Always know where your towel is
Today I turn 42.
According to the super-intelligent AI from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer.
The answer to what??
Well, er… everything.
More specifically, 42 is the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. Which if you’re a geek like me, then you can’t help but assume this birthday must be a little bit special.
Well, I’m sorry to report no instant insights appeared this morning. No direct downloads in the middle of the night. Not last night at any rate.
So it must remain a work in progress. Instead, let me tell you what I’ve got so far, 42 years in…
Life, the universe and everything
We are here on this earth for one reason: To have emotional experiences.
That’s it. Simples, right?
Perhaps too simple. When I first discovered this, it resonated so strongly for me and I knew it must be true, and yet, I was disappointed. It didn’t feel meaningful enough. It felt too easy. It didn’t even require you to be a good person, help others, or have a moral compass of any kind.
I had always thought the meaning of life must be more of a mission. Surely it includes a lifelong quest, to develop, grow, overcome your inner demons and achieve enlightenment, self-actualisation, or self-transcend entirely and devote yourself to humankind?
I assure you, all life requires of us is to:
have emotional experiences, then optionally:
appreciate them (strongly encouraged)
when the opportunity arises, share them with others, and
possibly learn from them (but this is far less important than you might suspect).
The first two are most important, I’ll explain why below. But first! How am I so sure? This is a big bold claim to accept based so far solely on an ‘I assure you’.
There are many sources that point to this conclusion. Some of them more scientific and others more allegorical, philosophical and spiritual:
Donald Hoffman’s work on evolution and what lies outside space and time.
Busting Loose from the Money Game by Robert Scheinfeld.
Ancient Hindu wisdom.
The Egg by Andy Weir.
These all point in vaguely a similar direction, and although they all come from very different starting points, all end up telling quite a congruent story (certainly the key beats).
The final 'proof' for me however, was embracing my intuition. What felt right? What resonated? And very surprising indeed that I came to this conclusion considering for most of my life I would do my darnedest to banish emotions and intuition altogether—read my chapter from Wholehearted Leadership Revolution to hear more about that journey.
All of these sources of insight resonated for me, and when I first saw Kurzgesagt’s animation of The Egg, I was moved to tears. Does that make it ‘true’? It does for me. Because even though I can’t definitively prove it, it has such high utility and predictive power it’s worth treating it as true until a more accurate and useful model presents itself—which is after all how the Scientific Method works to build and improve upon our Body of Knowledge over time by utilising the most useful working model we have, until we can develop a better one.
At this point some of you will be thinking “Andrew, that means you believe in God!? That’s not very modern, logical, or scientific! I’m disappointed in you.”
I get it. Many of my clients and audience are quite modern, logical and scientific. So let me be clear about what I am saying…
Not only do I believe there is a power that goes beyond our universe and projects our universe into being (ie you may as well call that God), I believe I am God. Haha, we all are. By virtue it the fact we are part of this universe and what lies beyond. Again, this is quite shocking for those who have known me many years as I was raised Catholic but turned away from the church aged 16 to become a staunch atheist until the last handful of years where I’ve been practising the integration of science + spirituality.
For example, so far, those beliefs I’ve just listed are based in clearly observable Science:
Entangled particles, quantum fluctuations and other quantum weirdness prove without a shadow of a doubt that space and time is NOT EVERYTHING (google "spacetime is doomed" to read more).
In fact, there is much quantum evidence that space and time is only an illusion projected from another dimension entirely.
We are all a part of this projection and so a part of the greater whole by definition.
All astronomical and quantum physicists know our universe is incredibly ‘finely tuned’. Bump a fundamental constant slightly up or down and life cannot be sustained.
Most agree this points to either an intelligence beyond our universe OR a multiverse of possible universes in which we just got incredibly lucky. (Note: Scientific models of the Universe Generation Mechanics required to do this show signs they would also need to be ‘finely tuned’… and we’re back to strong evidence of an intelligence beyond our universe).
This all aligns with the various spiritual interpretations above, as well as Simulation Theory.
How connected we are to what lies beyond during our life and after it is still harder to pin down with scientific evidence (Donald Hoffmann has some great ideas though around how we might start testing this).
Still not satisfied? I get it. This is really where your intuition and Faith have to kick in. I chose to believe our individual fragments of consciousness rejoin the whole in a non-specified yet meaningful and satisfying way, because that's what resonates for me, that's where my intuition is pointing me.
Does this all sound super scary? I must admit the “non-specified” nature of these beliefs used to freak me out. As humans we don’t do well with uncertainty. Uncertainty brings the threat of change! And change carries the risk of loss.
So what’s the greatest loss possible here? The scariest prospect of this non-specified uncertainty?
The loss of me.
The loss of my identity. My ego dissolving and becoming one with everything. At least this was it for me, at least at the time.
Now, I almost look forward to it, the bliss of not having to constantly worry about ‘me’, how I’m perceived by others, how I feel about myself, whether I’ve done enough. Exhausting!
That said I’m not keen to go any time soon. I’m quite enjoying this existence while I can. So tools to process all of the challenges associated with being ‘me’ have been gold, and have resulted in a softening of ‘me’. I feel less attached to ‘I’ than I used to be. How freeing! The paradox is this means I’m less afraid of moving on AND more able to enjoy continuing on here, on earth. The other paradox here is moving towards freedom AND oneness at the same time. How confusing!
The cosmic upshot of letting go of 'me' and becoming one with all is, we can each then contribute back to the great pool of experience that’s come before and tap into the experiences of others. It turns out, on that cosmic scale, life is a team sport. Which means when I see someone making a real mess of things for themselves, I now feel a great deal of compassion, and I know they are having those experiences on behalf of all of us.
So when you think about it on that cosmic scale, what we 'learn' through our experiences is less important than you might think (#4 above). In that context, just having the experience and feeling the feelings is the learning. And as for #3 above, being witnessed by others, seen, head, understood and accepted is one of the most connected feelings we can have, and as humans, we crave it. However I don't believe it's a separate requirement of us, just a powerful emotional experience in its own right.
It actually makes sense when you consider the payoff for everything in life Is an emotional experience. Make a lot of money, that makes you feel good. Spend it, feels good. Use it to attract a highly desirable partner, feels good. Donate it, feels good. The list goes on, the only reason we do anything is to feel good (or to avoid feeling bad).
And so we (finally) make it to the crux of the conversation...
The pursuit of happiness
We are here to have emotional experiences, whether they feel good, bad, or ugly.
And yet, it's very human to only desire to seek the emotional experiences that feel good. And that's totally fine. We don't have to actively seek negative emotional experiences. We seem very good at attracting them with very little effort. And remember, life is a team sport, so your life can be focused on beautiful, joyous, positive experiences if you so choose.
We absolutely need to be able to sit with negative experiences when they arise. But it’s ok to pursue happiness the rest of the time.
Two types of happiness
Thanks to our limited emotional vocabulary, there are actually two main ways people experience what we call 'happiness':
An intense rush of joy and excitement. These thrills come in small and large doses whenever we chase some new source of stimulation or surprise. This experience is accompanied by the release of dopamine among other neurotransmitters. It is short-lived, and addictive.
A more mild, warm place of peace and contentment. This is a very happy and loving place that comes from the appreciation of what we have and the moment we're in. It can last as long as we don't have events or intrusive thoughts chase it away.
It's ok to seek both forms of happiness. But if you find it hard to tap into and enjoy the latter, then you know you have a problem.
In the modern world it's very common to chase the former and avoid the latter to stave off the intrusive thoughts of our own internal neurosis. Keep busy! Keep busy! And we don't have to face ourselves and our inner dialogue and emotions.
But there is a better way...
The cosmological hitchhiker's toolkit
I want to leave you with the top 3 core tools I've learned along the way that help me navigate life with maximum peace and happiness. These are the psycho-emotional equivalent of 'always knowing where your towel is':
Learn to feel your emotions. If you're good at suppressing and compartmentalising, it's a useful tool to have. And yet you're cutting out the entire reason we're here in the first place. It's also incredibly bad for your health long term and will lead to chronic illness of one form or another. Learning to open that can of worms can take time and effort, and then you need to know what to do with the worms...
Learn to process your feelings. You have to feel your feelings and then let them go, otherwise they will keep coming back. There are specific skills I can share around processing your feelings. And some of the deeper feelings from big events in your life benefit from the support of a coach to process and let go.
Learn to appreciate everything. The good, the bad and the ugly. It all comes for a reason or with a message. Without the bad experiences, we wouldn't even know what a good experience was, there'd be no contrast to life. At the very least each emotional experience is a unique flavour. When you can appreciate even the 'bad feelings', it's like telling the universe "I get it. Thank you. Now I'm ready for different and better experiences".
If you'd like support with any of these tools, please reach out. I love to talk to fellow hitchhikers of the universe, and share what I've learned so you can have the life you want and deserve.