There are some perennial questions, including the one that goes, “What’s the meaning of life.”
In 1966 Dionne Warwick released the sone “What’s It All About Alfie” written by Burt Bacharach that began …
What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What I’ve found after doing my best to answer the most basic questions about life, after searching, seeking and doing my best to pay attention can be summed up simply … we’ve all been duped!!!
From the earliest time I can remember I was taught and inculcated to believe that life was economically organized, i.e.: a series of commitments and contracts based in a world of give and take, where the ideal is to wind up ahead in terms of what you’ve gotten for what you’ve given.
You might find it easier to get this if we just replace all the economic equations with … “I better get mine before you get yours, or I’ll wind up without.”
This idea of “getting one’s needs met economically”seems to apply to almost every area of one’s life, with few exceptions (if any), and I’d argue leads to a life of profound dissatisfaction … a chronic longing for something more that remains unfulfilled for most even when others are busy covering their remains with the dirt from the hole excavated to house what’s left of them.
So we have to ask where this comes from, when literally all of life, other than human life rejects this proposition for the most part.
Sure every organism seems to want to live, survive and thrive, taking what it needs to do so from its environment … food, water, for those that need it, shelter. They will fight not to be eaten or deprived of access to resources, and many will fight for their kind, especially in some cases, their young.
But they don’t seem in any way to need to contemplate or act upon thoughts of taking more than they need to survive and thrive, even animals that stock pile food like bees or ants do so in direct relation to the numbers of hungry mouths to feed, and their drive to reproduce and propagate. We also see some animals that seem to hunt and kill for sport, but we cannot know what they are actually thinking or acting upon, and even then, assuming the do it for sport, that differs from the drive to accumulate for the sake of accumulation.
Yet, we call accumulation “wealth,” and the striving to achieve and attain as much of it as possible in our lifetimes, “success” … with many acting in what seems to be a complete disregard of others, and to a great extent themselves too, to attain it.
So here’s the fundamental, driving question … “Does the striving for wealth bring satisfaction, or does it satisfy a false need that has been impressed and imposed upon the psyches of those heedlessly pursing it?”
Here’s my point exactly … if you don’t believe you can attain the satisfaction you desire and seek in your life from the pursuit and accumulation of wealth, and yet you find yourself in a race to attain it, you’ve been duped.
Now, put aside all the rationalizations and arguments about pursuing and attaining wealth, e.g.: how you can help others when you have the resources to do so (are you really seeking wealth so that you can help others first and foremost, really?) … or, the ideal of the freedom to live a you like when you have enough wealth (how much is “enough” and are you truly free when you are obsessed, even in part, by hoarding and managing your wealth?). There are other rationalizations and arguments, but we want to consider the point about the installation of the belief that wealth has the inherent ability to create deep, profound satisfaction … when all the evidence seems to point to another reality.
Let me digress for a moment before I continue …
When we think about all the most esteemed individuals in the chronicles of human history who are the most esteemed? I’d argue strongly that the wealthy do not fall into this category, even when we are amazed at their success in attaining enormous wealth. In fact some of the most infamous and despised characters in history were amongst the wealthiest as their stories are told.
I developed my expertise at the intersection of mythology, phenomenology, practicality and performance … the way that we, as humans, build lives that allow us to achieve what we desire and to live a life we hold as worth living as we do. This, I can assure you, goes far beyond the accumulation of wealth, truth be told I can tell you that there are myths in every time, place and culture that point out the profound cost of pursuing wealth, paid in full only with the sacrifice of one’s life. Myth, in addition to the other contributions it makes to the human experience, provides us with a window into hard earned, perennial truths …
Myth offers us a way to learn from the experience of others without enduring the pain and suffering they paid to get the lessons that their myth offers us now.
In full disclosure I have to admit I spent a not inconsiderable portion of my life pursing wealth in a way, and to a degree, that seems excessive now in retrospect.
Please do not misconstrue my comment above to mean that I do not appreciate the pleasure of wealth, nor the access to such pleasures that wealth provides, but rather an awakening to the cost of the pursuit, and what must be left behind to do so.
When I consider the question of “a life well lived” what comes up in the form of the mythological lessons available shows me that those most celebrated for having lived lives in exemplary ways pursued passions — that while possibly providing them with wealth, even great wealth — were beyond the economic equation of accumulation, and instead these unique individuals sought expression.
The passions of the most celebrated persons in history seem to converge on their desire and intention to explore some unique creative urge, whether that urge was expressed in the form of manifesting some great work of art, or manufacturing some incredible contribution to humanity, or exploring some deep unknown mystery, or simply finding a way to live in greater harmony with the flow of life as they found it arising before them.
We celebrate the artists and athletes, entertainers and entrepreneurs, scientists and spiritual masters for centuries, and in some cases millennia, with nary a passing reference to those who made the accumulation of wealth their main interest … and, if those that pursued wealth as an end unto itself are spoken of and remembered at all, we find their stories are at best sullied with references to their greed and avarice, as well often as their disregard for others, including those who loved them most.
So why do we hold those that pursued and succeeded in finding a unique expression of what it means to be human so extraordinary?
I am here to argue, because these individuals represent the exemplars who transcended the inculcation to slave solely to the call to produce for the sake of accumulation, and sought instead to satisfy a deeper call and urge, one to find the unique expressions that pulled them to use themselves in the service of that expression.
This idea, using yourself in the service of some unique expression which calls to you, has been referred to in many ways … living artistically, seeking mastery, striving for creativity … but, I’d like to simply call out that it may be a drive to achieve satisfaction, the satisfaction that we have come to know ourselves well enough to know what satisfies us beyond the need or desire for anything more than the act we engage in itself. Even when that act entails the realization of an outcome, the pursuit of that outcome provides reward to those who live in this way unto itself.
To choose a life of expression over accumulation requires a rejection of the messages installed and inculcated to induce you to join in the toil of production for the sake of production, and often unwittingly for the benefit of providing others with the best and most desirable fruits of your labor. This game has been the mainstay of a certain class of humans since the beginning of recorded history, a history of enslavement and production for the benefit of the ruling class, the nobles, who place themselves above others, and claimed to be their betters .. all the while requiring and demanding servitude with little or no reward for the sometimes profound expressions of value that their “lessers” provided.
What I’m on about here has been the observation that this particular game of servitude has been refined to the point where most accept it as the way of the world, i.e.: learn to produce (get a good education), work hard to make money (get a job), pay your taxes (follow the rules), buy things in an attempt to find satisfaction without (consume), while others glean the best of your efforts and accumulate from the wealth of your labor and genius (slavery).
Now some have indeed transcended this cycle, and as I’ve said even found a way to wealth via their profound expression as they live their lives. A a vast majority of times these folks have started with an idea to release themselves to their deep passions and the creativity that pours forth from that release. Then again, often working tirelessly to develop and manifest the expression of that passion and creativity, they found themselves rewarded in ways that even exceeded their sometimes enormous expectations.
Even those who only realize the pursuit of their passion often find themselves living lives of great satisfaction, beyond the reach of the installations and inculcations of “service” and “production” that enslave so many in the economic rat race to the grave.
But I don’t intend to leave you here …
What I want to offer in conclusion are two things:
One, a wake up call to begin to ask yourself why you do what you do … what drives you to awaken and act as you do each day? Do you find that the things you do from sun up to sun down bring you satisfaction and peace, or are they simply a means to an end that remains unrelated to the actions you engage in to realize that end … that my friends may be the definition of slavery.
Two, in the six decades I’ve been exploring these ideas, and many others, often using the lens of mythology to focus my work, I’ve found that there are countless stories of lives that point the way to a kind of profound satisfaction that only comes when we transcend running on the economic treadmill.
We can find a common traits in these lives, in story and in fact … they live in what I’ve begun to call a space that exists beyond the state of flow, where the synchronicity between the desire to create and the ability to achieve the creation you desire chase one another in a looping Möbius strip of delight.
Beyond flow transcends the need for a task, especially one given or assigned to us, to reveal the path that unites creativity, action and outcome … and you can access this state at will when you drop aside the desire for anything to be other than the way you encounter and experience it.
The seeming paradox, or contradiction of the desire to create and the willingness to accept things as they are, provides the necessary tension and energy required to express what you realize must already be possible, but has not yet been made so.
Those who discover the way to step into what remains beyond flow, the “at will” choice to access profound creativity in the service of their passions, often live by a simple dictum …
“It has already happened … just not yet.” – Joseph Riggio
If you let it, life can take you where it wants you to go, using you up, spitting you out and leaving an empty hull to show for it, even if your coffers are full to overflowing.
Yet, when you choose to discover the particular future that calls to you uniquely to unfold and bring it into being … you are beyond flow, and living the full expression of who you are, and I’ll let the great mythologist, who was with me at the start of this part of my own journey, finish this for us …
“You may have a success in life, but then just think of it – what kind of life was it? What good was it – you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off…. The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you really are happy – not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call “following your bliss”… There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.
P.S. – Dionne Warwick added this …
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, Alfie””