for a next life to find joy or to do good. They are "running their own show" and watching their own money...not living under the shadow of third parties or religious icons.
So, in summary I would say...while I did not choose the time on this earth or the family I was born into, and while I cannot name the day or the hour of my last breath...I take full responsibility for running my own show while I am able. But that doesn't mean I can't be thankful to those powers beyond me who gave me the genetics and advantages in time and space that I have experienced in this life. I am nowhere near my potential...and I have no one else to blame but myself.
Perhaps the most succinct summary of all this is one of my favorite passages from the Jewish and Christian "good books"..."as a man thinks in his heart...so is he". Hows that for running your own show?