Thoreau on the interconnectedness and meaning of life

Umbrellas in the rain by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHow can severe disappointment provide meaning?

Sometimes when life disappoints us severely, it is hard to imagine what Viktor Frankl means when he says that people who survived the concentration camps expected it all to make sense in the end.

“How?”  we wail.  “How could that ever make sense?”

I suspect what we are crying is that “No, I won’t let it make sense.  Because to make it make sense is to say it is OK and I cannot say it OK that you killed my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, my cousin.”

Possibly to have faith in the universe feels disloyalty and we prefer lack of faith to lack of loyalty.

Loyalty is a good thing and loyalty should be honored and celebrated.

Life is often unfair

But life does disappoint, in big ways and small.  Often we feel very profoundly that life is unfair.

I am not saying we should do nothing about unfairness.   Not me.

But the writers like Thoreau point us to another way forward.

First, look at the interconnections of the world.  See the whole picture. Loyalty is part of that picture.  Put it in.

Then, decide what you think.

Thoreau’s dilemma of a rain day

This is Thoreau writing about a rainy day at Walden when he elected to be a subsistence farmer so that he would have time to read and write.

His beans are important to him.   He became a farmer to have time, and the weather is throwing out his plans, challenging the very raison d’etre of his project.

He needs his beans too.  Otherwise he will starve.

But nonetheless he brings first the outlook of a contemporary quantum physicist.  Everything is connected. A rainy day may be disruptive; but it is not an insult thrown at us by the universe.

It is a invitation by the universe to bring ourselves into a more connected relationship with everything around us.

Thoreau on a rainy day

Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness.

While enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.

The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house to-day is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too.

Though it prevents me hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my hoeing.

If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the lowlands, it will be good for the grass of the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me.

Sometimes, when I compare myself to other men, it seems as if I were more favoured by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of – as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded.  I do not flatter myself, but if it be possible they flatter me.

(p. 114 of the 1927 edition of Walden)

One of the all time classics: Viktor Frankl via TED

Viktor Frankl Man's Search for Meaning via AmazonViktor Frankl on TED!

Wonderful! TED has posted an old video of  Viktor Frankl lecturing. You may recall that Viktor Frankl survived a concentration camp.  He advocates searching for meaning, even when objective conditions are dreadful.

Funny, engaging and interacting easily with young students, Frankl is worth watching for his ideas, his style, and his ability to weave classical ideas and contemporary examples, data, anecdote, poetry and wit.

Looks as if there is no download, so you will need to head over to TED to see the clip.

Viktor Frankl on YouTube talking about meaning in horrible conditions

Here is another clip of Viktor Frankl speaking on You Tube.

Quotations from Viktor Frankl

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

–Viktor Frankl

For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

–Viktor Frankl

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.

–Viktor Frankl

What is to give light must endure burning.

–Viktor Frankl

New Year’s Resolution: Look beyond the light

Look in the light?

I’m sure you all know the story about the man who was looking for something under a street-light.  A passer-by stopped to help and asked what he was looking for.  “A sixpence,” the first man said.  “I dropped a sixpence.”  “Where did you drop it?” asked the second man.  “Over there”, the first man said, pointing outwards into the dark.  “Why are you looking for it here, then?”, said the newcomer.  “Because here is where the light is”, answered the first.

So many of us run our lives on that principle.  We know we need light.  So we head towards the light.  But so has everyone else.  And in business-terms, that patch is “over-traded”. In social terms, the “in-crowd” is there.

Look beyond the light

It is good to be there too.  But who is being excluded?  And why?

In many countries, we are approaching the Christmas festival and many of us will be packing up preparing to criss-cross the globe to rejoin family.  We are heading towards the light and warmth of the family hearth.

In the Christian tradition, it is also a time to think about those who are not included around a family hearth.  It is a gesture of kindness and compassion to reach out.

It is also in our self-interest.  Poets remind us that it is in the dark, the place where we generally do not look or listen, where the value of our lives might be.  Paying attention to the dark might bring value to the hearth.

Poetry about looking beyond the light

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on making friends with the dark.  Maybe that should be the New Year’s Resolution for 2010.  To spend a moment each day looking beyond the circle of light into the dark beyond?

You, darkness

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world,

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything-

shapes and fires, animals and myself,

how easily it gathers them!

– powers and people-

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Reality is broken. Games are great. What do you dislike about games?

Game designers are better at psychology than psychologists

Jane McGonigal, games designer extraordinaire, has long pointed out that games are better designed than most jobs.   I agree with her, but oddly I still prefer work.

Nonetheless, agreeing that games designers make better use of work psychology than psychologists do, I’ve been deliberately playing games from beginning to end.

Orientation that gives control back to the audience

Getting into games, the autonomy dimension of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model is clear.  We need to be be able to see what to do at glance. We shouldn’t need elaborate instructions or encouragement.

Something for the audience to get their teeth into

I am stepping through the levels quite doggedly.  That should be the competence dimension of Ryan & Dec’s model.  In truth, games are quite fun while I am figuring out the rules – or when I think I can push myself to a new level.  But they also get boring quickly.  Dogged is the feeling I have!

A way for us to play together

I think I don’t use the social aspects of games sufficiently. Social or relationships, is the third component of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model.

I am probably not very sociable because my motives for playing games aren’t social.  But, equally, I probably get bored quickly because I am not being sociable.

Bringing our own rules to the game

What has interested me more has been the way my preconceptions affect my game play

In a game in which I played the role of explorer in Africa, it took me a long while to realize that I could deliberately kill people and even longer to do it.

In Mafia Wars running on Facebook, I am yet to start a fight. I am yet to invest in armor.  I only do jobs against an anonymous enemy.  When someone attacks me, I just clean up and take out some more insurance.

In Farmeville, I would like to share my tractor.

Does social mean more than sending gifts and energy bonuses? Are our ‘identities’ and ‘values’ also important to us?

Sometimes it is useful to have our values challenged.  Sometimes it is useful to see that we impose rules that other people don’t care about.

Then we have a choice.  Do we want to play by those rules?  Maybe we do.

The productivity of procrastination. Yes!

In the good company of entrepreneurs

Are you one of the 14% of UK’s working population who works for yourself.  I am!

And if you are, like me and so many others in UK and everywhere where solopreneurs and the Free Agent Nation are booming, you are probably obsessed with productivity and getting things done.

You also probably beat yourself up for procrastinating. And you feel really bad on days when you just cannot get yourself going?

Is that you? Well, you are in good company. We all feel the same way.

To stay sane, this is what you need to know about procrastination and productivity

1 Keep your to do list simple

2 Accept that some days you need to chill out

3 And for the surprise – procrastination may be a sign of experience

I am not going to write on keeping your to do list simple. Lot’s of people have done that. I also won’t write on chilling out. I’ll do that another day.

Let me stick to the surprise that procrastination is wise

. . . and remind you about Caesar as he sat with his army on the wrong side of the River Rubicon. He knew that once he crossed the Rubicon, he would be declaring war on the city of Rome. And battle would commence.

You are like Caesar waiting to invade Rome

Some times, when we are resisting getting down to work, we are in the same position as Caesar on the edge of the Rubi con. We know that once we cross, there is no going back. We will be causing less strife, but once we get started, we will accomplish this task no matter what.

As Caesar undertook a long march and bloody battles before he triumphed, so will we. We know we face long hours, physical fatigue, frustrations, disappointments, conflict and anger.

We know about the power of goals. Once we get going, we move inexorably toward them. We don’t get care what gets in our path. We trample over it all in our determination to win our prize.

With age comes wisdom

When we are twenty-something, we are very good at crossing the Rubicon because at that fresh age, we don’t really understand the damage we do as we stampede everyone in our way.

When we are older, we resist.  We know that the victory is not always worth the battle.  We know we emerge the other side as a different person. And there is no going back.   At the very least, we want to linger and enjoy the desultory delights of just being with people before battle commences and carnage ensues.

But we do get moving eventually

But we do get moving when battle calls.  We know, rather sadly, that we enjoy the battle even though it has consequences.   We will even make new friends, because undoubtedly once we set forth with a clear mission, the universe does conspire to help us.

Get you things. Dreams mean work.

So we dilly-dally for a while. Half-treasuring the present. Half-summoning up the psychological resources. Is that so unwise?

We will be leaving soon and we must say good-bye properly so we can so hello to a new dawn.

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