Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Only Question to Ask

It was 7:30 on a Saturday morning.  We were gingerly nursing our java and waiting for the caffeine to kick us in the head. My friend and I were nestled in our weekend lair; a place crowded with the usual suspects each seeking solace in their surroundings as they downed liquid battery-chargers and inhaled tasty treats that were bad for them. It was their chance to devour the morning news before weekend chores filled the rest of their day. My friend and I just wanted to philosophize about life.

My friend has just finished a book called ‘Platonic Superman’ by Dr. James B. Clark, Ph.D. Somewhere in the course of our conversation my friend commented about’ the only question a person has to ask of himself or herself.’  It was the only one true question that answers all the others.  He said the question came out of that book or so I thought.

A few days later, I called him to get clarification but he couldn’t remember that part of our conversation.  I guess his caffeine hadn’t kicked in as quickly as mine had.  I remembered that question because it had triggered an immediate response on my part.

As I recalled my friend’s comments, there is only one question that truly encompasses all of life’s analysis of the reasons for living.  I think he had it right. In truth that one question answered all the other questions that had been swirling around in my head for oh so many years. Plato had it right; there is only one true question in life that need be asked.

That book seemed like a strange place to find such a question.  ‘Platonic Superman’ is the story of Dr. Clark’s study of eastern philosophy, metaphysics and spirituality as a means to break world records. James Clark began breaking world-records right out of high school. My friend explained it this way: ‘Dr. Clark’s premise is straight-forward yet complex. By combining Plato’s metaphysics on spirituality with his own physical strength, Mr. Clark pushed through physical pain to achieve his record-breaking goals. Essentially, my friend explained, ‘Plato used to say there are only two parts to a person: spiritual which is God and the soul which is the individual. He believed the body was nothing but a vessel. So Mr. Clark took that philosophy to heart and punished his body so he could reach super-human strength and beat all kinds of world records.’

After breaking these physical endurance records Mr. Clark took a hiatus from world record-breaking and went to the university to study theology, philosophy (both ancient Greek philosophy and Eastern philosophy), Platonic metaphysics, and transcendental meditation.

He then went on to use the principles gained through his philosophical studies and transcendental meditation to break over thirty more world records. His mantra was quite simply ‘mind over matter’ and a belief that he could mute the physical pain his body felt and transcend that pain to another level of physical endurance.

While studying Plato, Dr. Clark came upon the one true question.  I wanted to research the genesis of that question so I tried to Google it but came up short. There were all sorts of ‘one question to ask’ articles but none relevant to what I was looking for.

There is the one question to ask...  During an interview
                                                     About the GOP debates
                                                     About getting a job
                                                     About getting married.
                                                     Of your role model
                                                     Are you a narcissist?
                                                    The only question Christians should ask of gay marriage

Larry Flynt (Penthouse magazine) chimed in with his question: How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve success? None of these were helpful so I turned to that brainy guy.

Albert Einstein said that there is only one question worth asking; the answer to which determines your entire outlook on life and affects your finances, romance, and even your health. OK, he had me so far.

His question was: Do you believe the Universe is malevolent or benevolent?

Moving on, I went the philosophy route and bumped into that French guy. Albert Camus in his book ‘The Myth of Sisyphe’ undertakes to answer what he considers to be the only question of philosophy that matters: Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide? No, that wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Next I turned to business journals and found several good candidates for my one question. Pushing past the old standards such as: ‘What is my purpose in life?’ and ‘How can I be happy?’ and then combining several into ‘Do I even need purpose to be happy in life?’ I settled upon the question ‘Why am I really here?’ or ‘What is the purpose of my work?’  Those were all plausible questions but still didn’t resonate with me as that first question had.

Recently, business consultant Clifford Jones wrote an article on that subject for the Twin Cities Business Journal.  His main premise is that we must have a purpose in our endeavors because without purpose work is just slavery for a salary and not meaningful work. He goes on to talk about a work-life balance and most of the new take on the workplace that millennials have grasped and the older generation still struggle with.

But this still wasn’t getting me any closer to someone else’s analysis of that one true question.  So finally, I gave up and went back to the question as I thought I had first heard it from my friend.

He said that question was: “Who are you?’

That morning at the coffee shop, it had taken me all of two seconds to come up with my answer.  It came in a flash and settled into my consciousness like a comfortable old blanket; encompassing all that was truly me. Without forethought, pondering, self-analysis or examination the answer was there and it was right.

I am a seeker…and have been most of my life.

Consciously and organically, it probably began with my paper route in seventh grade and the wonderful, exhilarating world I entered every morning with my transistor radio and that new elixir called rock and roll.

It continued in high school with my first taste of love and then on to college accompanied by the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  Ten years followed that I’ve labeled my ‘lost years.’ Then it was taking those first steps at novel writing in the 70’s. Real estate and business ventures in the 80’s and 90’s. A career shift and a renewed focus on writing beginning in early 2000’s.

It’s been a continuous ‘vision quest’ most of my life.  Restless drifting and bouncing off new and old ideas alike. A collusion of thought, desire, thirst, fear, and longing that has robbed me of the ability to settle down and accept retirement as an alternative life form.

It’s been a Spartan journey offering tantalizing clues along the way.  Others around me simply define their lives as ‘retired’ or ‘doting Grandparents’ or ‘busy.’ But I have to selfishly wonder where is their passion? What is the point of living if there isn’t a purpose beyond simply getting through each day?

Mine is a never-ending journey collecting clouds until such time as immobility and constricted brain cells slow me down a bit.  There is no end goal. There is no destination. There is only the journey. Always trekking toward an ever-elusive horizon yet feeling alive and relishing the trip itself.

For truly this journey of mine is the ultimate destination.

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