This Life is Dedicated to . . .

It's been a while since I've last posted here, and a lot has been going on. I've been working on some ideas and frameworks that, I hope, will provide a useful model for social interactions, conflict, thinking, and psychology, all inspired and informed by my Zen practice. I'm tentatively calling it Narrative Theory and I may start explicating it here on this blog.

I've also had a few more serious things happen in my life that have taken my emotions and thoughts for a journey lately. And along that journey, I've made a few observations I thought were worthy of sharing. Also, I need to break the ice somehow, so here goes.

I was exercising at the gym on Friday after work and the television was on. It was Chris Cuomo on CNN, serving the outrage du jour. I considered listening which would have had the intended consequence of pissing me off for 2 reasons: first, whatever Trump's administration was plotting in this week's episode of Whitehouse Shitstorm always seems to boil my blood; second, because it would have interrupted an ongoing 3-day marathon of Rhianna's Needed Me (I'm still listening on repeat as of 2:45pm Sunday, god help me).

But instead, what struck me is the polish and status of Cuomo. A handsome guy, telling us what's up, broadcast on national television. He's made it. He's achieved success and all its symptoms: fame, beauty, money, respect, influence. Right?

Brief detour: when I was a kid my best friends and I used to play the arcade game Area 51 almost religiously. It was a shooting game where you had to kill aliens, avoid killing humans, and along the way could collect different power-ups like better weapons and shoot barrels and windows to earn more points.
Area 51 arcade game screenshot. I bet you didn't know aliens wore berets.

At the end of the level, the game would show you how many point you had accumulated in all the different categories: kills, damage, accuracy, etc., and your overall score.

Life is the same way, and I wouldn't be surprised if competitive games clicked with our culture because of the way it mimics life. We're all trying to accumulate maximum points before our game is over. The question is what categories the points come in. We're going to call it THE SCORING SYSTEM.

The categories in the modern world have some degree of uniformity: material wealth, popularity, influence, beauty, security, and offspring with similar qualities. Chris Cuomo has it. Celebrities are portrayed as having it. And we're all constantly told these categories matter by the way others praise these qualities, subtly and overtly. You see it on Instagram and Facebook all the time. You hear the way others talk about people's achievements and failures over brunch or drinks.

The scoring system is transmitted within culture through multiple channels and from various sources. So it's no wonder we all end up wanting the same things, trying to score points in the same categories, making similar life decisions with similar goals in mind.

But there's a problem.

As long as we're trying to earn points in a scoring system that we've inherited, rather than consciously selected, we're always going to be living inauthentic lives, and the "success" we achieve (and the satisfaction that follows it) will always dissolve. It won't bring you closer to the feeling you think is waiting for you when you cross the finish line, because you'll realizing you were running in the wrong race.

If we want to live authentic lives that bring meaning, we need to arrive at a PERSONAL SCORING SYSTEM. We have to transcend the default scoring system and decide what categories matter to us. The method for doing that is introspection, inquiry, fearlessness, and brutal honesty. We have to ask ourselves what truly matters in this life. What experiences? What principles? What virtues? What outcomes? The answer has to come from the gut, in a flash of intuition rather than analytical thinking. When it comes, it hits you. It strikes a chord that's both rare and familiar. It's an experience you have to have. If you're not emotionally aroused, you aren't there yet.

The path you take to earn points in our scoring system will depend on the person you are, your innate talents (discovered and latent), the situation you're in, the challenges you've conquered, and the ones you've yet to conquer. Dedicate your life to what matters to you.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm the first person to say this. Platitudes about life are traded more often than fur pelts in New France in 1612 (too soon?). But there's a difference between talking about this stuff and putting it into practice. So I challenge you, the reader, to ask yourself what you stand for, what matters, and what you'll dedicate your life to, no matter the cost.