I recently finished a series of posts summarizing a lifetime of thinking on the meaning of life (they begin here if you’re interested.) Since then I have been using my blogs to let a number of regular readers submit guest posts. I much appreciate their contributions.
What then have I been doing? Mostly 1) playing golf, 2) caring for of my grandchildren, 3) reading and thinking and 4) following world events. The first three of these I find rewarding, the last one extraordinarily depressing.
I play golf mostly for the 6-mile walk, the enjoyment of nature, the camaraderie with friends and the joy of simply hitting a ball. Golfing also elicits fond memories of playing with my father when I was young and of the many times when the solitude of walking on a course brought inner peace in troubled times. In the park-like setting in which I play I find a haven from a troubled world; my own monastery if you will.
Playing with my grandchildren brings out my inner child, a kind of playfulness that we lose as we mature. So it too provides an escape from troubles of the world. And children find joy in nothing more than the movement of their arms and legs. Yet their innocence also evokes a sweet sorrow within me. It is so beautiful and yet it saddens me deeply to think of the evil of which they’re ignorant and which they’ll soon enough confront. Why must these little souls be forced to live in such an awful world?
Thinking is intrinsically rewarding. To contemplate reality lifts the mind beyond itself. Unity of the mind and the universe is one of the highest achievable goods. We truly transcend the world in thought, going beyond what is to what it could be. Thus we can momentarily forget the world’s troubles through contemplation, just as we do when playing, meditating, listening to music, creating art, or enjoying nature.
Yet while playing and loving and learning lift our hearts, the world is always there to bring us back down. We live in a country where elected members of a major political party willingly destroy democratic government and chance further descent into violence and chaos … simply to be reelected. And what do they then do? Simply accept and affirm the abuses of authoritarian fascists. All around the world, human avarice destroys the earth and climate on which our survival and flourishing depend, which is to say nothing of the pain, poverty, and violence that constitutes so much of life. Humans, myself included, are such deeply flawed monkeys.
Still, any regular reader knows that at this point I’ll turn to hope. Perhaps the future will be better than the past; maybe we can lift ourselves up from our primate roots, outgrow our medieval institutions and make something of ourselves and the world. I hope so.
In the meantime, I’ll try to enjoy walking and playing and thinking. When I move my body, play with my grandchildren and exercise my mind, I find a little peace in a mad, world—experiencing, perhaps, a small taste of what life might someday be.
As Bertrand Russell put it in his final manuscript:
Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love. There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture.
There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.