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There Is No Secret Ingredient

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
Viktor Frankl.

In 1946, Viktor Frankl—a Holocaust survivor and an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist—wrote his seminal book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl wrote the book over the course of nine consecutive days, with the original intention of publishing it anonymously, but upon his friends’ insistent advice, he added his name in the last minute. In the introduction to the 1992 edition, in reflecting upon the millions of copies sold in the half-century since the original publication, Frankl pointed out:
In the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.”

If hundreds of thousands of people are looking for an answer, the question must be one that…burns under our fingernails.
So…
What’s the secret ingredient?

Have you ever made Kool-Aid? It’s pretty straightforward, add the Kool-Aid mix to water and stir. But what makes Kool-Aid Kool-Aid, and not the generic stuff? Can you taste the difference between the two? What does that mean if you can? What does that mean if you can’t?
What makes the Kool-Aid Man, the Kool-Aid Man?

kool aid

Some of you have seen this photo circulating the internet recently. And from a philosophical standpoint, this is actually a great and simple introduction to the differences between physicalism (or materialism): that is, he’s “the jar”; spiritualism (essentialism, essence): he’s “the liquid”; or dualism: he’s both.

What about you. What are you?
Is that the same as asking, “Who are you?”

Think about yourself presently. What thought occurs? A description? Perhaps you’re thinking of your reflection in a mirror.
Is the thing that you are thinking about called “myself [yourself]” limited? That is, a limited form? Or is it boundless?
Is it stable? Or unstable?
Ordered? Or chaotic?

Is there completion? Or infinite possibility?

When you look in a mirror, is that you?

More than that, does your mirror image of “you” portray anything of the you beyond the reflection? Your thoughts, your hopes, your emotions? Do all the words you currently know do justice to describing the thing that is “you”? Or is the gap between your linguistic description of “you” and the “you” you truly are, something that seems…nontranscendable?

You see, the image in the mirror is—by necessity—far more one dimensional than the entity that beholds it (you!).

Jacques Lacan came to the conclusion that we cannot—truly, nor fully—describe us, describe ourselves; both personally and collectively. However this is not a personal failing, but an existential truth.

You are so much more than you could ever describe, or be described.

…So why are we so obsessed and consumed with figuring it all out?
Why do we need an answer?

Why does life so often just feel like one big, neverending quest for answers?

Who am I?
What’s my purpose?
What does it all mean?
Can I figure it out?
Maybe because we think that if we can find the answer, we can give it meaning.
And in turn, we ourselves can have meaning.

What if you were given a scroll and told that it contains all the answers you need to become who you are, who you’re truly meant to be. And you open it, and it’s blank. Empty.
What if you’ve spent your entire life in search of that scroll, struggled and toiled for it, suffered for it, been ridiculed for it, doubted it yourself even, and then you find it. And you open it, and it’s blank.

Empty.

There’s no answer.

What then.

Who are you then. In that moment?

Or what if it’s an answer you don’t understand?
If it were as easy as googling “the answer. To life, the universe, everything,” would you do it?

google search

But again, what if the result is an answer you don’t understand.

google search result

This of course, is a reference to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In which a species very similar to our own built a giant computer called Deep Thought, to workout the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. (Something similar to what we’re after as well.) After millions of years, Deep Thought had reached an answer. And responded with, “Alright. The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.”

And since then, people have been figuring out just what 42 means.

One of my favorite interpretations comes from computer coders, in reference to American Standard Code for Information Interchange (or ASCII), which is that 42 is the designation for an asterisk. And an asterisk is computer code as a sort of “whatever you want it to be” symbol. A wildcard. Whatever you need it to be. It’s a fill in the blank.
Deep Thought, a giant computer, was asked what the true meaning of life, the universe, and everything is. It answered as a computer would.

Anything you want it to be.

The meaning of life is to give life meaning.

That’s a great answer. Even if you may not fully comprehend what it means.

Except…that’s NOT why Douglas Adams picked 42 as the answer to “the ultimate question.” In interviews, Adams said he was thinking of a boring number, a funny sounding, boring number, and came to “42.”
So even here, there’s no meaning. No clever reason. Just a number. A silly, ordinary number. With no hidden meaning behind it’s selection.

So WHERE is the MEANING?!
Confused travolta GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Well, for Adams, Deep Thought responds after giving “42” as THE answer by saying, “It would’ve been simpler, of course, to know what the actual question was.
What’s “the ultimate question?” IS the question.

Frederick Nietzsche said “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

I think we all too often confuse the questions “how” and “why,” or think the two are synonymous.
I disagree. I think “how” is an answer. “Why” is a question. (Perhaps even “the ultimate question.”) And I think we want answers more than questions. We want resolution rather than longing. We go through life wanting to sort out the How. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. One has “answers.” Like a “how-to” book.
How do I do x?
How do I “succeed”?

See, we don’t actually want meaning. We want dance steps. We want a formula. A recipe.

We want a secret ingredient that explains everything.

But just like in Kung Fu Panda, there is no secret ingredient.
It’s just you.

There is no “how.” There’s only “why.” And why is not a question anyone can answer. Why is a question you have to come to yourself.
“Hows” are very specific. But “Whys”? Why is a universal question we ask. Or at least we’re all capable of asking. Not everyone can follow a “how.” But all can ask, “why?”

If hundreds of thousands of people are looking for an answer, the question must be one that…burns under our fingernails.

Answers are everywhere. But questions? They’re only discovered inside you.
There is no secret ingredient.

It’s just you.

To make something special, you just have to believe it’s special.”

So what do you believe in? Do you believe you exist?
WHY…are you here?

See, in Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl outlines three areas for one to find meaning in life:

– Experiencing reality by interacting authentically with the environment and with others.
– Giving something back to the world through creativity and self-expression.
– Changing our attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change.

All of these have a common thread: YOU. The greatest mystery of all isn’t life, the universe, and everything, it’s yourself. Or rather perhaps, the mystery of life, the universe, and everything is contained within yourself.

YOU ARE THE ULTIMATE QUESTION.

Abraham Maslow once said, “What a man can be, he must be.

So what can you be? And don’t you think it’s worth finding out? More than that, don’t you think it’s worth being?
You see, I don’t believe that most people are actually afraid of dying, or of death. Death has a sense of finality to it. It’s an end. It’s an answer.
No. Most people aren’t living and afraid of death. Most people are dead and afraid of (the) Life—for living is the death of death.

When Viktor Frankl wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that wasn’t the original title. The book’s original title (in German) was “…trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen” which roughly translates to English as “…Nevertheless saying ‘Yes’ to Life”.

Nevertheless.
Saying ‘YES’ to Life.

Life, the universe, and everything is the ultimate question, the ultimate mystery, because you are the ultimate question, you are the ultimate mystery.

And you may not have an answer. Because YOU are the “why?” And you are so worth asking. You have FAR more worth than you could ever possibly imagine. And your life matters far beyond what you could ever possibly know.

Nevertheless.

Will you say ‘YES’ to Life?

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What’s Your Pacifier? (Acting Like The Child You Are)

“Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom like a child will never enter it.”

Today was a milestone for my 3 year old. She said “thank you, goodbye” to her pacifiers, and we threw them out, never to be used again; and then celebrated with ice cream.

Now—a little backstory. My daughter has been leaning a bit more heavily on her pacifiers since she was weened from breastfeeding about a year ago. Whether it’s for sleep or when she needs emotional comfort, she’d readily and confidently proclaim “I need to get my pacifier to help my body.”
And today we said goodbye to that aide.
It’s not that they were actually pointless. No, they did, in fact, help her self-sooth when she recognized she needed that.
And it’s not that she won’t require “help” for her body going forward. She most definitely will.

No.
It’s that now—as she’s growing older—it’s time to move forward and find other ways to “help her body” when she catches herself needing emotional comfort; another outlet for her to self-sooth.
(As I said, we celebrated by eating ice cream afterwards, so I’m HOPING she doesn’t jump to “I need ice cream to help my body”…)

Here’s the thing: We ALL have “pacifiers.” And they’re not bad. And they’re not wrong. And they don’t make us weak simply because we need them to “help our bodies.” I think what has happened is we’ve associated growing up with doing away with pacifiers. And maybe that’s true. But I think what it moreso comes to is that we highly value being a grown-up. It’s holds more standing in a social hierarchy.
But here’s the question I have: is getting older the same as growing up?
Or can you get older, and yet still be childlike?

See, there’s many of us who (in some form or another) experienced trauma from a young age, and were—in a sense—forced to “grow up” quickly.
Grown-up children.

And yet, equally so, there are also many of us who never got older, even though we grew up.
Immature, “childish” adults.

Amen (Hebrew for “let it be (so)”) I say, unless you are “strepho” and “ginomai” children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

I’ve spent a lot of my life attempting to pass as a grown adult.

 

Most of this stems from deeply rooted issues and a need to protect myself (re: childhood trauma). And in my life, I’ve been both a grown-up child and a childish adult.

But here’s the quandary that Jesus presents: just what does it look like to allow yourself to be changed and become a child? What’s being a child look like when you’re an adult if not one of the two options mentioned above?

What’s it mean to be “childlike”?

Now, I love Spielberg’s 1991 film, “Hook.” And I was going to tie this post in with the film, but upon re-inspection of many of the ideas presented in Hook, I’m not sure how fully behind the message I am, as I once was.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that’s right in what the message conveys.
And so rather than get into what it gets wrong, I’m simply going to stick with the points that I think encapsulate what I’m trying to convey.

In the course of the film, Peter Banning (actually THE Peter Pan) comes to realize why he left Neverland in the first place.

And it wasn’t to grow up.

It was to become a dad.

This comes after countless interactions with his children, angry at them for being, well…children. For not being grown-ups themselves.
And further, this comes after entering the previously thought to be imaginary world of Neverland. A place designed for children to escape to and never grow up. Except Neverland isn’t a place solely for actual children.

We see adults there too. However…“All Grown-Ups are pirates.”

So who are these grown-ups that have also escaped to this imaginary world? What exactly do the pirates convey? What are they obsessed with? What do they want? Who do they follow?
What do they live for?
And what were they escaping from?

They’re not children. But they act like children. Children with “grown-up”, adult preferences, desires.
Pacifiers.

So does that qualify the pirates in Neverland as being “childlike”?

Either way, there is, nevertheless, this stark difference between Neverland, and the “real” world.
Peter left Neverland not to grow up, but to become a father. And somewhere along the way, he grew up. The “grown-ups” in Neverland, the pirates, act like children, and perhaps would do so in the “real” world as well.
Maybe that’s why they escaped the real world for Neverland.
They’re not childlike, but they’re closer to what I think Jesus is looking for and requiring than the grown-ups in the real world. Some part of them knows that the real world is less real than Neverland.

The real world is more constructed and imaginary than Neverland.

And while the pirates are childish and not childlike, as I said, I think they’re closer and more ready to accept a Kingdom of Heaven as a child than most “grown-ups” in the real world.

So again, what’s it mean to be childlike?

Does it mean never letting go of your pacifiers?
Does it mean hating vegetables?
Pretending to be a baby?

You see, we weren’t having my daughter throw away her pacifiers in a bid to get her to grow up and be more adult(like). Because I believe that vulnerability and a need for comfort isn’t a weakness. I think the thing is, pretending that you’re invulnerable, and are want for nothing, that is weakness. And yet isn’t that what we’ve characterized what being “grown-up” is? Invulnerable. Strong. Independent. Self sufficient.
No weaknesses.
No need for help.

“I don’t need the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven needs ME.”
Image result for king kong got nothing on me gif

 

My daughter is growing older. But I don’t want her to grow up. Nor my son.
Because I’ve experienced what it is to be a grown ass man.
And I much prefer being childlike.

So what does it look like for YOU to allow yourself to become childlike?

Because I believe it means being vulnerable. It means knowing you’re just a kid. That there’s still SO much to experience. SO much to learn. SO much to discover.
It means not being so concerned with self. Not being self-conscious.
Not worried.
Carefree.
Maybe even to the point of being uncouth. Brazen.

 

Ultimately, to be childlike doesn’t mean to never leave Neverland.
To be childlike is to remember Neverland. To keep Neverland locked away in your heart, and treasured.
Because while Neverland isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps it’s a close representation of what the Kingdom is.

Throw away your pacifiers.
Only when the time comes.
But don’t ever think you’ve grown up beyond pacifiers.

Because you are not a Pirate. AND you are not a Grown-Up.

But you’re also not a Lost Child (a Lost Boy), because you’re not Lost. Even if this world tell you you are. Even if you sometimes believe it.

However…see and believe that you are still a child, nevertheless.

Image result for you are the pan gif

So act like it.
ACT LIKE A CHILD.

BANGARANG.

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This New Year Needs More Sister Act

 

Full disclosure: I’m absolutely terrified about this new year. Legitimately, like to the point of periodic paralysis (I think they’re called panic attacks), as if I’m one of those freezing goats. I’m stuck between the end of one year that brought about SO much, the end of one decade that brought about even more, and the beginning of so much new.

New and unknown.

I think that’s why there’s such a tendency towards New Year’s Resolutions. New year, new you. Time to get things right, finally. Looking ever forward, in last year’s nests there are no birds this year. And it makes sense. We long for order—for a narrative. Structure. And there’s something about points in time like a New Year, the end of one period and the beginning of another, that just resonates with that longing; like a chapter break, and then a new chapter.
So we resolve particular things. In one sense of the word, we hope to end (bring resolution) things we didn’t like. And then we resolve other particular things. In the other sense of the word, we “commit” (make a resolution) to things we want for ourselves. I put commit in quotes because that’s always the issue, isn’t it. The commitment part.
So we believe in making New Years Resolutions. Ultimately, to bettering ourselves and our lives.

And that’s my point. I don’t think we don’t need resolutions. But what we need is a different definition of resolution. A different understanding of it. Because I believe what we really long for isn’t better, but harmony. Perhaps an end to disharmony in our lives, to discord, and to reach or achieve true harmony.

Music is based on a seven chord scale (7 has interesting connotations, like the seven days of creation). In a major chord, there’s…perfect harmony. But in a minor chord, one note is one half step off. The minor chord makes us long for the major chord; the minor chord evokes a longing for harmony. Basically, it evokes a longing for completion.
The discord (or perhaps, dis-chord) causes us to long for harmony, for completion. And in music, the term for this is resolution. When that major chord is reached, it’s called a resolution.

Harmony is resolution.

“It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift.”
The baffled king composing hallelujah.

That’s what’s being talked about in that song. The fourth to the fifth. The minor fall and the major lift. It’s talking about the progression from disharmony to harmony.
It’s talking about resolution.

When the minor falls, do you stop there?

In the film Sister Act, Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) is put in a convent as a form of witness protection. She’s told to lay low. To keep quiet. This is only temporary, and then she can get her old life back.
And she ends up changing everything. But more than that, she ends up being changed by everything.

See, as the clip above reveals, the choir is horrible. Out of tune. Unstructured. Disharmonious.

And everyone hates it. Well, actually, everyone hates it, but is content to leave things the way they are. To just deal with the horribleness of it, the discord.
Eventually, Deloris (called Sister Mary Clarence in the convent) gets placed in the choir, and takes it upon herself to correct it. You see, she’s not supposed to stand out, she’s just to lay low and not get too involved. But she can’t help it. So she takes charge, and turns discord into harmony.
She brings about resolution.
But it doesn’t look exactly like how everyone wants it to look.

 

She brings harmony, but with funk. She brings harmony, but it’s unbridled.

She brings harmony, and in a word, it means freedom. Even if freedom is uncomfortable.
And freedom is not what everyone wants. Because freedom can FEEL like chaos, it can SEEM like discord. Which can easily be confused with discomfort.
But harmony is freeing. And freedom is contagious.

Harmony spreads.

Basically, in the film Sister Act, when “the minor” fell (for Deloris Van Cartier), she didn’t stop there. She didn’t settle. She kept going to the major lift.
She kept going THROUGH the discord (dis-chord), until the harmony. Even if she and everyone else suffered through discomfort for it.

That’s an important point to zero in on:

Discomfort can feel like discord, but it doesn’t always mean that those two things are one and the same.
If all you’re used to is discord—if all you’re used to is disharmony—then harmony can absolutely BE uncomfortable.

 

I always connected to Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the Sister Act films. That feeling of being stifled. That longing to not be stifled. And then finding yourself in that very position. In everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve wanted to bring about the freedom that she brings in those films. To bring harmony, and also funk.
Because freedom is harmonious. But I like to think it’s also funky.
If you’ve never allowed yourself to truly be free, well then once you experience freedom truly, it can truly make you uncomfortable. But would you rather be uncomfortably free, or comfortably not free? To be king of your own castle, but one that’s a prison.

Maybe we’re all the baffled king”… (or at least start out as such)

Because all of this feels so baffling, particularly to someone like me who tends to find comfort in knowing.
As I said at the beginning, I’m terrified of this new year.
Personally, there’s a number of reasons why. One of which is the fact that I’m not going to be teaching this coming spring semester, and returning to teach again for summer and fall. But in the meantime, I have no idea what I’m going to do.
I’m finding myself completely baffled. Confused. More to the point, I’m finding myself in discord—disharmony.

The song Hallelujah begins with the verse, “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord.” David is the “baffled king” that later verses are referring to.

With all of my being, I wish I knew that secret chord that pleased the Lord. Because somewhere in my head, I’m convinced that if I get it right, if I can just do something right, I can please the Lord. And MAYBE, just maybe, if I do that, I’ll not be so terrified, because I know I’ll be taken care of.
And I won’t have to worry.
I’ll only be free when I get it right. When I get ME, right.

I don’t want to be the baffled king. And I don’t want to keep living in the minor fall.

But maybe it’s because I don’t really want to “compose hallelujah.” (In the Hebrew texts, “hallelujah” basically means “praise God” or “to praise God”) Or at least, I don’t want to be “composing hallelujah” in disharmony.
I want harmony. Without suffering through being baffled.
I want harmony without the hallelujah. I want harmony without praising God.
Because harmony in disharmony doesn’t make sense in my logic and reason and need for structure and narrative. Because praising God in discord is difficult. Hell, it’s more than difficult. It’s practically hell.

How do you exist as a baffled king, and also compose hallelujah?

When you find yourself the baffled king, it feels like your voice has been taken from you. You don’t want to sing. You feel like you can’t sing. Like maybe your song has been taken from you…

In Sister Act 2, Deloris Van Cartier is put in a similar position and role as she was in the first film (only this time, it’s her choice to do so; she knows her role): namely, to bring harmony to disharmony. To turn discord into resolution. And she does it again. Because again, harmony spreads.
But at the end of the film, as the high school choir is set to compete, another school has sung their song (“Joyful, Joyful”). One student in particular, Lauren Hill’s character, has been repeatedly told that nothing will come from her singing. Which seems true of the choir as a whole. To an inner city school and its population, maybe that’s true. Nevertheless, when all seems lost, when it’s all pointless, the choir sings.
More than that, they allow themselves to be free. Instead of being what they should be (as we try to make ourselves with our New Years Resolutions), they simply allow themselves to be themselves. They don’t change themselves (make themselves).
They sing.

And maybe that’s exactly the point.
That harmony IS composing hallelujah when all is lost.

What if harmony is “composing hallelujah” in disharmony?

I have no clue what this year will bring. Not least of which for me, let alone for you either. But the question I pose to you is the same question I pose to myself:

How willing are you to be the baffled king, and compose hallelujah?

I think we need New Years Resolutions. Or perhaps just resolution. What we need is an end to discord. Harmony.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth the discomfort?
What if you had to take off your robes, or your fig leaves? What if it requires you being you? All of you? Exposed?
What if resolution requires vulnerability?

Put on anything you want, if we’re gonna go out there, we’re gonna go out there comfortable.”

Meaning, we’re gonna go out there FREE.

Or maybe it’s going out there that’ll make us comfortable. Eventually.

So if you find yourself in turmoil this New Year, in strife, in discord and disharmony, remember Sister Act (1 and 2). Don’t try to change yourself. Or strive to be what you think you SHOULD be.
Surrender to the song.
Let it overtake you.
Sing.
Because if you keep singing, Resolution will come. The minor falls, the major lifts.
And harmony will come.
And freedom will come.
And it’ll be contagious.
And it’ll be funky.
And above all, it’ll be joyful.

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