Is there a God or something like that? To me it doesn’t really matter. It’s not something that sets the time of my day.
I think people have a lot of free will. And we have the ability to evaluate situations and scenarios and imagine what something might be like if we make a particular decision versus an alternative. And I believe that I need to draw on those abilities to facilitate the good life for me.
For me the good life means a modicum of security, and then after that very day-to-day things. If I can have a nice workout, take a nap, have some reasonably good food – and it doesn’t have to be exquisite but, say, a little nice cheese and bread, maybe mashed potatoes or something like that – I mean, that’s pretty good. You don’t have to go to extremes. Maybe the weather’s nice and that’s good too. But anything beyond that is out of my control so why bother?
I take it as it comes. So also this time of year seasonal things like knowing there’s a magnolia tree – or in fact three of them – one road up, or cherry blossoms down there; those are good things. Just the knowledge that there are these plants for which you don’t have to do anything, more or less, and then once a year they put on this show that’s just amazing. And then just as fast as it comes, all the blossoms are gone. If that’s not memento mori [reflection on mortality] I don’t know what is.
For me it’s about editing life. I’ll read something like Socrates or Epicurus or a Stoic philosopher and thinking “maybe I agree with that” or “maybe I don’t” or “maybe there’s something that I can incorporate into my life” and then basically apply them and see how it goes. So I try to be quite Epicurean – in the classical way rather than the way that seems to have been co-opted. So what did Epicurus really say? Hanging out with your friends. Some good conversation. Having enough to eat. Basic security taken care of. That’s a pretty good life. I’m not some unusual person. You do that and I think most people would agree: hanging out with your friends, having good food and being basically secure – that’s pretty good.
Sometimes you do things where it doesn’t work out: contemporary things like getting on a property ladder or always fighting to get to the next step in the corporate world but then when you get to the end of it, what’s that all about?
My parents were the prototypical people who did the right thing that society wanted of them. They didn’t spend too much money, they lived within their means, they bought real estate, they did one job for 25 years and they got their retirement package. And at some point when I was maybe 25, I came across an article on Buddhism – or some sort of monk. And they had renounced all of the things that I was supposed to be fighting for. They don’t own anything. They don’t really have a job. They have no retirement plan. And I thought, “how can they be happy?” But for some reason they are. So that begs the question, “well, why is that?”
So then I started reading about these different thoughts throughout history. And I looked at my friends who think that it’s important to, say, have a particular type of car. And at some point it rang hollow.
One story that particularly inspires me is – I think it’s a Buddhist thing – where a man’s being chased by a tiger and he’s running for his life and he gets to cliff and he’s got this tiger behind him, he’s got this cliff, which he can’t jump off and so he starts climbing down. Then he gets to a point where he can’t climb any further, and he’s hanging there and he sees another tiger below. He’s caught between two tigers, he’s hanging on for dear life, he can’t hang on indefinitely, and then out of the corner of his eye he sees a strawberry growing on the side of the cliff. It’s like the most perfect strawberry he’s ever seen. And all he can do is just grab it and eat it. For me the moral of the story is: we’re not really here for a long time, eat the strawberry; it’s delicious.
I’m a little into Stoicism, a little Epicureanism. From a religious perspective more on the Buddhist side, and more Zen. On the Christianity side, probably Quakerism. Recently I’ve come to develop an appreciation for Christianity – not the trinity or whatever but the lessons behind the stories. So like a Jesus character as the perfect man who we all aspire to be but will never attain that. But I find it more difficult with Christianity because of the baggage – such as in Canada, residential schools. And at least with Buddhism, there’s probably baggage but it’s not my baggage.
For me to call myself Christian would feel the same as working for Dow Chemical. You might be saving some lives now but one of your products was Agent Orange.
There’s a need to be a part of a community that is very difficult to fill for someone like me. I don’t go to church. I couldn’t do that. It’d be a little too strange. But I ask myself: is it better to go into the belly of the proverbial beast – the church – in order to be a better member of the community? And then just work around the supernatural element on the historical actions that I find abhorrent? I’m not quite there.
At times I contravene my idea of the good life. For example, in BC you have statutory holidays. When I started this job, I was offered to either take the holiday or take time-and-a-half pay. At first I thought “I want the money”. But then I stopped and thought “wait a minute: what am I doing here? Am I doing this for the money?” Sometimes you get sucked in. Yu see a commercial and you think, “if I have these things then I’ll get these friends”. You have to be vigilant I think.