What is the question?

Often I have remarked that the clue to many riddles in life lies not in the answer but rather in the question. It is astonishing that I have nonetheless allowed myself to become distracted by attempting to formulate the answer to life’s imponderables; this I have woefully discovered does nothing but confound the dilemma. If however one turns the enquiry upon its head and seeks to frame the question properly then the possibility of a resolution is exponentially enlarged. I know this instinctively even though it is contrary to one’s intellectual bent.  Everything I have been taught about logic and reasoning leads me to believe that a conclusion flows only from premises; that is, the answer lies in the statement of facts properly (deductively) ordered. This of course begs the question – literally! If the conclusions we draw about life are of necessity based upon the very truth of our initial observations then we have effectively overlooked an analysis of those premises. It is after all an analysis of the major premises of life that is at the heart of the enquiry.

It would be too simplistic to characterize the predominant question about life as, “How can I be happy?” This tact fails because it  predicts its own answer, namely happiness which if nothing else is so ambivalent as to border on being meaningless. A better question might be, “Is the secret to life doing what I want?” While more open-ended, this too fails because it suggests the ultimate choice is between “what I want” and “what I don’t want” which may lead to a preposterous conclusion.  Each of these instances – happiness, what I want or what I don’t want – is clouded by the presumption that the enjoyment of life depends upon oneself. This is difficult to contradict because on the one hand each of us is looking at life through our own eyes and on the other hand we know that what happens around us is not necessarily what happens within us. The focus is thus inevitably upon oneself. This line of thinking may however contain a red herring. While it is naturally persuasive to imagine that “life is what you make it”, this proposition ignores the other possibility that life, if properly viewed, emanates its own strength and meaning. If we see ourself not as an independent but as a participant then perhaps the significance of life will become more apparent. The “selfish” model of enquiry is by definition exclusionary and it reinforces a distance between oneself and the fabric of life.  How much greater must be the task of appreciating life if we’re determined to set ourself apart?

The advantage of a universal perspective (that is, seeing life as a whole not just from our own perspective) is that it promotes compatibility. So much of what we normally undertake for the sake of our personal happiness is designed to set us apart from others. Naturally if that is the objective then it follows that we necessarily distance ourselves from others which cannot be conducive to conviviality. If on the other hand the view of life is not from one perspective or another, nor through our eyes only, nor even through a telescope of any description, but rather from the vantage of life in general, as a conglomerate of forces and influences, as a particle in a natural mosaic, then perhaps our purpose and destiny in life is more discernible and therefore intelligible.

If we see ourselves as only clay to be moulded, an obstruction to be careered one way or another, then no doubt our goal and achievement in life is predicted by the limitation of our enthusiasm. A flower for example requires no examination to fulfill its purpose or to achieve its objective in life. The extent of a flower is self-fulfilling. As much as we are inclined to dignify ourselves far beyond the magic and beauty of a flower, we too are nothing more than one of nature’s creations and our manifestation is equally inherent. Knowing this we can turn to look within not without. The study of our own character will reveal both what we are and what we should do. This in turn affords us the understanding that the answer to life’s meaning is to ask ourselves the question, “Who am I?” All the fanciful study of external resources will never accomplish so much as that simple question. Nor is the question an easy one to answer.  Its diligent pursuit will reveal layer upon layer of discovery.  To know who one is, is to answer the only question in life worth asking. From that knowledge flows all that is natural in one’s development and transition. It is as well an ever-changing perspective, one which is susceptible to growth and understanding.