Why do you act in this world?
Why? Ehm… [Laughter] One of the big reasons for me is fun: to create more opportunities for people to have fun. By fun I mean freedom, creativity, play, a sense of exiting the matrix we all live in, you know, the world that we are taking for granted. Fun allows us to live in the present, and we create the present in a sense.
But love and compassion are big things for me too. If you look at any person—any living being—enough, you’ll see they are worthy of love. They are one of the most beautiful things on the planet. They give love, and they are trying their best. I want to, hopefully, give people what they give back. It is pretty basic.
Let me think, why else do I act in the world? I act out of fear a lot. I act out of self-interest. Those things are definitely true. I act out of habit. Some habits I have created, and some have just happened.
All of those are ways that I don’t always want to act, but I act without thinking about it. Even the way I talk is habit, I don’t really live my values in how I speak, ‘cause I am afraid that I would otherwise take ten minutes before saying every sentence.
You know, my ideal way of living would be like the Jain way of living. It is to live deliberately in the present harming as few things as possible, but I harm things all the time.
The jain way? What is that? Where does it come from?
J-a-i-n. What I have heard is that it comes from India. People who are orthodox Jainist or Jains who practice Jainism as comprehensively as possible will even wear gloves and pick things up using certain tools that are delicate and don’t cause any harm. And that’s for people, animals, and plants.
They are careful where they walk because they don’t want to hurt anything. For me that is not out of fear, it is out of love. Just appreciating everything for what it already is, not trying to change it, not trying to exert power over things. That is how I try to act in the world and how I want to act in the world.
What makes you think that you make a difference in this world?
Well, I’m not sure that I do make a difference. That is actually a big question. I have no idea if I make a difference. I know that when people smile around me, I feel like I make a difference. When I hear people say things that I have said to them, back to me or to other people, it feels like there is some kind of influence that I have over other people.
I also have the sense that whatever you put out makes a difference—influence is just having an idea—just living in a certain way changes the world in imperceptible, maybe minute, maybe large ways. We don’t always see how we change the world, but a lot of the time I honestly believe I am not changing the world. I am pretty cynical in that respect, I don’t think it matters.
Changing the world doesn’t matter?
I mean changing the world does matter of course, but I don’t think that I matter, and I don’t think that necessarily any one of us do, but maybe there are people who do. We are living in the aftermath of a giant universe explosion, and we are kind of just roaming energy and it’s a blip, within a blip, within a blip and to think that what one does matter, to me sometimes smacks of narcissism and ego.
I want to do what I want to do, not out of a sense of importance, but because it is the right thing to do, you know. It is like giving a donation and then saying “can you put my name up on the wall?” I think just doing good things for the sake of doing good things: there doesn’t even need to be a reward. It is just our duty—as living things—to try to make a difference. I am not looking at the big picture or the aftermath of it so much. Maybe I should.
I am not trying to get at what is right or wrong. I am just curious about where you stand on these issues.
I guess that is what I am saying. Maybe I am sensing incredulity where there is none. I see your face and you look a little bit skeptical.
Oh no, I think it is interesting. I think when you talked about what you think of making a difference in the world you used words that are so wrapped up in the realm of duty and “do the right thing” and stuff like that, but when you talk about why you act in the world you use words about fun and freedom, creativity and play which are words that are definitely not in the “ought” realm. So if I looked skeptical I was trying to bridge the gap.
I think it is our duty to have love and compassion which are there, and I think it is our duty to play. I act in these ways because I don’t believe it is optional. I was raised Jewish and one of the first mitzvots—which are commandments you are taught—is that you are commanded to love God and I don’t believe in God really, I am agnostic, maybe atheistic. The thought that it wasn’t “hmm if I feel like it today, I’ll do it”, you know, that stuck with me my whole life, and I hope it will continue to stick with me I guess.
Like that it is not your choice whether or not you love God from day to day.
Yeah, you can’t choose whether you want to have fun, you have to have fun. Or I don’t know, I mean maybe I am also acting contrarily to myself. I value freedom a lot and freedom is choice, which seems at odds with this sense of duty, I guess. But I am pretty mixed up.
What gives you hope for the future?
[Long pause] I don’t have a lot of that. [Long pause]
I am trying to think of what does, and it is kind of just a feeling.
What is kind of a feeling?
Hope whenever I have it. It’s a feeling, but nothing is necessarily behind that. When I think about it, I am not sure the future is going to be better, and so that’s the supposition [assumption], that hope would be that things are going to change in a positive way whatever that means. I am not sure that that is going to happen at all.
I kind of don’t expect it and since I don’t have hope, I am not really thinking about what gives me hope. Most of my hope just lives in the present. I am not saying that people are inherently good or bad, it is just my outlook—I guess—that I don’t necessarily have a lot of hope.
Yeah, that is totally okay. I am on this quest because I feel like I need hope and don’t have a lot of it, so it is a totally fine answer. The reason why I feel like I need hope, is because it doesn’t make sense for me to act or do anything in this world if I don’t have hope that it is going to go somewhere and make a difference.
Is that a question that you ask yourself or what do you think, if you don’t have hope what is the reason to act? I am not saying that your answer is inconsistent, that is just where I am coming from and why I am curious how to deal with not really having hope, but still living and doing?
It is a really good question.
It is something that I do think about, a lot and it’s also something that I kind of shrug at when the thought passes my mind. I don’t know why I do a lot of what I do, I could justify it post-hoc, saying this is why I did that, but my outlook on life is pretty chaotic and ever changing.
I don’t think I am smart enough or know enough to say why things should happen. It was kind of my problem with philosophy when I took that in college. These are tools, ways of framing human behavior and explaining it in ways to maybe orient it in a certain direction.
The other thing being that life is a learning experience for me, and maybe that’s where my hope comes from, and what kind of compels me in a sense. That’s where that whole fun and play things comes from too. Its learning and continuing to find out new things, and to learn how to learn too.
You are not the first one who mentions learning as a key driver, a key reason for being.
It’s a nice thing about life.
Normally at this stage I ask people to condense what gives them hope into three words or a very, very short sentence. I don’t know if you think that question makes sense or if there is a different question that would sort of being meaningful to substitute that with.
Just based on my answers here, and as I am learning about myself through these answers in the present. Learning and fun are two words that I would say gives me hope and then a big old question mark.
Like the unknown?
And then my last question: sometimes I have what I call sad Sundays, which are days where I just feel like I am off and everything is hard and frustrating, if you could make me do one thing on Sad Sunday, what would you make me do?
Feel it. And then maybe go for a swim.
Can you expanding on feeling, how does that look like? Or what would I be doing? I am very doing oriented, but it can be being in this case.
So I think people would call this mindfulness. It is becoming a buzz word so I am hesitant to use it, but its awareness of what you are feeling without necessarily giving into the compulsion to fix it or change things, to live in the present and be aware of that feeling. I think that awareness gives you a few things.
It teaches you about what you are feeling, because your feelings are complicated, and if you kind of make an assumption about what you are feeling, you might not see the breadth of it.
It also shows you that there is a ‘you’, there is an agency apart from your feelings: that feelings are normal and happening, but you are not just that, they don’t comprise you. You are a thing that has them: the same way you have a heartbeat, the same way you have thoughts, the same way you have clothing, the same way I have this bug bite.
I have a feeling. It is not me, it is just a feeling that I have. The ‘me’ in that case is the noticing apparatus, the mindful, the mind. At the same time, you can also be aware that you can be mindful of mindfulness, the meta-mindfulness. So that’s freedom, that is seeing choice and that is also having compassion for yourself.
I say feel it first and foremost because it’s not about necessarily doing something to fix it or denominate it or change it, but just to feel it, just to take an active part in feeling something, rather than passively.
Will you take Matt's advice next time you have a sad Sunday? Will you be intentional in feeling and then go for a swim? Let me know if it works for you below. Happy Holidays!