What if life is like a puzzle? On the day you are born, they give it to you to solve. They tell you that the puzzle of human existence can be solved and that once you solve it happiness and fulfillment can be yours. Now, as you go through life, you try different solutions to the puzzle but you always run into difficulties.
It would seem that you’re attempting to balance various pairs of opposites. For example:
- You wish to enjoy living in the present, which often entails taking vacations from work, spending money on what you want now. But you also wish to be goal oriented, and to be provident about saving for the future. And so you wonder if, you should wait until the latter part of your life to have the desert, or whether due to life’s uncertainty, you should have the desert now.
There’s an old rock song, by “The Grass Roots,” called “Live for Today.” It goes, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today. And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow.” But there’s another rock song that has the lyrics, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” OK, then, which is it be? Should you live for today or live for tomorrow?
What’s that you say, Paul McCartney says, “ I believe in yesterday.” Well, that doesn’t help us any.
- OK, here’s another inner-conflict. If you’re like most people, you like to leave your options open. You don’t like to decide, for any decision would limit you. And so the waiter comes and asks you if you’ve decided, and then you say, “Hmm, I don’t know, do you have a buffet?” But, on the other hand, you know that you need to choose a direction in life. If you’re in college, you have to declare a major. So, what will it be? Keep your options open or choose a direction?
- Here’s another example of an inner-conflict. On the one hand, you desire security. But, on the other hand, you find that too much security leads to boredom. So you become adventurous, but too much adventure leads to anxiety. And so, which shall it be, boredom or anxiety?
- Here’s another example of an inner-conflict. You wish to be good-natured, but you also don’t wish to be taken advantage of. If you proceed to be kindly, trusting, and forgiving, you can end up feeling like a chump. But if you proceed in the direction of being cautious, guarded, and cynical in regard to people, you can end up feeling petty, small, and lacking in largesse of spirit.
These are just some examples of the many pairs of opposites that we try to balance. Sometimes a person will use the expression “Getting it together,” as in “I’m trying to get my life together.” The effort to get it together is the effort to solve the puzzle, the riddle of human existence. I’m now going to ask you a philosophical question, one that you might find to be shocking, so please sit down and tighten your seatbelt….
OK, now for the question I said that I was going to ask you. The question is, “What if, the puzzle that you’re given at birth — which we might call ‘the riddle of human existence’ —cannot be solved? What if the conflicts that you experience in life are not resolvable, because they are based on ultimate and irresolvable contradictions?” Hmm, that’s a scary thought. But if can also be a liberating thought!
It’s liberating because instead of devoting your life to the exhausting effort to get it together, you can let go of the effort to get it together? What would your life be then?
Let me express it another way. People today talk a lot about achieving their dreams. Indeed, every motivational speaker in the world uses that expression. It’s curious that they should say “dreams” rather than “goals.” Maybe that’s because the word “dreams” has a sense of unreality about it.
Oscar Wilde said “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” But it’s also true that when the gods wish to punish us they help us to achieve our dreams. For life’s dreams have a curious way of turning into nightmares.
And so, here again, what if instead of attempting to get it together, you could let go of the effort to get it together. And what if instead of struggling to achieve your dreams, you could awaken from your dreams? Well, if you could do that you’d be what the Zen masters call awakened. You’d no longer be deluded by life’s dreams, for you would have awoken from them. You would have left Plato’s Cave. You would have left the Matrix. And your inner-conflicts, disappointments and anxieties vanish.