You know how I am always banging on about doing the hard work of digging deep within ourselves to understand who we are, what motivates us, what influences the choices we make, the reasons for our existence? Well, the philosopher John Gray, who recently published a new book called Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, argues that "a lot of torment in our lives comes from that pressure for finding meaning. Unless you adopt a transcendental faith which imagines a wholly other world where meaning is secure from any accident, most of the things that happen to us are pure chance. We struggle with the idea that there is no hidden meaning to find." Cats, as Gray suggests in this Guardian article written by Tim Adams, "wouldn’t recognise that need because they naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened. If cats were to give advice, it would be for their own amusement."
It's an interesting theory and I find such joy in it because it is an example the love I feel for learning about different ways of thinking, different ways of being, and for someone who is constantly amused by and in awe of her cat, you can see why I was drawn to this article and who will be reading John Gray's book(s). I think for me, the joy comes from the search, not necessarily for meaning in my life, but for the layers that make this life so interesting. Knowing there are multiple ways to see something takes the pressure off of life, it takes the pressure off of thinking we have to get "it" right, because there is no right way to be, there is no right answer.
This is also why I have always had a love of reading. It is because of that curiosity, that search. It is a validation, if you will, of a way of thinking that was and continues to be open to just learning, to knowing that I don't have to have it all figured out. There is magic in the words we find in books, there is magic in stories, in learning about lives other than my own, in worlds other than the one in which I live. The writer and 2020 Macarthur Fellow Jacqueline Woodson talks about her love of reading in her TED Talk, her love of being fully absorbed, finger under the words, taking her time away from all of the noise around us to just be entranced by the pages. And her words just gripped me. She says, "My love for looking deeply and closely at the world,for putting my whole self into it, and by doing so, seeing the many, many possibilities of a narrative, turned out to be a gift, because taking my sweet time taught me everything I needed to know about writing. And writing taught me everything I needed to know about creating worlds where people could be seen and heard, where their experiences could be legitimized, and where my story, read or heard by another person, inspired something in them that became a connection between us, a conversation. And isn't that what this is all about --finding a way, at the end of the day, to not feel alone in this world...?" It's as if Woodson was expressing my feelings out in the open.
Words have such power. They have a transcendent quality. They can influence, as we see on Twitter--oftentimes negatively. And they can lift us up and give us strength and hope. In a beautifully written letter to a man who had lost faith in humanity, the author E.B. White replied to him with lessons learned from sailors on how life's ebbs and flows are what enable us to appreciate the journey. He begins his letter with, "As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate." Read this beautiful note. The words will surely soothe, if soothing is what is needed for you today.
What was also a welcome note was an article written by the actress Ann Dowd in Glamour magazine. Dowd talks about finding success in her 50s after three decades of trying to make it as an actress. With honesty and clarity, Dowd assures us that what is meant for us will find us. Our job is to not only be clear about what it is we want but to enjoy the journey to our goals. I guess what I love about this piece is that success isn't about age, it is about timing (amongst other things of course). She writes, "Darlings, take many trips out of your head and into your heart and soul. That is where freedom lives. That is where lack of judgment lives. And that is where hope and love thrive. It's a very good compass, that heart and soul. Consider it as often as you can."
Unfortunately, for many, hope is not enough. Words are not enough. What is needed is action and change. That is what tennis players trying to survive in an expensive sport are demanding. We know that succeeding in a professional sport isn't easy nor is it cheap. As spectators we focus on the glory of winning, of that Centre Court appearance at that Wimbledon Final. We don't often consider the gruelling and expensive journey towards getting their hands on that silver gilt trophy. We don't really consider that on the road to success, one needs a team behind them, a team that needs to be paid. I came across this article in Sportsnet.ca about how difficult it is to raise funds in order to compete in a sport that demands focus, tenacity, and endurance.
Add to that physical and mental fitness. Two things which have been huge challenges for everyone this year, even those in the fitness industry. For the founder of ClassPass, ("a monthly subscription service via an app that provides you with access to tens of thousands of different studios, gyms, and wellness offerings in over 2,500 cities worldwide"), Payal Kadakia, 2020 has meant taking on those challenges in stride. With a billion dollar valuation before COVID, the pressure is on to ensure investors and partners remain supportive and invested in what was a revolutionary idea. Success isn't guaranteed when the world is forced to change its business models almost overnight as COVID has demanded this year. In this profile and cover story for Success magazine, Kadakia talks about navigating her business through a global pandemic and what it takes to stay afloat.
Anxiety, stress, and worry are three dominant states that the majority of the world has been feeling this year. And when those emotions arise, there are many avenues people take to either understand, control, or hide away from them. That's human nature. Our response is dependent on how we have been taught to respond from the time we were kids, even from the time we were in our mother's womb. When life throws challenges our way, our state of being, our response can be one based on fear or one based on fortitude. I guess that's why it all fascinates me---human behaviour that is.
Then again, we can look at our existence and how we manage our emotions the way John Gray says cats look at life: “Cats live for the sensation of life, not for something they might achieve or not achieve,” he says. “If we attach ourselves too heavily to some overarching purpose we’re losing the joy of life. Leave all those ideologies and religions to one side and what’s left? What’s left is a sensation of life – which is a wonderful thing.”
The beauty of life is, the choice is yours.
I hope you enjoy my #Repost selection this week.
Happy reading (and watching)!