Ironically, I can't tell you exactly when or where I first learned them, but there are these two questions which are THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS IN THE UNIVERSE™
Typographic hyperbole aside, they really are the two most important questions anyone can, will, or has ever asked you.
I can ask you them, and conveniently you can ask yourself them, too. Ready? My only proviso is, please read them both before answering either. Then, when you do, answer both. Here they are:
I can hear you from here. "Really? That's it? I'm in the parking lot behind a plumbing supply shop. It's 2:37am. Whatever."
I'll give you that they sound like simple questions. Heck, they are simple questions. But their answers are profound, if you really think about them.
Sure, plumbing supply store, 2:37am. Let's dig deeper.
Where is that plumbing supply store? Let's pretend it's Rebuilding Exchange on Webster Avenue, in Chicago.
Where is that exactly?
Sure, it's near thr water, not far from a Party City, but go BIGGER.
It's in Chicago. That's in Illinois. That's in the United States. Keep going. North America. Western Hemisphere. Earth. Solar System. Orion Arm of the Milky Way, in our galaxy, in the Universe.
Right. Got it. Where exactly, is the Universe?
You don't know. I don't either.
Now let's try the time. 2:37am. In comparison to what? Greenwich Mean Time, sure. Based on what? Sure, there was a date and time we all agreed to use that as a standard, but that's not what I'm talking about. You know the date, and the time, and that it's 2000 some odd years since the putative birth of Christ. But go bigger than that. How old is the universe before THAT supposedly happened? Close to 14 billion years, apparently. It's a large enough number to be functionally gibberish to you.
Short answer: You don't know.
So let's try those questions again. I ask myself these questions all the time.
Where am I? I'm here.
What time is it? It's now.
Here and now are the only definitive where and when I have.
Ok, so what?
Well, the big deal about this moment in this place being the only moment and place you have is that it's liberating and empowering.
It's liberating because you're the end product of every single thing that's ever happened. All those things happened before you, before now. Invention of the wheel, colonization of North America, new math, and microwave popcorn all had to happen so that you could sit here eating corn chips and reading my blog.
Alan Watts said that each person is a function of the whole universe the way each wave is a function of the whole ocean.
So you don't have to bemoan things that have happened to you, nor celebrate them overmuch either.
You can however, be fully present for them.
That's where the empowerment comes in. When you are fully present in the moment, you can literally do anything, one thing at a time. If I decide I want to become a Portuguese fisherman, I can totally do it.
- leave the office
- stop at the bank
- withdraw life savings
- stop at home for passport
- buy one way plane ticket to Portugal
- Get off plane.
- Travel to small fishing village
- Find kindly fisherman, convince him I want to learn from him
- And so on....
Furthermore I'm aware that whatever it is that's happening in this moment, it, like all things will pass. We have no choice in this matter. We are all methodically and surely creeping toward death.
Cheery, eh? Actually, it really is. Nothing makes a sunrise quite so beautiful as knowing you will never see the exact same one again. Next time you hug someone, or eat a piece of fruit, think about how each one of those is a unique experience that cannot be repeated.
There's a funny thing that happens to you once you practice this sort of mindfulness.
Anyone that hangs out with me on a regular basis usually gets really frustrated with me because it seems like nothing bothers me.
That's really not true at all. I get frustrated, scared, angry, and irritated just as much as anyone else.
But for the better part of a decade now, I've made a point of asking myself where I am, and what time it is. When I do and realize I don't know, it tends to blunt the sharp ends of those bad feelings.