Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fortunate Son

I was conceived in February, 1955, just one month after Albert Ellis began practicing REBT.


From the beginning of time, until that summer night in sunny Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, I did not exist. Sometime in the future, I will once again cease to exist, and I will return to my natural state: nonexistence.


Some might argue, with reasonable justification, that the world was a better place up until the moment of my conception. But for me, it was the beginning of a grand adventure, a brief interruption to, and vacation from, nonexistence.


Yes, I regard my entire life as a vacation. It's an opportunity to have fun, to see the sights, and to meet the people. It's also an opportunity to learn about the universe I temporarily inhabit. During my stay here, I have made it my business to learn skills that make my visit more enjoyable, and occasionally do what I can to make the visit of other vacationers a rewarding experience for them.


Thinking of my life as a vacation, rather than as an examination to see whether or not I am "good enough," has allowed me to concentrate on what I am doing, rather than fretting over how well I am doing it.


In a few decades, possibly sooner, I will die. And, as Richard Dawkins points out in Unweaving the Rainbow, that makes me one of the lucky ones.


As I reflect on that balmy night in the 1950s, while Bill Haley was rocking around the clock, and my parents were humping and grinding, I can't help but think how it all could have been different. I might never have been here.


As my father enjoyed a post-coital cigarette, millions of his sperm were racing towards my mother's ovum. Had another sperm won the race, I would not be here. At the moment I was conceived, millions of my potential brothers and sisters lost their opportunity for a vacation. I was the lucky one.


And so one day I will die, making me far better off than my brothers and sisters who never lived. I am the fortunate son.




Gayle said...

Will, your post is timely. I recently shocked the living daylights out of several religious friends when I happened to casually mention something about happiness as a life goal. No! No! No! Happiness comes only in the afterlife, at god's side, and we must live this life in accordance with religious teachings or we will swim in lakes of sulphur for all eternity. This was said with passionate intensity and, I believe, with genuine concern for my everlasting soul. Which I don't think I have.

"Yes, you do." "Don't think so." "Yes!" "No!"

Most of the time I manage to sidestep these discussions. I fell into that one by accident. Efforts were being made to recruit me into volunteering my time into some worthy activities. I said no, it wouldn't make me happy. That led to a discussion about happiness as a life goal.

Albert Ellis' lack of religion rankled many people. From Al (and Joseph Campbell) I learned I have only one life to live and it's this one, in the here and now, so I better make the most of it. I haven't worried about the afterlife or previous lives.

I live in an area that's a hotbed of New Age beliefs and practices, including past life regression. I usually avoid those discussions, too.

I'm happy to live this life to the fullest in the here and now. This happiness comes from practicing R.E.B.T. as a life philosophy, not just as a therapy to solve problems. R.E.B.T. helps me understand the metaphorical meaing of the the saying "Eternity is now."

Sanjay said...

Hi Will and Gayle,

I was born 50 years after Al was born.

When I was reading Will's post, in hot summer morning here today, tears came in my eyes. I was reading my own story with some details being different. In fact, it is everybody's story with few personal details changed.

At the time of my reading Will's post, the Chinese were supressing Tibetans, a child somewhere was diagnosed with leukemia, an innocent person died in a car accident, yellow acasia were blooming in front of my house, and a star expolded in remote corners of the universe, possibly wiping out a civilisation on one of its planets.

Let's face the facts because no ammount of wishful thinking is going to change them. The universe is purposeless, it came into existance at big-bang, probably due to vacuum fluctuations, and then slowly, purposelessly, evolved into what it is now. We evolved due to natural selection, also purposelessly, thank you Darwin for telling this. Dawkins correctly says that we are DNA making machines. There is no inherent purpose in life. And, as if that was not enough, there is also no after-life. So, life is only one, is short, purposeless, unpredictable, and I may die tomorrow.

I can almost hear Al saying: "Damn it! I don't like it, but I can tolerate it and find some meaning and pleasure in life".

Dawkins also says, somewhat provocatively, in the last paragraph of The Selfish Gene: "We, that is our brains, are separate and independent enough from our genes to rebel against them." I don't know why he chose to write possibly the most important message of his brilliant book in its last paragraph.

What can we rebel against? It is the evolutionary purposelessness of the universe and our existence against which we can rebel. If we choose to give meaning to our existence. If we unwhiningly think-feel-act. If we don't should. If we don't horrorise. This is what Al told.

I was not born yesterday. I will try my best to follow what Al told me.

On vacation!

Anonymous said...

Dear Will, Gayle and Sanjay

Why am I so miserable? As Will knows, I've been reading Big Al since 1989, had 11 years of therapy from Australia's most experience REBT therapist, assisted others to become more clear thinking, an I still feel like something one finds on the bottom of a canary's cage.

I struggle with surety, and I note in Al's later books he emphasises that REBT is not perfect. While it is a magpie technique, picking up whatever is useful along the way, such as Buddhist mindfulness, Al's way of thinking is not complete, always relevant or the answer to a non-maiden's prayer.

I saw Scott Peck (and Big Al) in Australia, and he recommended CBT as the treatment of choce for depressing, or, as that's a bit dreary, burn-out, which is a little cooler and funkier, and seems vaguely meritorious. Peck was fond of saying 'I don't know', and it may be a timely reminder that we don't know it all. Maybe there is an afterlife!

Something I do think about, is why was Al so badly treated by his protoges, who refused to help him as he ailed? Pretty inhumane?

I'm currently seeing a Core Energeticist, who believes I'm angry, and, Until I get over it, it's not worthwhile doing much. Where is my 'should'?

What a shock for Al, if he's smiling down on us now, giving us blessings? Waddaya reckon?