Introduction
On Being Human/An Operator's Manual
 
A reflection on the currents that shape us, the decisions we make, and the guidance available in attempting to live a fulfilled human life.

Every human being must make decisions about what is important, how to spend one’s time, how best to live. In the modern world this is especially difficult because the cultural and religious answers of old are being questioned and many of the young people who had been expected to carry them forward are unlikely to do so. Given the tenuous hold that cultural, religious, and political institutions have on our loyalty today, how do we go about making the best decisions about life? Where do we turn for guidance?

One frequent approach has been to divide what it means to be a human being into compartments—psychological, economic, sexual, emotional, cultural, spiritual, religious, scientific, artistic, political, rational, and sociological—and to study each separately. Problem is, lived life happens at the intersection where these currents meet, at the point where all the different aspects mix and mingle.

Put differently, everyone has motivations and expectations involving food, shelter, sex, pleasure, adventure, power, wealth, fame, achievement, relationship, spiritual fulfillment, and more. All these can be thought about separately, and it is valuable to do so. At the living edge, however, where we decide and act, these currents do not exist in individual boxes that can be examined one by one; rather, they form a continuing swirl of life and living. This means that to live a fulfilled life, we must attend to the point at which the currents converge, for worthwhile answers will only come from a place that encompasses the whole and harmonizes all.

The pioneering physicist Erwin Schrödinger was getting at this when he wrote: “Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular.”[i] Years earlier, William James, one of the foremost intellects in American history, noticed the importance of this living center, adding the thought that there is no line between this center and the numerous currents that surround it, nor with those that impact us from the unconscious.[ii] In other words, the conscious self is the organizing center of each person’s life, but swirling all around are numerous currents coming toward us from the world outside, while others constantly arise from unacknowledged desires and motivations within. In this swirl, how do we develop a coherent pattern for living?

To sort this out, an operator’s manual might be helpful (in case you did not receive one or if the one you received seems outdated). Here, then, is a manual for operators of that marvelous and mysterious entity called a “human being.” It explores ways to answer the deepest questions and discusses the tools available for creating a fulfilled life.

No one, of course, can be expert in all the areas with which we must contend in a human life. Living, however, does not offer the choice of avoiding any of them. Whether expert or not, each of us must come to terms with the full scope of human questions, emotions, and possibilities. As you face this daunting task (no matter what has befallen you to this point in life), here is a most worthwhile question: “In what direction shall I move—starting right here, right now?”

In search of an answer to this question, this book will explore the wisdom streams of history (put forward by philosophers, spiritual and religious leaders, artists, psychologists, and scientists). We will investigate the creation of a fulfilled life by considering a broad range of guidance from many traditions, the overlapping waters contained in this varying guidance, and finally, how the whole of oneself can be brought into harmony. My hope is that various ideas contained herein will be familiar to you (although approached perhaps in a new way), and that you will find others new to your reflection. My special hope is that all the currents will coalesce in a way that you experience as coherent and consistent, and that this unifying vision will aid your search for the best way to live the human life you have been given.



Introduction

[i] Erwin Schrödinger, What Is Life? (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1944), Epilogue.

[ii] William James, A Pluralistic Universe, Lecture VII: The Continuity of Experience (Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 288.

 

Chapters

1. It Starts With Questions

2. Do Stories Create the World?

3. 10,000 Decisions Create a Life

4. Whim

5. Culture and Community

6. Are you Rational?

7. The Place of Intuition

8. What is Reality?

9. Worldviews – Path or Prison?

10. Imagination, Intention, Attention

11. Whose Values – Yours, Mine, or Ours?

12. Wisdom From the Past


Perhaps it would be of value to list the people who have most influenced the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and feelings shared in this book. Below are those who have had the greatest impact on my understanding—through the written word or by the way a person’s living presence directly impacted my life.

 

Gautama Buddha Helen Luke Friends and Family
Joseph Campbell Ramana Maharshi Ralph Gonzalez
Ram Dass Nelson Mandela Ronda Redden Reitz
Emily Dickinson Dennis Merzel Phillip Moffitt
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Robert Moore Sandra Sundari Smith
T.S. Eliot Friedrich Nietzsche John Berry
Ralph Waldo Emerson St. Paul Sue Painter
Albert Einstein Jalal ad-Din Rumi Shoray Kirk
Francis of Assisi Jean-Paul Sartre Birney Hand
Victor Frankel Indres Shah Sandy Cartwright
Mahatma Gandhi William Shakespeare Judith Ideker
Stan Grof Rupert Sheldrake Don Henry
George Gurdjieff Huston Smith Anthony Durham
Martin Heidegger Shunryu Suzuki Bonnie Damron
Herman Hesse Henry David Thoreau LeRoy Graf
Aldous Huxley J.R.R. Tolkien Kathryn Grskovich White
William James Lao Tzu Esther Viar White
Jesus Confucius William R. White
Carl Jung Evelyn Underhill Jim and Natalie Haslam
Immanuel Kant Ken Wilber Lamar &Honey Alexander
Abraham Lincoln Colin Wilson Howard Baker

 

* A few of the above held core ideas I do not accept, but the power of their presentations forced me to wrestle with what they had to say, and to come to an answer strong enough to withstand their challenge.


Life is complex, and the current volume is the beginning of a reflection. Look for these books in the coming months:

Art, Science, Religion and Spirituality as Guides for Living

Consciousness, Identity, and Beyond

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