Friday, 10 June 2011

On Fame, Fortune and Mortality

Here's some insight I gained during meditation. It has to do with the futility of striving for "fame and fortune", and the very concrete fact that we will all die in the end.

It doesn’t matter if you gain all the fame and fortune in the world. You are still going to die. So, our answer to “why we are on this planet”, along with all the other “spiritual” stuff, cannot be linked to what we do for a living, to what we do “in the human world”. Happiness, meaning, purpose… they cannot be linked to how much we succeed on anything. Not even how much we defeat the “systems”. 

Too often we run after fame and fortune, some measure of “glory” because civilization has convinced us that those who get “somewhere” are “immortalized”. That word is interesting. We remember them for centuries after they have died, we read their words and celebrate their deeds. We even build monuments in their name. But it’s all a farce. No matter how important, famous or celebrated a person is, there is no way to attain “immortality”. Everyone dies. From the most wealthy, to the most basest beggar. We live and we die.

It is actually one of the poisonous beliefs of civilization, one of its working principles. That “immortality” can be achieved by compliance to … something. God, king, nation, art. That if we get somewhere, we can outlive our time on this Earth.
No such luck.

It is important to separate our desire to do something with our time here from our often unquestioned belief that the greatness of the something will bring us worthiness or eternity. We all want to feel “worthy” and indeed we wouldn’t be reaching for worthiness through our careers if society provided it in some other way. Never before had people been shamed by the prospect of being a “nobody”. Our need for some basic recognition is legitimate. But the way to get it is not excellence in any chosen field.

Similarly, we all have to contend with the fact that death is the only certainty we have in life. That applies to all of us, rich and poor, famous and “nobodies”. True, more people cried the death of Elizabeth Taylor than my own granddad’s. So? Death is death for everyone. The question is, “how did you feel while you were alive?” And second to that comes, “what did you do while you were alive?”. My granddad did not “achieve” much in popular terms. He held the same low type job for decades. But he was a cheerful fellow who took pleasure in very long walks, books, cooking and abundant conversation. My dog loved him, and she was a tough one.

What is my point? I don’t have one. Ok, yes, I do. It’s this: our first goals must be internal. Or spiritual. We must feel remotely happy independently of what happens in our lives.

It’s easy to absorb “toxic” concepts from our environment and not notice that we are living as if they were true. The belief that we will not really die if we become rich and famous is one of them. You probably don’t actually “believe” that you will be immortal per se. But me personally? I carry on under the delusion that I’ll be richer and more famous in the future, and that that will somehow make the present better. How does that work? Because I subconsciously believe that in the future my life will be so much better that it will make my present life more "alive". When you consider that I will not, by definition, have “more life” as time goes by, then I’m working under the premise that “fame and fortune” will give me life in and of itself.

Ok, yes, this is complicated and I don’t know how to explain it any better.

And worthiness? Well, I live my life feeling completely and utterly unworthy, safe in the belief that I’ll be rich and famous in the future and that will make me worthy of living on this planet, worthy of people’s time, worthy of people’s love.
But of course, that’s not how it works. I could be crowned Empress of the Discworld tomorrow, which would be pretty cool. But it would not make me feel any more worthy, because that is something I have to resolve for myself. I have to give my own worth, nobody can do that for me. Not even Terry Pratchett.

Now, if only I could follow my own advice...

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