Monday, 30 April 2012

The world doesn't revolve around mankind

There was a time when mankind didn't have its habitat conquered, when factors like predators and even severe weather posed a daily threat to our survival.  Before they learned to farm, our ancestors would often not know where supper was coming from.  Much of these concerns have now been allayed for the average person, but our worries about basic survival have been replaced by new ones such as:

• Debt
• Missing that report deadline
• The leak in the ceiling
• What people reviewing/critiquing your work think of you
• Being 10 minutes late for work
• Whether that guy/girl you like likes you back
• What strangers in public think of that mole on your face
• The disappointment if you don't meet your goal of making 5 million dollars in the next two years

Nature presented us with much more basic challenges and for the most part we have overcome.  The things we worry about these days though, while less threatening, are much more numerous and complicated in nature.  Our problems revolve around money, social acceptance, fear of reprimand (because your boss has the power to fire you/make your life miserable) and the never-ending desire for more.

We're consumed in a construct we ourselves have created called Modern Life, where we think that making more money, becoming famous in the eyes of other people, dominating the boardroom and looking like a model are what life on earth is about; when if you would just look up to the sky at night you will see how insignificant our desires and activities are on a Cosmic scale.

Carl Sagan articulated it like only an astronomer could:
"The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise.In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky."

Pay your debts, lose weight, but maintain perspective
Yes, you have debts to extinguish and you have a leaking roof that needs to be fixed.  You shouldn't be overweight and there's nothing wrong with making lots of money.  But these things cannot become the focal point of your attention.  We overestimate the importance of the things we worry about.  Overall you're much better off now that our ancestors were.  Yet we still treat everything as a life and death situation and chastise those who have a lighter take on life for being hippies or slackers.

As Mr Sagan said: "The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."  For the most part we bring the problems we have onto ourselves and each other...we are victims of our own ways and the universe couldn't care less.

3 considerations when life presents you with a speed bump
Now practically speaking you can't just call your problems insignificant and expect them to go away.  Here are three considerations when faced with problems:

#1: Don't feed the root cause of a problem in the first place e.g. Don't go to Barbados if you have to take on debt to do it; don't place such a high value on appearances and what peers think about you; work towards becoming self-employed rather than remain in the clutches of your boss; eat properly...these all go a long way to eliminating the problems and anxieties before they can manifest.

#2: Now, problems are an annoyance - I'm not going to call them opportunities in disguise or put some positive spin on them - but if you manage the root causes as per #1 above you will be left with a more manageable lot of problems.  The problem with problems isn't that they aren't solvable; it's that we tend to have too many.  Of those left behind, you will be able to tackle most of them with a bit of persistence, while you can seek external help for the few that don't go away.  In this age of free information and connectedness, there are very few everyday obstacles you cannot get around.  Don't hesitate to ask for help through pride or fear: we are inherently a collaborative species and there are plenty or people willing to help if you would just ask.

#3: Goals add purpose to your waking life, but to get attached to them and let all your happiness or disappointment pivot around them is frankly silly.  Doing this means your definition of life is extremely narrow.  Manage your desires and have a few simple goals.  Keep a short list of objectives and allocate time daily to give them undivided attention. Then after giving it your best at the office, leave work at work and do some exercise, play with your pets and relax with the family.  Consciously detach from your desires each day.

Practicing the above three things for an extended period should eventually find you worrying about very little.  Remember that even the very planet we walk on - as tiny as it is, floating "like a mote of dust in the morning sky" - revolves around the sun, not us.




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