This question, of all questions, is the most important of all questions ever asked. It is the most important question we ever ask, that you ever ask, no matter who you are. And like all of the deeper questions of life, although it is central to your being, it is not one that actively consumes you, as it is usually buried by the thoughts and actions that make up our days and nights. Yet, it can be argued that those thoughts and actions we call life are themselves driven by a set of cultural assumptions as to its answer. In other words, at some point in time, and over time, someone or a million someones evolved a set of behaviours we call our culture, a framework for our being, our living, and our dying, a framework for our interactions with each other – a “why” of the way we live that determines almost all we do and establishes “why” we do it. From morning until night, from the micro to the macro, the establishment of the time establishes a version of our context for living. It is, in a very real way the Matrix within which we live and operate.
And like the Matrix in the famous films, it is only a construct, and one that is, I believe, imperfect. Further, in the form it has become, the one within which we operate an decide what we believe to be our wants and needs, and against which we measure our achievements and aspirations, it is insufficient and inadequate. This is usually also something we are too busy to notice, but which does haunt us in those moments between the madness modern life.
Even in the breakneck get-it-all-before-it’s-gone-let-me-check-my-calendar chase of money and fulfillment we call our world today there are times for each of us when we stop and ponder. As much as we may pile onto our lives the weight of what is seen as success, as fast as we may tread the wheels of work, juggle the joys of loves and family, or fulfill our ordained roles as the consumers of goods and services in our rush to accumulate the “things” we supposedly must have to be considered successful, at the end of it all there is still an emptiness. There is a hole in our being we cannot fill, and it cannot be ignored – even as we try without success to fill it. Unbidden or planned, it hits us all, such as the day the joy of the new toy is gone, or the experience is had and done, the peak has been climbed and we must find our way to a new challenge. The question whispers, or it can shout, and we hear it both when we experience moments of madness or moonlight, like those when our world changes suddenly, when we survive a near death experience, when we look into the eyes of our newborn child, or when we gaze with newborn eyes into the night sky. It is in those moments, those transcendent moments that give us the greatest ecstacy and contact with living that perhaps for just a fleeting moment the question comes into its clearest focus. We hear it rise from deep down, from that deep unsatisfied chasm between what we are told to do, what we really do and what is missing. It is then that we ask: “Why am I here?”
Laying awake at night and peering into the darkness, be it in your mansion or on your mattress on the floor, your tent or your tenement, your dorm room or your bedroom or out under the magnificent spreading and infinite veil of stars this is THE QUESTION. And it is the one we all ask, parent or child, student, soldier, priest, politician, worker and world traveller.
We ask it sometimes silently in meditation and sometimes loudly as we run riot through the streets. Be it voiced in solitude or screams, we are not satisfied. Even as we operate as we are set to operate within our so-called “modern” culture we spend our lives trying to fill the void it creates in us. From buying bling to building empires, to driving our lives forward in the promise that some good thing awaits us when we are done, to drowning ourselves in drugs and alcohol because we have nothing to lose, at the center of all of this bustle and bluster we do not understand the meaning of it all. We do not know who we are, because we do not know Why we are. We are desperate to create the meaning its absence forces us to confront.
Why? Why am I here? Who am I? Why do I exist?
The quest for the answers is seminal to our existence. In fact it is part of the definition of humanity. It is the basis and bastion of every religion, philosophy and spiritual movement in the history of homo sapiens. And in each period of human history it has been answered in a new way, interpreted in the way of the time, and molded to the milieu of the culture asking as if it were fact.
The sophistication of each generation engaging in the conversation has always been, at the time of the search, of the highest order. The latest tools of thought, logic and technology have been applied by the wisest of the wise in each era to find the answer, even if all that was available at the time were drug induced trances, mystical moments in the middle of a desert or the sayings of sooth given by the mad or most mystical in the tribe. Prophet or philosopher, scribe, alchemist or astrologer, these explorers and seekers offered their product to the market, for the market has always been huge. To be fair, while some seem in hindsight to have been nothing more than the means to gain power and wealth, at their core those that gained the most traction and lasted the longest are at their centre sincere, profound and clearly provided the answers needed to sustain their societies at the time.
For each of these established stories, explanations and cultural matrixes there was a beginning, be it a moment of prophetic divinity or a tipping point of evolving synthesis over time, and in that moment they become the new truth, the new answer to the question.
Each foray into the unknown elements of existence was a brave and risky challenge to the established facts of being held at the time, and for each explanation that offered some solace to existence, a thousand failed. Yet the drive to know the answer is so strong, the need of this unarmored ape who can wonder so powerful, that the very spine of our society is built around the institutions that have triumphed in the promotion and promulgation of their version of its answer.
Whether it was an Indian prince shedding his royal raiment to seek the quiet voice of nirvana, a middle eastern peasant carpenter wandering in the desert, or a stoned soothsaying seer speaking in the tongues of toga clad gods, these tales and stories served both to secure the social rules of their cultures and to assuage the fears we face as questioning beings as to what lies beyond these few brief years of struggle we call life. For thousands of years they have done both. In fact when stripped of the institutional mismanagement of their messages, they have, each in their own time and society, served well to assure the survival and prosperity of their adherents. The wisdom of their core social tenets worked, and what’s more, in most cases secured the peace of the living, even as they assured that we be at peace with the dead.
The light they cast was meant to spread just beyond the edge of the fire at the center of the camp, then the village and then the city states of their time. Even as our society became both industrial, global and to a great degree more scientific, they have been adapted and updated – often with remarkable success. It speaks well to their core truths, to their founders and very much so to their progenitors and keepers of the holy that they have done so well. Yet in many ways ever-growing elements of the stories of what lies beyond tangibility they told us are ever more in conflict with what we are discovering through science and the exploration of the universe. Not that the cultural guidelines and standards of society set in those ancient texts which dominate us today are that far off in terms of good advice. They are in many ways good handbooks for living, especially when one removes the cultural elements that were unique to the times of their origin. While they give us many good guidelines for living, they do not illuminate a civilization as vast as ours and are unable to shine a light outwards into the universe we are observing and about to enter. More importantly for this moment in time, by the very nature of the limited scope of understanding they possessed as to the universe both outside and inside of ourselves, they could not know nor prepare answers for the possibilities and possible futures we face today. This leads many, facing a take it or leave it dichotomy as their only choice to abandon them – even as their essential truth is in many ways being confirmed. Just as many of these ancient concepts have built on those before while adopting the realities of the new present reality of their day, none of them fit nor can contextualize and offer us a matrix of being for what is happening today and about to happen tomorrow as a result of the explosion of our knowledge and the still as yet little noticed nor understood throwing open of the gates of the universe itself to humanity and the life of Earth.
Thus perhaps, just perhaps, it is time for us to consider a new answer to the question.
Joseph Campbell, philosopher and student of humanities self-told stories has said we need a new mythos for the 21st century. I agree. When presented with today’s ever growing and changing understanding of the birth and extent of the universe, the so called truth of our place with in it born in the minds of a people who did not even know stars existed provide no useful framework nor explanation. When the answer given to the question of possible immortality or an extended life comes from philosophies derived at a time when life was brutal and short and thus was rationalized as being ordained to be so, it will be wrong. When challenged to consider responsibility for an entire planet and all the life it carries, the underlying righteous short sightedness of a tribal society whose very survival was based on the taking of anything it could tear from the earth will not do. When confronted with the possibilities that flow from our own minds each day and in an instant travel the breadth of the planet, possibilities that at the same instant threaten our very existence and offer us the stars, possibilities that at one in the same time show us paths to the future we did know existed only fifty years ago and crush the assumptions that have given us comfort for millenia, the answers on the table fail the test of tomorrow’s needs. Even when, as they are, these religious philosophies are augmented and inseminated with the cold eyed credibility of consumption based conformity as a means of assuring satisfaction and stability, they fail to fill the void. Even though, at their hearts they may provide solace for the soul and sign posts for living, they are incomplete. It is time for the next shift.
Borrowing from the metaphors of previous spiritual and cultural shifts in a way that is for this shift more than appropriate, we need a new guiding star. The story of our origin, our place and our destiny needs, in fact demands a new set of answers, as those given us by the ancients are limited, primitive, often in conflict with what we now know at their basic level and given the context of today’s civilization and where it may go, they offer us little comfort nor inspiration.
They are nearly done. A new time is coming, informed by an enlightened and ever growing understanding of ourselves, and fed by a philosophy that does not fight change but embraces the expansion of knowledge. A new society is about to arise on the shoulders of the giants of the past, that even as it uncovers and unmasks in ever greater detail the realities behind the old myths, is determined to apply their wisdom while avoiding their mistakes, while opening up the future in a way that would be inconceivable to our ancestors.
For even as we have for so long sought it, using what we thought we know to inform us, I think that until this very moment in time we could not really answer that core question, and thus could not discover that central truth. We simply did not know enough. Further, we did not have the tools to act upon it, nor implement what was necessary to achieve the destiny it offers. We do now.
I believe there is a new answer, an answer that fits our culture and time, an answer that does not conflict with many of the answers given us by those primitive and ancient speakers to and of God and the gods of their time – be they the mystical spirits of unseen heavens or the concrete churches of consumerism and capital gain. In fact the answer I offer in many ways affirms and extends the core messages at their heart, while offering us a possible truth born of our own modern society and the cultural language of today. We can be both fulfilled and unified, take all we want and give everything in the service of us all, push ourselves to our limits and end the idea of limits itself.
There is indeed a new answer to the question “Why?” that can act as the new informing, directing and sustaining driver of civilization for the next several thousand years.
Again, as far as can be determined, we are the only creatures that ask this question, and I think there is a reason we do – and that while we have tried in many ways to find its answer, only now, only in the last few years have all the pieces come together so that we can at last do so. We are at last at an apex, a point in time where our own evolution has reached an inflection point that avails us the ability to finally use the knowledge we have and the tools at hand to both answer the question correctly – and to act upon the answer, even as we still struggle with our primordial and primitive selves.
Yes, we are the users of fire and tools. We are apes with axes, monkeys with machines, and as such we could simply be more effective animals, but we crossed a much more important line at some point in our evolution, and now and forever will be both blessed and cursed by that crossing. For what happened the moment that tiny set of special synapses fired in the primordial mind of that first neo human was something that set the course for this naked mammal to do much more than learn how to cloth and feed itself, or even to have the non-animal like ability to massively adapt our environment to our own needs. We began to ask questions. And that can be an awkward thing in a universe that does not offer answers.
You see, while an ant simply ants, and a tree is simply a tree, we are both blessed and cursed with the ability to think, to inquire, and to dream. We are the only being not satisfied to simply live. It is what makes us human. And I believe it is this very ability that is the manifestation, the expression if you will, of the universe’s own evolution, the step that is the ultimate consummation of the all of history since creation itself, the moment at which this place we call the universe becomes self aware, and transforms from being a place into being something more, something alive.
To get here we have had to traverse billions of years, to dodge a thousand extinctions, benefit from a myriad coincidences, and master ourselves after an eternity of childhood. Like the universe itself, it is almost too much to comprehend when one considers what has had to go right to get us to this moment. It is something that in itself, even as it sets us up to accept or reject a new destiny and way of being, ties us back down and deeply to the core spiritual questions that form the center of our faiths and philosophies. How can we possibly have so evolved to this point from the essential stuff of space, made it the point of being able to rise out into that space from which we came and to do so using the very machines and methods that at one in the same time could end our existence as a species even as it offers us the chance to become the carriers of life, love and hope to the stars?
Thus the power of this moment and the elegance of the answer to the question I share with you now.
I do not simply offer this answer as a philosophical exercise, as some of us who already feel it have begun the quest of all times to act upon its call. And even if you are far removed from this important work, I would ask you to consider what it might mean to you. Imagine what the context of your life, your future, your children’s future can be like if our society were to embrace this new idea as its central and self defining declaration. Just as we have operated and lived for so long in fealty to those ancient, limiting and inevitably self defeating ideas of the past, we can re-define ourselves and thus change ourselves by aligning our society around a new Purpose.
And what if that Purpose was to be whatever you want to be and go wherever you want to go out there, to do there what you will and to do so as part of a united human family that not only knew its place in the universe, but knew its destiny was to not only save this world but carry its seeds and life to others without end? What if you were part of a society that wasn’t reaching its end, but preparing for its beginning, not standing still nor going backwards, but going somewhere? This is for me my new mythos, if you will. And so, I offer it to you too.
The answer is right above you. Just step outside tonight and look up. It is that simple.
My answer to this question of all questions.
Why are we here?
We are here, to go there.
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