What Really Matters

Having a more interesting life, a life that disturbs complacency, a life that pulls us out of the comfortable and thereby demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned or that feels comfortable is what matters most. James Hollis in What Matters Most

In his recent column, Building Better Secularists, New York Times Columnist David Brooks wrote that secular writers…”are so eager to make the case for their creed, they are minimizing the struggle required to live by it.”

Brook’s list of tasks a secularist would have to perform to live secularism well:

• Religious people inherit their creeds; secularists have to come up with their own convictions,
• Religious people inherit a community with rituals and practices that bind people together; secular people have to create their own communities and come up with their own practices to give them meaning,
• Religious people are directed to drop worldly concerns one day a week or for specified periods of time; Secular people have to create their own times of solitude to reflect on their spirituality, and
• Religious people are motivated by the love of God and their desire to please him; Secularists have to find their own motivation that will bring forth sacrifice and service.

Brooks concluded that secularists place unprecedented moral burdens upon themselves and risk drift and a loss of meaning in their own lives.

Paternalism is a belief system that requires that wisdom, knowledge and creativity come to people from others with greater power and authority. Most people grow up in paternalistic families surrounded by paternalistic clergy, bosses, coaches and teachers whose dictates they conform to. “Don’t think, just do what I tell you to do” is the spoken and unspoken command.

When young adults leave home, the organization often replaces the parent as the paternalistic force in their lives. Conformity is the first rule of organizations and institutions. Sometime around the middle of their lives, they may begin to rebel against such paternalism and enter the scary domain of thinking for themselves where they begin to doubt, question and challenge all those authority figures as they begin the process of becoming a mature person. Such a journey into a life of authenticity is difficult: a courageous and emotional odyssey of exploration to find who we really are—not who someone else tells us to be.

Religion and secularism aside, Brook’s burdens are everyone’s responsibility to ponder in life.

I do not want to mindlessly and without question follow creeds created by other imperfect men long ago; I want my life to be my own learning laboratory. I want to discover and articulate my own purpose for my life and the values I will live true to.

I don’t want to be put into a community by others and inherit its rituals and practices—rules and practices I must follow to be accepted; I need people but I want to choose my own community and seek counsel and fellowship from those who ring true to me.

I don’t want to act spiritual one day a week; I want to live my spirit daily, however imperfectly.

To be motivated by love and the desire to do good works is noble but so many seem to be motivated by fear, guilt, obligation and public appearances. I am motivated by the deep personal engagement I’ve had with myself over four decades pondering these and many other issues and questions of life (I’ve only scratched the surface). The higher emotions that motivate me, the passion that drives me and the aliveness I feel flow from that work as I seek the moral life.

I believe Brook’s burdens are among the lifetime work of an authentic life.

James Hollis: “…to have taken one’s journey through this dark, bigger, luminous, wondrous universe, to have risked being who we really are, is, finally what matters most.”

3 thoughts on “What Really Matters

  1. Interesting and an approach I hadn’t considered before. I do recall thinking when my children were very young that when I asked them, or told them to do this or that I was ignored, but when their father, the patriarch spoke they jumped. I remember thinking that wasn’t right. At the same time I equated that to their observing us with the father asking the mother for this or that and my complying, but when I asked him to do this or that, he put it off, so that was their example growing up. Kids watch their parents a then they tend to mimic. Judy



  2. Finally, a description of my spiritual path! Thanks.
    Also to Judy – very young children respond to the timbre of the voice – deep voices(male) sound more threatening; higher pitches (female) sound less so. But your point also factors in.


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