“All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end.”Henry David Thoreau
“We work so damn hard just to simply be alive. There’s no need to strive toward a place you already are.”
What is “progress”?
Humanity’s been at it a while. We’re roughly ten thousand years beyond agricultural abundance, written language, the industrial revolution, and so on… but- where are we going? Surely there must be more than the Road to Nowhere prophesized by David Byrne?
We can pose this from two angles:
Where is the human species going?
Where are WE going, in our individual lifetimes?
Which angle matters more? Park these questions – let’s jump to the story of a wise, good human, nearing the end of his life.
Roland Griffiths was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He’s spent the last several decades helping people find comfort as a researcher at Johns Hopkins University. In light of his imminent death, he’s experienced a deepening perspective on the meaning of life – something that’s surprised even him – and left him with a profound sense of peace.
“I would’ve claimed to be pretty awake prior to the cancer diagnosis. I’m much more awake now. There’s no reason we can’t all wake up. That’s the overarching message I want to broadcast – Join me in the celebration, the appreciation of this miracle that we all find ourselves in.”Roland Griffiths
Imagine? Imagine helping people for the majority of your life, spending thousands of hours contemplating human struggles and the meaning of existence, yet, when faced with your own death, it “awakens” something that fills you with unimaginable gratitude and awe. Not only this, he is convinced this is available to all of us, right now. We don’t need a stage 4 cancer diagnosis to nudge us. What does he mean?
Progress’s Final Destination
Returning to the twin questions: Where is the human species going? Where are we individually going? … Best case?
What if we’re already there – at the place we’ve been yearning to go? Consider this 800-year-old line of poetry. Does it come as any shock that Rumi, completely detached from our modern era of science and knowledge, was suggesting something similar to modern-day Roland?
“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside!“Rumi
In other words, what if the most profound, deep, lasting sense of ease, comes not from the fringe of experience – off in the future somewhere… but instead – from a dormant “big you”?
But What About Mars?
The year is 2050. An AI super-general-intelligence was finally launched by OpenAI, ushering an astonishingly wild boom in innovation and cultural revolution. SpaceX engineers surpassed all prior estimates and Mars has been colonized for a decade. Commercial flights are available to all humanity at essentially zero cost, since the economy now runs on automation and pays everyone a universal basic income. Humans no longer labor to survive, rather, are liberated to pursue artistic expression and further engineer the wellbeing of society. Work and passion are now completely synonymous.
What if you were about to die tomorrow, and miss this utopia!
Well, what if you were about to die tomorrow, shrugged, and smiled indifferently before closing your eyes for the final time?
Humanity will ALWAYS be evolving, changing, striving, morphing, extending itself precariously far into the future in ways we cannot possibly fathom.
We, individually, will ALWAYS be flowing somewhere within this societal current as a single molecule, feeling, experiencing, evolving, pursuing, changing.
Even so – as both the world and its inhabitants simultaneously unfold, can we make peace knowing, no matter what happens, we have already held peak happiness? Can we embrace the venerable now that countless others, from all walks, have alluded to?
Roland’s Final Wish – Secular Spirituality
Emphasis = Secular.
Spirituality is one of those words that demands careful wielding, as it comes freighted with all sorts of baggage – mysticism and spooky claims. This is where the word secular attempts to redeem spirituality – burning through fog and leaving us with the crux. What else would you expect from a rigorous scientist?
“I want to create a program of research that focuses in on psychedelics and the development of what I would call secular spirituality – that is – spirituality stripped of paranormal and supernatural causes. It has to be hard empirical research – I believe fundamentally in science as the way we can come to true understanding of replicable phenomena. I think there’s so much to be done.”Roland Griffiths
Spirituality – simply put – is the journey to discover who you truly are. Call it whatever you will. Big You. Buddha. The Tao. God. Jesus. Enlightenment. Maybe the best option? None of the above. Instead of grabbing any concept literally – merely notice they are all trying converge on something. The place that all roads appear to lead.
This is a celebration of an important human life – Roland Griffiths – whose tsunami of scrupulous research will positively affect human wellbeing for decades. Second, even more, it is a challenge to become curious about Roland’s invitation – to join him in celebration – to wake up. How can one approach this? Consider a few ideas directly linked to his work and far beyond. Each of these doorways leads to hundreds more.
- Mindfulness (aptly, includes a resource named “Waking Up”)
- Roland Griffiths on what meditation and psychedelics have in common
- A general resource for wellness and clarity
A Final Word on Tyrannical “Progress”
“We are all tomorrow’s food“, said the poet Brandon Boyd.
It is easy to watch the world from the bleachers and feel as if the ultimate experience is around the corner. There are infinitely new ways to amuse ourselves, to “improve” life, to innovate, add convenience, to cure ailments. This will go on and on and on. Even today, the youngest generation is rejecting the philosophies and values of the old. The gear of “progress” grinds perpetually and often disruptively. To what end?
If you consider we are already home – progress begins to feel different. It’s fine – but not as vitally important as it may have seemed. You can engage it more like an unfolding work of art – a story that is billions of years old and will continue for billions of years beyond us. But always just that – a magnificent story – not something our personal fulfillment depends upon.
The only thing our lives depend on, at least if we’d like ones full of gratitude and peace, is a willingness to wake up.
(Does all of this imply, be passive, do nothing? Absolutely not.)
A farewell Talking Heads lyric, from a different tune.
“Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there“
My favorite 5 minute excerpt from Roland and Sam’s chat, accompanied by my low budget animation.