“There is no hole in the bottom of the universe out of which you can fall.” I am alive. Someday I will be dead. I am not going to speculate on what happens after I die. I don’t know.
If there is a life after death we don’t know anything about it because no one with any credibility has come back and told us about it. So, I’m not going to talk about it. I’ll deal with it when I get there — or, I won’t.
Meanwhile, I’m alive and I’m going to die. I can enjoy the ride or complain about the ride and the scenery.
For years I remembered John Merritt, with whom I shared a hospital room back in the spring of 1959. He had bone cancer and was dying a terrible, painful death. His wife was sweet and gentle. Neither of them deserved the pain they were enduring. It frightened me. And I stayed frightened for years.
After many kidney stones and intestinal blockages, I have learned that pain is inevitable but suffering is a choice. I have chosen not to suffer. (Most of the time.)
When I was young and starting into the world, I spent some time leaning about goal setting. Goal setters and their gurus make rules for goals. Like: Goals must be positive. Goals must be measureable. Goals must be specific. Etc.
“I will make a million dollars by five years from now” meets the criteria for a good goal, but it didn’t satisfy me. It was incomplete. So I took it a step further.
Why do I want a million dollars? What would I do with it? What would it do for me? A million dollars is a pile of paper or a bunch of marks on paper. It only has value if it does something. So I sought what I really wanted. After careful and long search I found that what I want and wanted is internal security, personal peace and joy.
Oh, and a million dollars couldn’t buy them. There is some security in owning a lot of money. It can provide some peace (or anxiety). And it may provide some joy — or not.
When I got, really got, that there is no hole in the bottom of the universe out of which I could fall, I understood that my goals were in my reach. My kidney stones and intestinal blockages helped me to understand that pain does not necessarily stand between me and my three goals. I can feel pain and have my internal peace. I can have joy. My internal security is in knowing that I am, nothing can change that until I am not.
And then I won’t care!
This seems so simple to me. It is so clear. I am reminded of a time when I was working for Univac and learning their 1108 supercomputer. It had a concept that was strange to me. The manual explained it on about two pages. I read them and didn’t understand. I reread them and still didn’t understand. I went to my boss and asked him to explain it. I spent more than two days struggling with the concept and finally got it. It was simple. I could summarize t in about two sentences with which my boss agreed.
One of my General Semantics gurus said “I’ll see it when I believe it.” The simplicity of my three goals is like that. I didn’t see it until I believed it.
So, how do my three goals fit into the greater world? How do they relate to morality, to family? I get joy from doing, doing for others, doing for myself — sometimes, just doing. My joy is greater when I do for others than when I do to others.
When I was a little boy I pulled the wings off flies (didn’t we all?). When I reached a certain level of enlightenment, I no longer took pleasure in torturing lesser or weak creatures. Now, when I find a spider in my sink, I gently catch it and take it outside to freedom. I do to it what I think it would like me to do to it. It brings more joy than hitting it with a magazine would. It could be considered a selfish act. (But, not to the spider.) Morality is its own reward.
Internal security comes from knowing that I will endure and I can endure until I am no more. I know I can focus on the pain or the pleasure. I can enjoy just being alive. If that gets too tough and I’d rather not be alive I can just stop breathing until I remember how wonderful a full breath can be. This is how heroes survive torture and imprisonment. I’d rather live without pain but I’m not going to let my pain interfere with my pleasure.
I can know no one like I know myself. We are locked in an existential aloneness. I can appreciate your pain or pleasure, but I can’t feel it like you do and you can’t feel mine. When I finally got that, I relaxed into my personal peace. (I wish I could always get it. Sometimes, I forget.) It is still a goal.
My three goals: Internal Security, Personal Peace and Joy. I achieve them and then I lose them. But they are always my goals.
Dan Fischer lives in Ashland. He occasionally teaches at OLLI at SOU. His blog is online at www.danielcfischer.com, or Google "The Crazy Mud Caper."