Tag Archives: Logic

The Center of the Universe or a Tiny Speck of Dust?

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” –Mohandas Gandhi

Hello friend,

How often does the drama in your life make you feel like the whole world hangs in the balance, ready to rise or come crashing down depending on how you come through the situation? Pretty much every day, right?

A few months ago, I had a ton of theatrics storming around my head and weighing on my heart. I was feeling the pressure of a self-imposed deadline on finishing my book, way behind but not wanting to give up writing these letters to you every week in order to get it done. It was a sacrifice I just didn’t want to make. Meanwhile, I was entangled in a web of uncertainty surrounding my job status and my future in any sort of career field. This was tied to the weight of my family’s then-recent financial instability, as my wife had quit her job to start her own business from scratch. We were in a pickle, definitely in the short-term and quite possibly the long-term, too. It did not feel good for this guy who prefers to remain oblivious to such things as personal finance and health insurance. And of course, coloring all of this and everything else was the now-typical political ignorance and outrageousness that is just America in this day and age.

In any case, it felt like this crucial life moment, like my fate and the fate of those around me hung in the balance, our lives to be forever altered by the outcome of these intermingling dramas.

In the midst of that existential three-ring circus in my head, I received an email that seemed innocuous on the surface but actually gave me quite a shake. It was my birthday, and amidst a few other calls and messages from my parents and siblings, there in my inbox was a message from my favorite aunt and uncle. “We hope this little tune helps keep things in perspective.” It was a link to a Youtube video called “Galaxy Song.”  It had the feel of something that might be on “Sesame Street” or “The Electric Company,” a playful song to educate while it entertains. Here are a few choice lines:

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day in an outer spiral orb at 40,000 miles an hour of the galaxy we call the Milky Way. Our galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars; it’s 100,000 light years side to side….And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions in this amazing and expanding Universe…..So remember when you are feeling very small and insecure how amazingly unlikely is your birth.

These lyrics completely arrested me. I know I had heard the stats before about the astounding size of the Universe, but I guess I had let their ramifications escape my awareness, because this was like learning them anew. It was a real smack in the face.

I guess that in the past, I probably used the facts about the enormity of the Universe as an argument against the half of my brain that doubts the existence of some type of Creator/God. After all, my argument went, in all of this vast “emptiness” in which we cannot find evidence of other “intelligent life” (though I definitely think we flatter ourselves with that label), surely we must have been specially created by a Divine hand, right? (I use the same type of logic when I try to convince myself that the astonishing degree of intricacy of the human body and every other organism and system on Earth is surely a sign of an intelligent Designer.)

But in this case, when I try to wrap my mind around the vastness of it all and just how infinitesimally small our planet is in the grand scheme (not to mention each of us people individually), it makes me think that not only might I not be specially made, but also that, either way, I am completely insignificant. My issues and dramas, my dreams and gifts–they don’t matter at all. They have no bearing on anything. How depressing!

But then I think, “No! I am here on this magnificent planet for a reason, and I have this overwhelming sense of significance that echoes from deep inside me. I matter! I know I do!”

But then there are the facts again, and it seems obvious that I am not even the tiniest blip on the screen of the Universe, not just historically but even on the picture of today. After all, there are billions more stars just like our sun and therefore billions more solar systems. Not “billions” as in a figure of speech or writer’s embellishment, but actual billions. My life–heck, even my planet’s life–is nothing.

And back and forth I go.

Maybe this debate–or at least the admission that there should be a debate–pains me so much because I have always felt it was my destiny to be a world-changer, an agent of progress and hope for the masses of people that I plan to reach with my words and deeds. I would like to say that I have always known that I was significant, that I was born to make a difference, to leave a mark. I have spent my life believing that.

That makes the glaring facts of the Universe’s unfathomable size so daunting and humbling. Going just by the numbers, it is impossible to claim any shred of importance. It’s almost enough to make me give up. Because let’s face it: on paper, I don’t even have a chance in this debate. I have nothing! Logically speaking, if my galaxy is insignificant, then my solar system is even more insignificant, in which case my planet is even more insignificant, and that means my own life–and especially each of my daily dramas about my job and my mortgage and my president–is surely of no consequence.

That is why I think that DENIAL must be an exceptionally strong evolutionary adaptation of ours. Think about it: given that we can know empirically that we are the equivalent of a tiny speck of dust in this vast Universe, how else can you explain how each of us feels so central to the whole show?

Honestly, doesn’t it feel like your life matters? Doesn’t it seem like the outcome of at least some of your major life decisions has an impact on the world, and that that impact is actually important in the grand scheme of things? I know it feels that way to me.

I can’t help but think that this feeling of significance and the element of denial have a lot to do with FAITH and our religious practices. Consider all of the many different religions and expressions of faith that we have come up with throughout history. At their core, they are a way to not only help us make sense of our world, but also to instill in us the idea that each of us matters, that what we do matters. Perhaps we cling so hard to these religions–despite their generally flimsy logic–because by focusing intently on them, we are able to avoid thoughts of the magnitude of the Universe and our statistical insignificance. Maybe FAITH and DENIAL are equal partners in an elaborate hoax we are playing on ourselves.

Or maybe our propensity toward both faith and denial of the facts should be viewed as more evidence that we are so significant that we have been gifted with these traits to ensure that we press on to fulfill our special destiny. Maybe we are evolutionarily wired for significance. Maybe those dreams, ambitions, and feelings of purpose and calling are the Universe’s reminder that there is more to us than any statistics can prove or disprove. Perhaps our mere existence is to be seen as enough of a defiance of logic that we ought to know better than to look at numbers to tell us our worth. Maybe we just need to trust ourselves on that, to listen to that still, small voice inside to remind us Who We Really Are.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Maybe I am no more important than any other speck of celestial dust and all of us are just interesting-but-meaningless carbon anomalies being carried along on this third floating rock from the sun. If that is the case, then I wouldn’t stress so much about the job and the house and the conmen in Washington. But the truth is that as much as my brain loves logic, the Truth of who I am rests in my intuition. Somehow, that still, small voice is the one I trust the most. And I don’t care if it is unknowingly saturated with denial. My gut tells me I have a purpose and that I am here to make a difference, a difference that matters in the grand scheme of things. If it is right about that, fantastic. If it is wrong and I am really just that speck of dust, well, then at least I will have lived out my days in the service of making life better for all those other specks around me. I am going to have to live with that. Because I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know a better way.

How about you? Do you actually matter, or is your significance as infinitesimally small as your actual size relative to the Universe? Open up your journal and allow your mind to swim in a different depth, even if just for a while. What is your initial, gut-level reaction to this question? Is there actually something significant about each of us riding here on this little planet that is floating around one star amongst the billions and billions of stars in our galaxy, which is only one of billions more galaxies? Why do you think so many people think we are special despite the evidence to the contrary? Is it arrogant of us who think this way? Do you think we would feel more or less significant if we learned that there was intelligent life on planets spread all across the Universe? How often do you find yourself conscious of how small you are in relation to the Universe, not just how you are only one of 7 billion inhabitants of Earth? Is it mostly out of your consciousness? Do you consider that a form of denial? Is that denial healthy? How much of humanity’s significance–and your personal significance–do you attach to your faith? When you look at your faith and then at the statistics about the size of the galaxy and Universe, does it make you question the basic stories behind religions more than you might normally be willing to do? How much do you trust your intuition on this matter? Does your gut tell you that you matter? How much say do your brain and logic have in the matter? Even if you knew that it is very likely that you are fooling yourself, would you still continue to believe that your life and your choices matter? What would life be like believing that none of this makes any difference at all? Are there people in your life who believe that? What do you think makes them keep going? Can we be both insignificant and the center of the Universe simultaneously? Have your thoughts on this topic changed throughout your life? Have they changed as you have processed this today? Which way are you trending? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you everything or nothing at all?

Shine bright,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you in any way today, please share it. We are all sharing this third rock from the sun, so let’s make it the best ride we can!

The Head vs. The Gut: Who Do You Trust?

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

My wife officially announced this week that she is quitting her job in one month. This is the job that has kept us fed, sheltered, and health-insured for the last 15 years. Does she have another job lined up? She does not.

Meanwhile, I have yet to find that perfect opportunity I have been looking for to make my return to gainful, “real world” employment.

We have two kids, a mortgage, car payments, utilities, and all of the other bills and obligations that make up life in modern America.

Reason dictates that I should be freaking out right now. My stress level should be through the roof. I should have insomnia, high blood pressure, and panic attacks. I should be wetting myself in sheer terror at the great unknown before us. I should be fretting nonstop about the future. I should be pleading with my wife to stay in her safe, solid, insurance-covering job until we both have new ones lined up. I should be reminding her about all of those bills and painting vivid images of worst case scenarios: us homeless, penniless, and forever saddled with “pre-existing conditions”. I should be getting her to freak out with me. I really ought to be blowing my top.

I’m just not.

I wish I could say that the reason that I am not panicking is because I am the flaky, flighty artist type, never in touch with the reality of things like payment deadlines and lapsed coverage. I wish I could tell you I am not freaking because we have done so well at investing over the years that we really don’t need to work; we just do it for social reasons. I wish I could say that I am so elevated spiritually at this point that money does not matter to me.

Any of those reasons might provide me with a logical explanation of why I feel not only unstressed about our family’s financial future but also downright excited and utterly optimistic. Those explanations would give me a rational way to unpack this unbridled confidence I feel bubbling up from some unknown source deep inside of me, causing me to feel an almost uncontrollable eagerness to learn what is coming up next for us.

But those are not the explanations. Sure, I definitely have some flaky artist in me, but I can be as practical and responsible as my parents taught me to be when financial obligations are involved. And, sad to say, we were not one of the early investors in Apple or Microsoft, so that nest-egg explanation doesn’t suit the situation, either. Finally, as spiritually evolved as I like to think I am on my best days, there is no world that I have yet found in which money is not important.

No, if the answer to my serenity and confidence in the face of this potential catastrophe were a logical, rational thing, I would be there already, secure in my understanding.

But there is nothing logical about this.

A rational guy would be outwardly supportive of his wife when she tells him she is quitting her bread-winning job without securing a new one, but inside he would be having a coronary. A logical guy might say, “Well, I’ve been waiting for the perfect job description to fall into my lap for a long time without success, so I am just going to be practical and find whatever will put food on the table.” A rational guy would sense the urgency of the situation and figure out a solution immediately to avoid risking a financial disaster for his family.

Try as I might to summon my most rational, practical self, my system is not letting it in. The panic, the terror, the desperation: I am trying to conjure them, but they are just not coming. They should be here, though. It just makes sense. What gives???

It’s my gut. Call it what you will—instinct, intuition, sixth sense, the still small voice, a feeling—but mine is telling me that everything is going to work out fine. And not just fine, but amazingly well. My intuition tells me that we are on the verge of something even better than we have ever had. Something that keeps those bill collectors off our backs while filling our lives with meaning and inspiration. Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, my gut assures me that good things are on the way.

So……..is that cool, then? Is that really an acceptable answer? Just trust my intuition and act accordingly. Really???

I know that sounds perfectly courageous and correct in the New Age-y, “Leap and the net will appear” kind of way that we are all supposed to arrive at when we become enlightened, but I have to admit that I have wondered more than once: What if my gut is fooling me?

Seriously, what if all this wonderfully calming news from my gut is really just Denial? What if the truth is that I am not tough enough to face the harsh reality of our situation, so my Subconscious or Unconscious mind has decided to disguise itself as my Intuition delivering this pacifying news?

And of course I am buying it! Because it feels good to believe that this is not the crisis a rational person would recognize it as. In fact, it’s the opposite of a crisis; it’s a fountain of good fortune for all involved. That is so much more pleasant to believe! Denial is slippery that way.

As much as I appreciate the sweetly narcotic effects of Denial, however, in the end, what I really want is the Truth.  

Is my intuition right: Are we really on the verge of our greatest thing yet? Or, is the rational bystander in my brain correct: Are we in dire straits and in need of desperate, immediate action?

Is there any way to know which is correct but to pick a course and commit to it, knowing only that the answer will be revealed later? If that is the case, I have to review the evidence. My intuition has been screaming at me every day lately after my brain has spelled out our impending doom in my journal. The instinct has been consistently firing back with feelings of hope, optimism, and belief, as well as an extra little tickle in my heart that gives me the impression that there will be something extra-special involved. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!

That’s it: I’m going with the gut. I trust it!

How about you? Are you more inclined to trust your brain or your intuition? Open up your journal and think back through your toughest decisions and most difficult periods. Which part of you did you trust to lead the way? Are you more inclined to trust your reason and careful analysis? If so, do you make Pros & Cons Lists? Do those lists ever make room for emotion or intuition? Do you think careful consideration and logic are the only way to determine the best course of action? Does it depend upon the type of situation (i.e. maybe the intellect is better for financial decisions but the intuition is better for relationships, or vice versa)? Does trusting your intuition over your rational view of your circumstances really just amount to a denial of reality? At what point is that unhealthy? How often does your head overrule your instinct? Is it possible to overthink it, though, and neglect what your gut is shouting out to you? How about the other way: ignoring reason and doing what your instinct nudges you to do? Is there any way to know ahead of time which part of yourself to trust, or do you have to wait and see how it plays out before you know if it was the right call? Which type of people do you gravitate toward, the analyzers or the intuiters (yes, it’s a new word)? If you had to give yourself a percentage rating (e.g. 70% Head/30% Gut), what would it be? How has that changed, if at all, through the course of your lifetime? Do you wish your rating were different? In which direction? Try to think of the most pressing issue in your life now or in the foreseeable future. Which part of yourself will you lean more upon? How well will you trust your decision? Leave me a reply and let me know: In the battle for your trust, do you go with the head or the gut?

Believe in your gifts,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you—whether intellectually or instinctually–please pass it on. Trust yourself!

Making Friends With Uncertainty

DSC_1100“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” –Confucius

These last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for me. My quiet, simple life has been shaken. First, I went back to school, finally starting on my official path to certification for life coaching. Big change! Then, as if juggling multiple classes per week amidst my other usual craziness were not enough, I just accepted a job offer for a totally new career. BOOM! Suddenly, it feels as though I have become the juggler who has just thrown all of the balls up in the air at once and is tasked with smoothly catching them all at the right time to continue the show. Except, instead of balls, maybe they are flaming torches.

In any case, it seems that I have found myself in one of those Life moments when nothing seems certain and I don’t have a clue how it will turn out, either next week or next year. I have moved to the very edge of the cliff, and then taken another step. Of course, I am crossing my fingers that it will be a “Leap and the net will appear” moment. But, it very well could be a Wile E. Coyote moment instead, with me doing a couple of mid-air strides before plummeting to oblivion. What have I done? Uncertainty rules!!!

I wrote to you last week about the mighty fear and self-doubt that I must overcome to make these kinds of life moves (See “Challengers of Change”). So, making two big ones in the blink of an eye is quite a feat for my psyche. But, before I can finish pinning on my Badge of Courage, the howling winds of change have blown the stark map of Uncertainty right across my face. Where are those old familiar landmarks? I used to know so well what the day ahead was going to look like, how much I was going to be challenged. Now, who knows? I have to wait for my cues from the day itself. It feels like I am on patrol duty in the middle of the night in the dark forest, completely on-edge in my vigilance because I have no idea what might be lurking out there. My adrenaline and cortisol are dialed all the way up. Every neuron feels alive and on fire. Hyper-awareness is the side effect of this drug called Uncertainty. In its own scary way, it is wildly scintillating and energizing.

One of the big self-help gurus, Tony Robbins, says, “The quality of our lives is directly related to the amount of uncertainty we can live with comfortably.” Basically, if you are good with Uncertainty, you are good with Happiness. I love this! I frequently tell my clients and friends, “Make friends with uncertainty!” and “Embrace the unknown!” Of course, it is easier said than done, but I believe in the message. I have a dear friend who is about to drop just about everything he knows for sure—his schedule, his paycheck, his home, his city, his career—and start again from scratch. Even as he has some grave doubts, he is still doing it. It is a beautiful move in my eyes. I have no small amount of both envy and admiration for what he is doing. It is a courageous leap, but I am certain he will be rewarded for his bravery many times over in both Happiness and confidence.

You see, I think that one of the primary components of Happiness is an atmosphere of growth. If we are to grow, we must stretch our limits, move past our comfort zone, live on what I call our “growing edge.” But when we go beyond our comfort zone, naturally we feel uncertain. Doubt creeps in. It feels like a risk. It is a risk! But embracing that uncertainty—indeed, making friends with it—is essential to the growth that is essential to the Happiness that we are talking about. It is like an equation in Mathematics, or at least Logic:

  • If you want Happiness, you must have Growth.
  • If you want Growth, you must have Uncertainty.
  • Therefore, if you want Happiness, you must have Uncertainty.

Well, I want Happiness, darn it! And I want to keep growing, keep learning, keep stretching my limits. I understand that the price of growth (and, by extension, Happiness) is uncertainty. I am going to have to live with some doubt. I will have to take risks and not know the outcome. That may feel like a heavy toll to pay. But hey, we are talking about The Holy Grail here: Happiness. Did I think it was going to be free? So, show me where the line starts. I am ready to pay. I am eager to take this amazing ride into What’s Next. I am already grateful for all of the magic to come. Uncertainty, you are about to be my best good friend!

How about you? How much uncertainty can you live with comfortably? Open up your journal and write about your dreams. What do you most wish you could do in your world? Are you living where you want to live? What about your career: is it the best fit for who you are as a whole person? Does what you really want require you to get some more training? Are you willing to both admit that you are in the wrong spot and do what is necessary to get on the right career track? How about your relationships? Are there any issues that have gone unaddressed for too long simply because you are afraid of what opening that can of worms might lead to? Is today the day you feel strong enough to take that risk?   Do you agree with me that one of the components of a happy life is an atmosphere of growth, or is that part unnecessary? Do people who play it safe with everything and never take any risks in their lives—never stretch themselves or make any big moves—really have any more control of the outcome of their lives than people who constantly challenge themselves and make a few mistakes in the service of growth? Is their safety real or imagined? Think of all of your friends and family members and try to place them in order, on one end the people who never take risks or try anything new or push themselves, and on the other end the people who challenge themselves and embrace new experiences. Which side seems more happy and fulfilled to you? Where do you fit on your spectrum? Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you made friends with Uncertainty?

Be unabashedly YOU today,

William