Thursday, April 28, 2005
Going Back to Square One to Find Purpose
I’ve come to terms with my moodiness and bad feelings, and whatever I was going through a few weeks ago seems to have gone away as would have a bad cold. Let’s hope I can keep my immunity up so that this doesn’t return.
Someone said something to me yesterday that made me reconsider some of my thoughts on accomplishments and goal setting. I was wondering what the value was in being a Napoleon, a Nietzsche, a Marx (Groucho or Karl), or any other person who has changed the world. I wondered why anyone would want to make such an impact when the result is that they end up alone, with some disease (Nietzsche died alone of syphilis), only to be remembered in the history books and taught in academia.
The difference between me and them (Groucho excluded) was that Napoleon and the others had a need to make a certain specific change, and they devoted their life to implementing that change. Their desires were political. Thank G-d, today we live in a world where in many civilized parts of the globe, this kind of devotion for political change is not needed. We have our rights and our freedoms, and other than avoiding a speeding ticket from an overaggressive officer, we generally don’t need to deal with oppression. I say this with the exception of individuals such as those who trigger such catastrophic events such as the Holocaust or implement a policy of genocide. This is something we must always keep an eye out for because situations like that sneak up on a society when the individual citizens are metaphorically asleep. But other than that and looking out for the stray terrorist, the world seems pretty calm. At least nothing is happening on my block. For this reason, there is not such a need as there once was for people to give their lives in mesirus nefesh (martyrdom) to achieve such a goal.
The next thing that a friend of mine pointed out to me was that my thoughts on not accomplishing anything of value are completely misguided for the following reasons. Firstly, one thing I have always had was a curiosity to unlock the secrets in life. I was always sorting through the junk and looking for the “gem” or the “needle in the haystack” so that I can enhance my life and those around me. I have been voracious in digesting volumes of knowledge with the intent to find the mechanism that makes the universe tick. The obstacle I encountered was the answer. I believe I have found the answers in the Tanaic and Amoraic teachings and the written and oral Torah. Further, I believe these answers not only hold the secrets to life, but that through the study of chassidus, I can unlock these secrets and bring them down (or me up) to a level where those secrets can have an affect on my life and the lives I come into contact with.
The obstacle in finding this answer is that this is not a two-liner secret philosophy that one can just immediately apply to one’s life. Rather, it is a mountain of texts and commentaries which will require a lifetime of learning so that one can even begin to grasp a piece of the answer. How crazy must I have been to think that the answer to finding the secret of life would be in a small book? So what I did almost five years ago, in line with my goal of finding the secret to life, was that I embarked on a journey of discovery into the religious world where I have been given an opportunity to learn the answer to my big question. Not only that, I have been given an opportunity to live the answer by taking on and incorporating the teachings into my own life.
Keep in mind that I am not touting the benefits of being religious. Nor am I saying that I have found the only answer and that other religions are missing. Nor am I encouraging anyone else to become religious because it is flat-out not an easy thing to do as most of you who have been reading the blog since the beginning have learned. This is probably the most difficult undertaking I have ever done, and as of today I have remembered why I started doing it. I have been in search of the answer to the secret of life, and now I will likely devote the rest of my life learning, understanding, and living this answer. I am a treasure seeker, and unlike those seekers of the past who were forced to give up their lives in order to keep the whereabouts of the treasure a secret, I have been given the gift of being allowed to continue living despite my stumbling upon the map. However, in return, if I am to ever really learn the answer or even get a taste of it, I must willingly devote my life, which I have taken the first few steps to do.
The last point from yesterday’s conversation was that I was afraid that everything I do seems to be for nothing. Everyone has done what I have done – there is no accomplishment that I have achieved that someone else has not yet achieved. I have found no secret that millions do not already know. I have taken no steps that have not already been taken by countless others. Further, the merit of my actions and my decisions which have such an affect on the world are not of my creation. I didn’t invent the idea of wearing a beard and donning Chassidic garb. Nor is becoming an attorney something that has not been done before. Yet these actions are personal to me, and while the path of being religious and pursuing law has been the experience of many people in the past, they comprise my unique experience, completely based on my thoughts, my goals, and my decisions – all with the help of fate.
Excluding the external factors both spiritual and tangible, everything that has happened in my life came from me making a decision, creating a plan of action, and executing that plan. Look at where I have come to, what I have become, and where I am headed! These are all a result of my decisions, for which only I can take credit. There are those that have had the same or even greater opportunities than I did, and they ended up using those opportunities to commit crimes, to hurt people, to do drugs, or even to kill themselves. Granted there are also those who have had fewer opportunities than I have that have taken hold of those experiences and accomplished more than I ever can or ever will. However, the measuring stick is not according to other people’s lives, but rather to one’s own life in comparison to one’s own aspirations.
Someone told me that if I want to feel proud of my life, I should do what would make me feel proud. If I want to feel accomplished in life, I should take the steps to accomplish those things that would make me feel accomplished. All of these thoughts have given me new hope in reframing how I see my world, and I hope I can keep hold of these thoughts and incorporate them into my being so that I can live them.