Living Without Regrets

Hi! I’m back after a long hiatus. My commitment to you is to blog once a week from here on out. Today is my 81st birthday and yesterday I wrote in my journal some reflections that I would like to share with all of you.

Here it is a new year, 2013, some 13 years after the turn of the century, and I can remember so well when I was in my teens calculating that I would be 68 when we started the 21st century, and wondering if I would still be alive, and what my life would be like. The way it has turned out is completely beyond my imaginings. In those years at NYU 49-54, and at the beach in the summer, looking back, I realize how young I was in terms of life experience, and yet in another way how old I was in relationship to dealing with my mother’s alcoholism from the time I was a little boy. A strange contrast in a way, both young and old.

And here I am now, one day away from my 81st birthday!! Amazing that I have lived so long, and am still in good health, and looking at some unknown number of years yet to come and to live through. Once you get past the statistical life expectancy, which is 78 or so for white American males, you are likely (again statistically) to live another 10 or 15 years, apparently having bypassed all the life threatening hazards both medical and accidental that snuff out our lives along the way of our time line.

So much water under the proverbial bridge as it were, and here I am still alive and well and functioning.

The army, the reserves, surfing, 2 marriages, two adopted children, a widower, a son’s death, the theatre, schooling, Teaching Philosophy, so many different sports, Yoga, and on and on I could go, but the point is I have lived a full, rich, exciting, somewhat adventurous, somewhat unconventional, always interesting life, and apparently, there is more to come.

So much living and so many different and varied experiences make it difficult to capsulize in a few sentences the warp and woof of my existence and life. From one perspective, I have some regrets, and yet from another viewpoint I have no regrets at all. Regrets are silly in a way when you look at what they are. Either you wish you hadn’t done something you did or you wish you had done something you hadn’t done. Either way, such thoughts are ridiculous. We live once through each flowing present moment, and within that “endless flow” we do some things and don’t do other things. We are constantly making endless choices, and those choices are based on whatever assessments we make about what is happening in our lives and whatever options and limitations we recognize and notice. Once we choose an action whatever it is, that is the end of that piece of flow. It sets off a string of consequences which we have to deal with, and we do so by making more ongoing assessments, noticing what we think is going on and choosing yet again as we move forward.

The absolutely critical piece is that once we choose, WHATEVER WE CHOOSE, there is no going back. That’s the bottom line. THERE IS NO GOING BACK!!. We reflect and choose or we react and choose or we choose haphazardly and without much thought, but whatever we do choose, once we act, however we got to that point of taking action, the action and its consequences unfold, and we go on endlessly continuing this once only process until we die. WE CAN NEVER GO BACK. Regrets are based on thinking that unfolds as if we can go back, but we can’t. Regretful thinking is ultimately crazy thinking, because it is crazy to think you can change something that can’t be changed. The past is beyond change. You can reflect on what went before as an ingredient in what you decide to do next, having learned something new from what went before, but you cannot change what went before.

We live once, always and without exception. We live once. Everything in our lives happens only once, and once it “happens,” we move on to the next happening, and that “happens” yet again only once.

What would my life look like if I never lost sight of that basic insight, that irrefutable insight, that recognition of the absoluteness of the present flow of things? How would I live differently? What would I do that I don’t do now?

What comes to mind is a basic reorientation of how I live. What I have written above means that it is only possible to live forward, so all our living has to be done in this context of unending forwardness. We live forward constantly no matter what we are thinking or wishing or hoping or believing, we still end up living forward all the time. There is no other option, no other choice. My life is ever unfolding. It never goes backwards, except in the vagaries of my reflections on the past, and even then I am simply spending my forward living time looking backwards. I cannot go backwards; I can think backwards, but I must ever live forwards for however long I live.

So, I say to you live forward and bask in the ever unfolding mystery and wonder of your living.




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Action not knowledge

Often the issue is about taking action, not about knowing more.

We often find orselves in a more or less  critical or important situation where we have to make a decision, and we find ourselves hesitating. We are not sure what to do. We say to ourselves, “If I only knew more, I could decide.”  And sometimes, there is more to know, which means our decision at that point in time is to do the research and exploration that will give us the knowledge in question.

I want to buy the most inexpensive car. I have narrowed it down to two possible cars. I need to check the costs, the gas mileage, the kind of repair history likely, and when I have those numbers I will know which car costs less. I do the research, find out the cheaper car, and then I can make the decision. These kinds of decisions all fall in the domain of knowing enough  to make the right decision.

But there are decisions where I have that same feeling. If I just knew x or y or z I could decide. Do I want to marry this person and make a lifetime commitment to them? Do I want to have children or not? Do I want to take that new job offer and move myself and my family halfway across the country and live in a new community? Is this the career that I want to pursue?  Do I want to change careers at this stage of my life? These kinds of questions are usually the more important questions we invariably encounter as we live out our lives.  There is only so much research and knowledge we can accumulate with such questions, because they are all about the future, and the bottom line is we can’t predict the future. In fact, the further out into the  future we look, the less we can reliably predict what will happen.

When faced with such questions we scramble around looking for some reliable course of action that we can count on working.  And, we say to ourselves, If I knew how this would turn out, I could decide.  There is no way  to know. Standing on the cusp of our future, we know all we can know, and the option we face is to decide and take a risk, a risk whose outcome is unknown, because we can’t know for sure where our actions will lead us.  Or we can not  take that risk thinking we are playing it safe. The hard reality is that not acting simply presents us with a different set of risks. There is no playing it safe.

Fresh out of the army, I wanted to give up becoming a civil engineer which is what my NYU degree said I was, and pursue philosophy instead. I really knew nothing about philosophy, other than that it deeply intrigued me.  I wasn’t sure I could get into a Master’s program. I didn’t know if I could do the work required to get good grades in philosophy. If I did get the degree, I didn’t know if I would ever find a job teaching philosophy; such jobs were very scarce. It was a very limited, static market. And there was no way I could “know” how any of that would turn out. The risk of not acting was I would work as a civil engineer doing work that did not sing to me, that did not nurture me, but I would have a safe career. The risk of acting was I might fail and end up a civil engineer, anyway.

The point is it wasn’t about knowledge. There was nothing more to know. It was a case of acting with uncertainty and risk or not acting with a different risk, the risk of being immersed in a career that would drain my life. I took the risk. It turned out to be the best “career” decision I could have made, and now looking back on 43 years of teaching and studying philosophy, I shudder to think what I would have lost had I not taken that risk. But I didn’t and couldn’t know that at the time I made the decision and took that leap into the unknown.

So, if you know all you can know, and you still don’t know, it’s time to act. It’s time to risk. It’s time to embrace the uncertainty. Nike has the inside track. Do it!



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Life is Empty and Meaningless, How Exciting is That!

If we look at life and the world  honestly and closely apart from our desires, wants, interests and biases what we recognize is that the world about us just is what it is. If we separate ourselves from our thoughts about what it should be or could be or might be or what we want it to be, we start to realize it is just what it is.

And what is that? What is what is? In that space of neutral looking , what we start to realize is that the world isn’t good or bad, right or wrong, valuable or not valuable, pleasant or unpleasant, or helpful or hurtful. It simply is what it is. It is this flowing, ever changing flux of flowing ever changing  flux, a tautological cipher. Or to say it in other words,  it is empty and meaningless.  Again, all we can say at this level of awareness is that it simply is what it is, which is nothing at all, but ongoing flux and change.

Where does this vast emptiness and meaninglessness leave us? It leaves us just where we are, wherever that happens to be,  just as the world is what it is, we are what we are. Before you leave me in despair and hopelessnes, think of emptiness in terms of  a bowl. When the bowl is full of something, anything, it is useless for anything else. To put something else in the bowl, you must first empty the bowl, and when it is empty you can put whatever you want in the bowl as long as it is something that will fit in the bowl. Reality has limits after all.

How powerful and exciting then is emptiness, for emptiness is open to any kind of filler. So too our meaningless, empty world is open to any kind of filler. Emptiness is the highest form of possibility. Meaninglessness holds the broadest, deepest range of potential meaning.

Think specifically of your life. If you think about your past and have all that past stuff dumped  in your future to be, you have effectively shor circuited all the possiblity in your life. If, on the other hand,  you take all that past cluttering up your future, and put it in the past, the future then is empty and open to an enormous panorama of possibilities.

Truly, to realize and accept the complete emptiness, the complete quality of being unknown of what is yet to come, opens up your future. Once your past is in the past, it becomes a resource rather than a liability, a guide rather than a roadblock, a source of deeply valuable information to avoid mistakes in the future. In short, it gives you the present in its richest, deepest, most intense and exciting form, ie, a present that is supremely workable and rich with all sorts of wonderful directions to pursue according to your desires and interests. It gives you the option to create your future.Are you ready and willing to have an empty future?  How exciting is that!

Check my website for my E-book with more wonderful insights.

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The Binding of Time

Alfred Korzybski,  the founder of the Institute of General Semantics in the 1930’s tells us that man is the time binding animal.

What exactly does it mean to bind time, and how do we do this?  If we think of time as the experience of the flowing of our lives, what stands out is the continuity from one experience to the next.  If I read something at 10:00 AM, and then I have lunch with a friend I can talk about what I read here at lunch although that 10 o’clock no longer exists. I have bound that time through my memory, and can bring it to lunch, no problem.  My memories are the time binding of my life.

Or, I get my birth certificate out of storage to use it to get a passport. The birth certificate “binds” the place and time of my birth, plus it tells us who my parents were, and here 80 years later, I can access information about that event from so long ago.

Or, I read an account of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, some 147 years ago, and that event is here in 2012 for me.

Or, I look at an anthropologist’s account of carbon dating a trilobite fossil, and I am transported 300 million years.

In short, all the ways we have captured our history, our friends and family’s history, the history of the various civilizations that have come and gone these past thousands of years are examples of time binding. All the disciplines of inquiry and investigation we have created to enhance our understanding of the world are ways of binding time.

Perhaps, the most amazing time binding from the standpoint of “age” is the binding of the big bang. Scientists tell us that this bursting sub microscopic beginning of everything in the universe started some 13.5 billion years ago,  a number very difficult to conjure for us. We tend to bog down past thousands, let alone billions, but the time is bound for us nonetheless. Along with this astronomers tell us that they have now estimated that there are something like 400 billion galaxies (yes Galaxies!!) in our known universe, and each one of those galaxies contains billions of stars, numbers we can understand mathematically, but can’t really even begin to grasp experientially.

What does all this time binding mean to us? There are probably as many implications as there are “bindings,” but the one that I want to focus on is what this means for our creativity. As we look to the future, this enormous repository of  information that we have bound from the past to the present is available for us to create what is yet to come. It offers successes and failures, possibilities and dead-ends, growth and decay, tyrants and saints,  laws of the universe and the foibles of mankind, laws and theories, facts and illusions,  all available to us in a variety of ways.  It offers us more than we can ever  use. It is, relative to us as individuals, virtually an infinite source of potential for what we want to show up in our future.

So, when you look to the future, know that you are supported and propped up by this incredible accumulation of time binding, and now with Google and Blink and all the other web trinkets, the details of all this time binding are available to us with a few clicks of our fingers. Our laptops, desktops, IPODs, smart phones, IPads and all the other gadgetry of this 21st century, which are all electronic time binders of incredible virtuosity place all this time binding right in front of us. The binding of time is one of the ways in which we are unique as a species. Bind away and create!

If you would like more of my thoughts in depth, you can read my E-Book:Ten Ways Philosophy is Practical . . . and Counting.

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Parenting is about percentage, not perfection.  As parents we so often berate ourselves for not being the perfect parent in our endlessly diverse and unendingly complex dealings with our children.  We think there is this ideal parent that is our model for our interactions, and we are constantly striving to model and attain that ideal.

Of course, it never quite works that way in the nitty gritty give and take (so often more give than we can sometimes manage) of raising our children. Their so often unpredictable behaviors and contrary responses to our guidance and helpful  admonitions  help sustain a frustration level so much higher than we expect or want. But difficult though that may be, that is the way of it.

All those little beings  wandering around in our lives have not read the ideal child model that aligns with the ideal parent model. They have somehow managed to miss that particular chapter of education.  We both miss the ideal.

That is because the truth is we are not perfect; they are not perfect; we cannot be perfect; there is no perfection.  Perfection implies a flawlessness of attitude and behavior that is forever beyond us. It is beyond what it means to be human. Perfection is an idea that presupposes a world where everything works the way it is supposed to, a world where we always have the right course of action at our fingertips, a world where we never make mistakes.  That world is a fiction; we live in a messy, sloppy,  world with rough edges, a world that is ever unfinished, a world that is constantly changing.

There can  be no perfection in our ever changing, so often unpredictable and unexpected unfolding world.  We operate in that complex of change with the endless presence of risk and uncertainty making our way through life as best we can, and that “best” is far from perfection.

However much the lack of perfection is lamented, the reality is we are imperfect. Our children are imperfect. The world is imperfect, and that’s the way of it. The best we can get is  “some of the time” rather than “all of the time.”   And that brings us to percentages.  There is no 100% when it comes to being a mother or a father. There is only getting it right some of the  time, getting it wrong some of the time and working in the future to get it better.  The percentages of our success go up and down, and our lives and our children’s lives go on.

The surprising thing is that with our good intentions and our love for our children, so many of us get it “right” enough of the time that our children grow up and surprise us with how well they move on with their lives.  They amaze us with their ability to survive and move beyond our limits and foibles, especially our futile attempts to be “perfect.”

So, my advice is look to bettering your percentage of healthy, growing interactions with your children.  They will take it from there.

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Possibility Again

I have mentioned before that possibility goes together with risk and uncertainty. There is never one without the other.  And possibility is about making what isn’t into what is. An egg is an actual egg, but it’s a possible omelette, poached egg, fried egg, scrambled egg, a missile thrown at a car or a person, and sometimes a chicken. The limits of all possibilities are as extensive as the complexities and reach of your imagination, the depth and range of your past experience and your willingness to risk moving into the unknown.

Why do some people see possibilities where others do not? The difference lies in the individual’s ability to step outside the domains of their ordinary living and ask  “What if  this were so? What if I tried that? What if? What if?” We are used to living in our comfort zones, and there is stability and familiarity  in that. It is where we spend most of our time. It gives us security. If you want new possibilities, you have to give up some of your security. You have to move into new domains. You have to hang out with the unfamiliar, and most of all you have to ask new and different questions about yourself and your surroundings. All innovation comes from this willingness to ask such questions. Einstein imagined riding a light beam and looking back at a clock and realized that the light from the clock would always show the same time. From there he went on to create his theory of relativity.  Picasso saw a bike seat and handlebars on a junk pile, took them home and created a unique sculpture of a bull with horns. Newton watched the apple fall from a tree and  asked why didn’t the earth fall towards the apple? This led to his famous three laws of gravitation.  Columbus asked if the earth was really flat, decided it might not be and discovered the Western hemisphere. Steve Jobs asked what do people really want and gave us the Iphone, the Ipad and user friendly software.  Every inventor and creator asked new questions, questions that others didn’t think of or couldn’t imagine, and because they did we have all the wonders of our modern world: from electricity to jet planes, computers, cell phones, electron microscopes, space shuttles, safety pins and paper clips. The list is endless.

What questions are you not asking?

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Living in the Flow of Time

The present is ever displaced by the future. It slips into the past, displaced by this never ending flow. We call it time or change, but regardless of what we call it, we cannot avoid that endless flowing.We are often told to be present, that the present is all we have, and while this is true in the sense that it is always now, it is always here, what “living in the present” means is not so clear cut.  The present is ever slipping away from us. It is a moving target, and it is much more difficult to hit a moving target than a stationary one. How do we “live” effectively and skillfully in this endless flow. this “reality” that is ever slipping away from us?

If you take any given flowing present moment of our lives,  what we see and feel and experience depends on what’s there, but much more on how we focus on what’s there. To focus is to select some aspect, some portion of this flowing present and in that selecting we set up what we will notice and how we will interact.  If  you select “blue” and look around you right now, you will notice all the blue things in your present environment. If you select “red” and do the same scan, you will notice a whole different set of things. Try it right now. The “same  present” but seen differently through a different focus.

We thus end up in a “present” according to what we select, and we “select” from among all the possibilities according to our interests. Our  interests emerge from our desires and needs, and from the countless ways the world imposes itself on us as we live out our lives.  The process looks something like this. We have a desire or a need. These impulses emerge from our history and that energy, that tension  leads us to make an assessment of how they might be fulfilled. We deliberate on the possibilities. Deliberating leads to a decision, to selecting one possibility from among the many options. Our decision moves us to the relevant and appropriate action.  Our action shifts and moves something in our world, in our present, and that change, that becoming leads to a result. There is no action without a consequence. If the result satisfies the need or desire, we move on to the next “present,” so to speak. If not, we either give up or try again. Thus do we live out our lives, ever flowing. So if you would live in the present, you have to sustain an awareness of your needs and desires.They source our choices and actions.

There is however, a further catch. What you think is possible depends on the scope and range of your beliefs. The narrower your beliefs, the fewer the possibilities that you see.  How do we expand our sense of what is possible?  There are a variety of ways,  but they all come down to moving outside our comfort zones.  That is how we break through our limits. How we do that is for another blog.

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