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WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?


Why do you do what you do? As anyone who has ever felt the pangs of hunger knows, it is often out of need. But necessity is just one of several reasons to explain your actions. We do things out of duty; we do things because we fear the consequences of not doing them; many people go to work to make money, so a job is often a means to an end; we do things from habit; or out of a sense of compulsion. Some of our daily activities are done for pure enjoyment. Lying under the shade of a sycamore tree, humming a soothing melody, gazing at the sunset over the Pacific blue, masturbation: these are ends in and of themselves. We do them because they give us pleasure.

Sadly, many busybodies are such simply as a way of distracting themselves from one or more of the following: their own thoughts, the existential pain of being human, the emptiness that rots in the center of their souls. So they text an acquaintance, or watch Parks & Recreation re-runs. I confess!

I think the most exalted endeavors are the philosopher's, the artist's and the mystic's, in ascending order of awesomeness. The philosopher seeks to understand truth, to view it as a concept from all angles, to penetrate its unfathomable depths by argument and logic. The ancient Greeks come to mind, as well as the dauntless torch bearers who have practiced the love of wisdom in the centuries since Socrates rocked his toga. The artist seeks to realize truth in her work, to achieve beauty - on the canvass, in the chorus, within a chapter. This line of work can be very fulfilling, especially if you do it well. Why else would virtuosos like Mozart and Michelangelo and more recently Michael Jackson and Madonna, create as prolifically as they have, unless it was supremely fulfilling? Yes the pay is good, and the fame and glory. The mystic has no knowledge of these blandishments. He recognizes that he is the very truth that others seek to debate or to draw. His life is his art, and rather than understand with the mind, he transcends the mind entirely for the thoughtless tranquility that dwells in his heart, and in the heart of everyone. 

But how much of your day is spent realizing truth and beauty, in being the philosopher or artist or mystic? If you are lucky, at least some. But it takes more than luck. You have at times to fight for your right to party (a stand in for doing what you love, or being who you are), as the Beastie Boys sang. It's so easy to spend our time at the lower levels of existence. Lower because animals do them, and also because we are closer to the ground, as in our infancy. The infant is motivated by pure necessity. Most of its existence is spent satisfying the needs of the body. It cries for mother's breast when it's hungry, or when it needs to sleep. And it sleeps a lot, some 20 hours a day: that is all of the time it is not eating or eliminating. Or needing to be coddled. One of life's oft-neglected needs. Just to be hugged.

We move from four legs to two, from a crawl to a walk and then we graduate into the world of enjoyment. To be a kid is to play. Kids want to have fun. They love to laugh, to spend the whole day enjoying themselves, their environment, others. Life is pleasurable. Full of suprises and adventure. Then we are dragged kicking and screaming to grade school and play time is limited to 15 minutes in the morning and maybe 30 minutes after lunch. Our motivation for doing becomes fear and compulsion. Compulsion is when you're forced to do something. Like homework. It's a free country. You can certainly choose not to do your homework. But then you must suffer the consequence of being called out in class, labeled a dunce and standing in the corner. Or so I'm told. Fear of being the brunt of your classmates' teasing, of being publicly shamed, makes you do what you'd otherwise not do. Studying. Because really, if the world were truly free you'd spend your time climbing trees and playing doctor instead of dissecting leaves and learning Latin American capitals. 

Then after years of compulsory education, of doing things we are forced to do through fear or not and suffering ridicule and failure, we go into the real world and the cycle perpetuates itself. We sit at a desk and perform tasks we don't care about and instead of scoring a passing mark, the carrot at the end of the grade-schooler's string, we earn a bimonthly check. So work now becomes a means of making a living. Often nothing else. 

The point is we are conditioned away from our love of play first by parents and teachers, then the message is reinforced by the boss, the government, the media, the "man." So how do philosophers/artists/mystics escape this cycle? Are they genetically superior? An alien race? Just smarter than us dullards? Well, many of these "universal individuals" were never on the cycle in the first place. The formal education of many musicians, for instance, ends with high school graduation. How many prodigies took college musicology? I can't think of one, at least not one singer I listen to. Prince, MJ, Billie Joe Armstrong all barely scraped through high school, if that. The same goes for mystics, who often-times left school even earlier than their artsy peers. The Indian sages I love to read about were out of class by the time they turned 14 or 15. And the real philosophers, the men who wrote the books that moderns base their courses on, the books other books are based on, like Plato and Socrates, and the Hindu rishis, really had no formal higher education in the way we understand the term. There were no universities when Christ walked the Earth. These avant guardians taught themselves how to think, by observing things around them and themselves and learning from close association with local elders. Who may have also sodomized them. The world's not perfect. But paying $100,000 for a degree you don't use is arguably worse than getting f#%#ed in the ass, though this offers no consolation to those of us who have jumped through the hoop. Oh well, live and learn (at ungodly interest rates - or so I'm told).

The formally educated are seeing their numbers increase by the year. We have learned how to make the grade, but in doing so have forgotten what really matters. We have lost ourselves in the process. In order to step off the cycle of as I call it useless action and devote less time doing because we need to do, feel obligated to do, fear the consequences of not doing, do as a means to an end or from force of habit or out of compulsion or the desire to be distracted - it is essential we deprogram ourselves and then, to use a digital analogy, reprogram and reboot. Your computer crashes, you restore to an earlier date or delete everything and reinstall the merest essentials. I did this with my 5-year-old Dell and it runs like a dream now, only without Microsoft Word. But there are free word-processors available online, I've come to find. Try AbiWrite. To humanize the approach: stop rushing. Right your skewed priorities. Do not act or not act out of fear. Fear is in your mind. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Let everything you do be done as an end in and of itself, and always view your self as the highest end. You are already what you seek and what you strive to attain. You are perfect, timeless, omnipresent and whole. That's all the philosophy that matters, any additional art is mere airbrushed fluff, even Mozart's symphonies cannot compare, because you don't need an iPod to listen to your heart when your heart speaks the truth, which is that you are the most beautiful in the world.

Focus on what you can call "pleasures in themselves." Running does this for me. I run for its own sake. Not to get to a destination, since I always arrive back where I started. Not to get more fit, since I often run the same route at the same pace and was probably faster 10 years ago than I am today. Not even for the calorie burn, though it is nice to enjoy a few extra bananas after a long haul. Running is unlike, say, playing a musical instrument. Practice playing the guitar and you will get better. Do it enough and you can become the next Prince. I will not be the Prince of runners no matter how far or fast I make myself go. I will only diminish my enjoyment by burning it out. And so I succumb to my inertia, at 6 minutes a mile. Maybe if I spent less time running and more time writing, I'd have been good enough at stringing words together by now to attract a wider audience than just you. But in 20 years I have only spent about 4,000 hours moving in a straight line at a reasonable pace through space. And 4 hours a week isn't much. It's barely two movies. Not even the Matrix trilogy. Running any more for me wouldn't be fun, because I've tried. Or any less either. Because I've tried. With time you find your happy medium, which is pure enjoyment.

Evaluate each day in your life, every minute of every hour. With each action ask yourself, why? You get out of bed and attend to the maintenance of the body by eliminating, bathing, brushing your teeth, breakfasting. A day is like a lifetime, and the morning is like infancy, when necessities have their sway. Then what? Notice how the sense of duty dominates your day. Duty to whom? To your parents, spouses, kids? Where does living for others stop and for your self, your own soul, begin? Is there a hint of compulsion to your actions, and are they done in a perfunctory manner? Do you trudge through the day begrudgingly? I know because I have. Many times. One time too many and I knew it was time to quit. Is it the force of habit that makes you check your phone 50 times a day when you know you hardly ever get texts and the only person who emails you is in the other room - so just pop your head inside and say hi. 

How many of your actions are done as distractions that masquerade as enjoyment? These are trickiest of all. Is the TV show you binge on really entertaining, or does it merely get you out of your own crazy head? How much better might that time be used alone with your thoughts? Or moving though nature and feeling the breeze beneath your feet, for like an hour or even 10 minutes? Or scrubbing the bathtub. Bathtubs need scrubbing. But you are not a child any more. Nobody is making you do what you don't want to do unless it's you. And you can always stop. Even that job. It helps to minimize your desires, so you won't need as much as you think you do. You can make the rules in your life. Are you trying to live up to other people's expectations? Do you do things for fear of being labeled a slacker or a bum if you abstain? Am I beginning to sound like an infomercial? I've been called worse. Like a bum. It doesn't smart a bit. Not like an empty belly that is. And the work you say is so necessary for your existence. The job around which your identity is entwined. If it is just a means to an end, if it is not at least in part an end in itself, like the artist who can earn a living for his song even in the days of instant play on YouTube, then you should consider doing something else. Because you're not getting any younger, sorry to tell you.

Every act is of equal weight in the grand scheme. Consider the cells of your body. I have. It was part of the education leading to my $200,000 degree I never use. If you could be a fly on the wall (of your artery) in a debate about who is most important, you'd hear many opinions. The heart cells would swear that they are number one, since without pumping blood the organs would become oxygen starved and fail, and death the only result. But death will result without the liver to detoxify chemicals, or the kidneys to eliminate them. Without the many metabolic hormones made by your pancreas and thyroid, without the nerves that transmit impulses through your brain. If even one cell or cell line failed to carry out its function, whether pump blood or constrict muscles or think thoughts or make babies, the body would die, and the human race end. So you see, it doesn't really matter what you do or don't do.

But unlike with the human race, there is no question which  line of work a particular cell should engage in. The thyroid is programmed to make hormones and the intestines to make waste. If a cell doesn't know what to do, fails to "become something" and breeds indiscriminately, it is called cancer, and deadly. We are so many undifferentiated cells, walking around not knowing what to do, impelled in the direction of necessity and away from pain, propelled by habit and a sense of duty - to our country, family, friends, convention. And that's okay for a time. But don't become cancer. Don't just get fat and make babies. Isn't this what all too often happens? Find what you love. Do it as much as you can. But remember that just being you is the greatest aim of all. There's no cell without a purpose other than simply to be. No cancer, either. As human, home to the trillions of cells, their god, you can be THAT because you already are. 

You are not in school any more, speaking of which: I remember when I was in seventh grade, at the end of the school year. The grades were in, the report cards had been handed out a day early. So on Friday, all we had to do was show up and clean out our desks. That done, we got to spend the remainder of the day in a consequence-free environment. No assignments. No tests. No homework. Nothing really mattered. Just to play. There were no rules. Of course there were rules. But they couldn't really be enforced. If a student misbehaved, the worst thing that could happen was he (or you, or me) would be sent home and summer vacation would start a couple hours early. So the worst thing wasn't all that bad. It's often like that in life. That Friday was one of the best days for me. Live every day of your life like it's your last day of school just to see what happens. One thing's for certain: there will be no shortage of fun.

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