I spend a lot of time thinking about things I’ll never understand. Fueled by curiosity and my insatiable desire to find answers, I ask myself the same questions over and over again.
It’s in our human nature to want to understand; we’re clever, intelligent creatures, and we use our knowledge to navigate life and control where we go and what happens to us. We’re taught that if we have a desired goal, we should use our intelligence to figure out how to achieve it. Lets pretend you have the desire to run a marathon. You intend on training effectively, so you’re going to gather the knowledge to help you do that – work out regiments, shoes, stretches, a diet plan, coaching and whatever you can find that helps (most likely in the first two pages of search results on Google). You start training and a few months later you’re in the best shape of your life. These super smart monkeys are on to something.
But now lets say you have the desire to be happier. You look up “how to be happier,” and the first thing you see is a list of ten habits that will get you there. You skim through it, maybe write a few down and start using them. After a few weeks you feel a bit more chipper, but you want more. You keep searching and making changes to your life, but you’re still not satisfied. This letdown now makes you sad because you know you could be happier; you’ve been fooled by the pretense that intelligence alone can get you what you want.
Now lets say you have the desire to know what happens to you when you die. In your research you find that scientists don’t know the answer, that Catholics believe in an afterlife, that Nihilists think that life is meaningless, and that Buddha says unless you escape the endless cycle of life before you die you’ll be reincarnated into a porcupine – or at least someone or something else. You wish you could pick a religious belief to follow, but you can’t trust that it’s right. The conundrum is that you have a strong desire to know the answer to something that is unanswerable, and your intelligence and curiosity is going to plague you because of it.
I’ve been through all of this – the training, the desire to be happier, and the feedback loop of questions that can’t be answered – and the last one is the toughest. I want to know the answers to these big questions about life and creation so I can make the right choices; so I know that I’m safe and that I’m living my life the right way. I was going through an existential crisis for years – living in this constant state of anxiety and fear because I just didn’t understand – when I discovered the irony of it all.
When I stop trying to understand, it all makes sense. When I stop trying to figure life out, I get it. Give up trying to solve the puzzle and the pieces just fall into place. Quit controlling life and you’ll move through it effortlessly. Stop trying to predict life, you’ll go places you never expected. Instead of thinking about why or how you’re breathing, just breathe. It’s in those moments when I’m truly present – when I’m not thinking – that life becomes so beautiful and miraculous, when I trust it so much that I don’t need the answers to be at peace. Our intelligence makes us human, but let go of it, even for a moment, and we can feel that we are something so much more.
— September 29, 2015