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Me We

If you’ve been following this blog (or if you know me even a little bit), you know that I have been in pursuit of something – I would probably call it, in a jovial way, the meaning of life, or in other words, the key to happiness. As someone who, for all intents and purposes, has it all (health, family, friends and all needs taken care of), I have found myself wanting. For what? More money? Success? Fame? A sexier body? “Sure!” felt like the answer to these things. But no. There is evidence all around us that those who swim in success, fame, fortune and even sexy bodies too, often exhibit extreme misery and loneliness (just look at suicide rates, divorce rates, addiction rates etc of the rich and famous). So this just couldn’t be the answer. 

In addition to going to AA, where I was introduced to the humane beauty and belonging found in brutal honesty, and to church where I was reunited with the concept, from my group meditations in Brooklyn, of coming together as a group to take time for reflection and effort to be more virtuous. Couple these experiences with my readings on stoicism, the Danish way of Parenting, and Spiritual Minimalism, and although I have far more reading and learning to do, my hypothesis thus far is that “eudaimonia” (a Greek term that does not directly translate to English but could best be described as a combination of well-being, happiness and flourishing) comes from working deep within ourselves to cultivate a feeling of loving kindness toward our fellow human beings no matter what outside circumstances throw our way. To enjoy connection and friendship for exactly what it is, cup-filling and enriching enjoyment. To care for others, strangers! with our actions.

I have been actively experimenting with this hypothesis by practicing actions related to this belief on where “happiness” comes from over the past 6 months and with growing urgency and emphasis. What does this actually mean or look like on a day-to-day basis? Looking everyone I encounter in the eyes and with a smile. Never unnecessarily glancing down at my phone when someone is speaking to me. Cleaning up pee drops left on the toilet seat by someone other than me, and not for my own benefit (because I got really good at squatting in college). Helping someone at any opportunity. But this last piece, helping others when given the opportunity, is something I have actually incorporated into my life for some time now. 

Years ago, I noticed several reoccurring happenings on the subway. Someone would need help – either getting up the stairs, getting on the train, or needing a seat. And when I watched the faces of those who were doing the helping, I noticed that, after completing the selfless act, what can only be described as eudaemonia seemed to appear across their faces. I began practicing it myself to confirm. And yes – whenever I helped someone get across the street or helped a mother get her stroller down the stairs, or an older person carry their heavy things, I too felt a very good feeling come over me. Like a wave of uplifting worthiness. I remember once being in a workout room with a friend when someone came in apparently looking for something. There was only one other person in the room – a man who worked there as a personal trainer, doing his own workout. As the person began to close the door, I asked “what are you looking for?”. “A mat” he said. “Oh they are hidden in the corner” I said, and I handed him one. He thanked me (far more than the easy act justified) and I replied thanking him for the opportunity to help. After the person and the mat left, the trainer said “that’s interesting that you thanked him for the opportunity” and I replied sharing what I had noticed and experienced for myself, that helping others was an opportunity for ME to feel good.

But these little one-off acts of helping others are totally different from my approach over the past 6 months. I have been actively working to care about and therefore to serve others as best I can. I am a Vedic meditator which means that I meditate twice a day for 20 minutes, mostly by myself and with a meaningless mantra that helps to quiet my mind. As I was instructed when I first learned to meditate, during the last two minutes of my meditation, I drop the mantra and get to focus my mind on whatever I feel like. I used to imagine a clean white space in my mind expanding with every breath. Or sometimes, visualizing going about the rest of my day peacefully and joyfully. But recently, I have incorporated a few manifestations as a part of the last two minutes of my meditation and as a reminder of what is important to me and who I strive to be. These are as follows and in no particular order, and note that they draw on inspiration from The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Stoicism and The Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson, and Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff by Christopher Moore:

I am everything. I love everything. I am here to serve. 

Each day, I grow in abundance- wisdom- and love for the common wellbeing of mankind, as I inspire those around me to do the same. 

You are here. There will never be another (insert date). You are here. 

And I do believe that over the last six months, since I have begun to incorporate this concept, I feel a greater sense of ease.

To live in this way requires discipline, but the benefits, in the moment when I am receiving them, feel well worth it. But the discipline is real. It is such a constant struggle with my vices which include food, cannabis, and yearning for personal achievement, glory and fortune. I am especially at my worst when I am focused on the latter. And then it snowballs which usually results in bustling around aimlessly or getting unnecessarily frustrated with my kids. But, with my newfound regular efforts to realign myself toward eudaemonia, I am able to get back to center. For me, the antidotes for feeling powerless over my vices are meditation and dancing (ideally in the sun). That is how I am best able to come back to a center of love, where I am leading with love and care, focused on the betterment of the We. Because that is where I believe the ‘me’ finds eudaimonia. 

And as you see – this is all actually self serving! But I think the beauty is that it also serves the whole. Me. We. 

—End of part 1—

48 hours later: And still I seek.

In fact, immediately after writing the above, I went to my daughter’s friend’s house for a play date. I sat down with the father and in less than 5 minutes, I shared with him that I had just written a blog post about the meaning of life, and my hopeful hypothesis that the next phase of our evolution is coming and it is a collective up-leveling of consciousness that we are all in this together and what makes us happy is each other.

He responded with tremendous skepticism because that, as he saw it, demanded significant WORK from the collective- and humans are programmed to operate at the lowest level of energy output. I guess that could make sense right? Biologically, we are evolved to survive and to do that back in the days of hunters and gathers, we had to wait out long dark periods of very little food and therefore, needed to save our energy – which in warmer seasons we spent finding food and avoiding predators. I think that is the same energy that now is often used to stress out about all kinds of little things that make our hearts palpitate in the same way they did when we were running from predators and fearing starvation. So we are still spending that energy (wastefully IMO) and I guess the dad may be right that we are therefore trying to operate at the lowest level of output (as a general rule).

But OK so go with me here. What if the next phase in our evolution is actually that we figure out how to STOP stressing about not life-or-death things like: work shit, someone’s social media post, getting cut off in traffic, running late, something someone said about us or how we may have seemed awkward at an event. What if we are somehow able to divert our energy from going there, and then we have energy reserves – like a savings, where we can actually spend it on the luxury of growth beyond simple adulthood – emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth to up-level that consciousness y’all! I happen to think the mechanism to get there, as best as I can identify one, is meditation. At its most basic level: meditation is an effective and efficient form of deep stress release. It makes sense that in order to have these energy reserves, we would need to ground ourselves first to manage stress before it starts.

When I got back from the dinner playdate, I shared the above (part 1) with just one person – my business partner (and spiritual guide) Alessandro. “You write like it is all there and figured out. But yet you feel the need to explore and GO in the craziest of ways! If you have it all figured out then why do you keep seeking? The point of life? There are millions of different animals on this planet and none but us asks this question. The point of life is to live!”.

That sounds right. But still I feel a yearning to figure something out. Figure IT out. But yet I can’t quite define what IT is.

And so still I seek. Onward! Want to join in on this discussion? I would love that! Where do you think we go from here (evolutionarily)? Also, I am an enneagram 7 – do you think that has something to do with the feelings I describe in part 1?

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