Defining your life as ordinary or extraordinary
My own answer is NOTHING. No-thing matters in my life, not in the sense that really matters.
The science nerd in me has learned that matter is made up of 99.99+% empty space. What gives us the perception of things is the energies within matter and their interactions with all the energy fields in the universe, including ours. In everyday life, that also feels true.
That is not to say things aren’t important to me.
The importance of a thing lies in the experience it imparts. This includes but goes beyond physical sensations and psychological feelings. Experience in the mind — and not only inside the skull — is fundamentally what life is all about.
Things are important means to that end. But if I mistake things for the end, then I’d either waste my life chasing them or get disillusioned after acquiring them. My attention ought to be on the experience that I am really after. Examples:
- A piece of land is a thing a person could own. What really matters to me is the landscape amidst the space all around it. That cannot be owned or even held in the hand.
- Money can buy me pleasurable things, even choices and safety. Yet, I can get a deeper sense of joy, freedom and security instead. That comes from the confidence that I can make the money I need under any circumstances. Even starting from nothing, as I have done it many times, whenever necessary. That’s what really matters. Not the money itself.
- Relationships that matter to me are not things. If it takes things for me to have a relationship, then I have nothing that matters. Besides, people do depart and relationships do end regardless of our clinging. Indelible experiences persist without things.
- I get an even richer experience from the most beautiful and valuable thing when I share it with as many people I can. I don’t need to own it. Like viewing or, better still, donating an artwork to an institution or some organization.
- I can make the most memorable thing I possess matter to me even more. If I could give it to others who needed it for a vital purpose. Like memorabilia that can be of some practical use. If that thing really matters, it would always be in my memory, anyway. A digital image could also memorialize it in the cloud, readily retrievable and sharable at will.
A thing would otherwise be just another nuisance I had to be troubled with. An experience can always live conveniently in my mind. I can take it everywhere I go with no-thing attached. And nobody can take it away from me.
For some, acquisition and possession of things is an end in itself. That is not wrong if that’s truly how they are. Some people can keep getting satisfaction and success in life from that.
the pleasure would end but the addiction wouldn’t. In fact, the craving would keep on increasing without end. And there are endless things to hook me. Still, it was an invaluable learning experience.
I did get many things, even extravagant things. Early on, fortunately, I mindfully examined the experience they gave me. I found out whether they mattered or not. Without that experiential exercise, all this talk would merely be empty philosophy, even foolish denial.
To learn my lesson, I’m ashamed it may have taken me more things than lots of other people. Yet, I’m glad I didn’t get stuck on things that never really mattered. Or stuck on chasing after them in futility.
Many things are necessary for life. So, they matter vitally in that generic sense. Still, there’s not one specific thing I can think of that really matters to me.
Once I’ve gotten the things I need for sustenance, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. (And this pandemic has convinced me that I need far fewer things than I once thought.) Then, I turn my attention to what really matters.
Amazingly, with that mindset, securing what is necessary becomes rather easy. It’s like passing the first plateau when you are going for the mountain top high above it.
Whenever anything makes me feel good, I look deeply into the actual experience it gives me. Then, I pursue that kind of experience rather than the thing or object that led me there.
You must examine what really matters. The answer will define your life as ordinary or extraordinary, regardless of whether things are involved. There is not a moment to waste.
Tak C. Poon, MD, PharmD, ABHIM, FACC, Preventive Cardiologist, now developer of a non-profit wellness blog and a lifestyle habit-forming app at www.metacardio.org, and confessor of lessons I have learned in life.