Where are you going? Don’t you have somewhere to be? You’re on your way to something, aren’t you?
These are questions most of us find absolutely normal. Expected even. But have you ever really thought about this idea – that it is expected that you always should have somewhere to go? That you can say where you are going?
I can stack, scores of times over, all of the places I will go stretching on for weeks; I’m going to lunch in 16 minutes — I’m going to present to my staff in 76 minutes. I’m going to another meeting after that. At about 5 pm I’m getting on my bike and going home. I’ll go to my couch soon after that and then to my Xbox for some Destiny and then I’m going to bed. I’m going somewhere! Life must be great!
I usually think that it’s a good thing to have somewhere always to be going. I usually believe that this “going somewhere” brings meaning and belonging to my life; But as I was hustling around Portland the other day, I noticed a person who seemed to have nowhere to go and I started wondering.
You see, late last summer, the Mayor of Portland, OR, USA “cracked down” on homeless camps. So, I’m seeing homeless folks around my work area a lot. And I thought the other day, as I was bustling about, that they have nowhere to go! More than being lost, more than not belonging, these people seemed stuck in place with no place to go. In being lost you do have somewhere to go- home or something you know. But the homeless destitute person is not lost. He or she just has nowhere to go. Imagine what that must feel like?
To do this I had to truly grasp what it feels like to know I have somewhere to go — to really think about this reality of mine. I know I don’t even think about it. I just go. To my next appointment. To catch the bus. To the movie. To dinner back home. To work. And so on. What does that feel like?
Am I happy because I always have somewhere to go? Does that mean if I had nowhere to go I could not be happy? So what would that then mean for the homeless man with nowhere to go? Does this make the homeless person unhappy? So the homeless man got me to thinking more closely about my assumptions regarding the state of happiness and having somewhere to go.
Nietzsche said “if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how.”
Sapiens author Yuval Harari suggests, “happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile” (p. 390)
Maybe the why can be also the where. For by having a place to go, I also have a why for going. And that implies meaning and worth. It has to be worth it to muster the energy to go, right? And so it must be meaningful. It must have a why. Right?
So the poverty of the homeless maybe isn’t lack of a home or food or cash. It is maybe just having nowhere to go and therefore being unhappy.
But I think this is the easy and incorrect answer — one that most of us would auto-jump to based on all the biases of our Calvinist society of “do, do, do and go, go go.” And so I challenged myself (and I challenge you now if you don’t already) to look at it the other way. That by creating constant places to go we chain ourselves off from where we can truly be free which is the here and now — the always present and yet chimeric current moment.
“So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” (Strandland & Tempchin, for the Eagles)
As I considered the “plight” of the homeless person and how sad it was that they had no place to go, I thought that I was really projecting onto him my cultural assumptions about happiness. This person may be sad, but it has nothing to do with having nowhere to go. I may be happy, and it also has nothing to do with having somewhere to go. In fact, it is despite having somewhere always to go to that I am happy, if I am happy. And the homeless person might be much happier than I!
This expectation — that it is right and good to always have somewhere to go — belies our foundational cultural belief that we should always be seeking, always searching, always on the move toward — happiness, good feelings, not suffering. We crave and chase these interior feelings we think we must have so much. In that chase we spend almost all of our time on the move — either avoiding that which we think causes us pain or towards that which we think causes us happiness. But in constantly going somewhere, we never ever experience the miracle of the moment. And believe me, every moment is indeed a miracle.
The homeless experience some types of poverty no doubt — hunger, lack of shelter, poor health, being untouchable. But spiritually a homeless person may be very rich, richer than I who always has somewhere to go. Those of us rushing around going somewhere are not rich because we have somewhere to go. Those of us constantly on the move, always craving that next feeling of worth or meaning, we are actually the spiritually poor. Because it is the craving of the next feeling of numinous happiness that creates a Heisenbergian human situation — the more we try to grab the next better feeling down the road, the more that thing changes and becomes impossible to actually have. And so we keep moving on and on when in reality, we should stop, not try to grab the thing or go to it, but just watch it from our place in the moment.
Like I used to say to my toddlers, and I should remind myself now: “stop moving around so damn much, you’re going to miss the show.”