Doing What Matters [#2]

by Kaspar Heinrici - posted from Marfa TX

Yes we have already left Dallas, but as Ali mentioned in her last post.  I wanted to explain why were taking this trip. In many ways this trip is the tip of a big epistemological iceberg (at least for me it is).  Although Ali claims to be the thinker (love you sweetie) I have been thinking about why we should take a trip like this for sometime.  When I discovered that she agreed it was a good idea then it was on!  This post will be less whimsical and a bit heavier than Ali's style (as I tend to be) but it gets at why one might come to the decision to travel for a whole year.

How does one decide what matters?

We were preparing for this crazy one year trip and going through the logistics leading up to our May 1st departure. I kept bringing up my annual trip to South Padre Island to go kite boarding with my grandfather(testing the waters with Ali).  It seemed silly to plan a three day recreational vacation two weeks before going on a year long trip, but Ali seemed to realize it was important.  As I write this from South Padre Island I realize that what seemed frivolous somehow matters more than ever.

My grandfather is actually a great grandfather as of January of this year (more to come on my nephew soon).  He taught me to windsurf when I was 13.  He has since moved on to kite boarding and follows the favorable winds wherever they take him.  Over the last three years I have come down to SPI to take lessons in an effort to do this sport with him.  The other day we achieved this goal while out on the water whooping at each other on a tight reach across the lagoon with kites flying high over our heads.  In moments like that there is no question about what matters.  Woody is turning 86 this year, we are kite boarding together.  Woody is turning 86 this year, we are kite boarding together. No matter how many times I think that or say it out loud I cannot make sense of it.  His kite boarding friends can't understand it and have stopped trying.  They just imagine he is only in his seventies as if that makes it easier to reconcile.  It is like seeing a unicorn, it shouldn't exist, but it does.  There are so many reasons logic would suggest that what we were doing made no sense: Kite boarding at 85 could be considered an unnecessary risk and taking three days off before a major life change might not be the best use of time.  Despite what logic would suggest we were doing what mattered most in that moment.

These are the types of experiences that I think we are going for on this trip, whether they be with family, with one another or completely alone.  Logic defying moments that give life definition.  Below is a look beneath the surface at the "epistemological iceberg."  Disclaimer: These are summaries of much longer thoughts that have been edited for brevity, but I would love to discuss more in the comments or anywhere else.

Why are we here?

All possibilities are equally plausible.  The organization we perceive in the world is complete coincidence (the inevitable complexity that forms in particles over time).  It could be a grand design, but we will never have proof of the designer. I used to think (when I was about 11) that our pets were aliens who had put us on the planet to cultivate us into slaves and then take the natural resources of the earth.  It seemed to me they were just observing us and waiting to rise up. It sounds absurd, but in my mind this is still entirely a plausible explanation for why we exist.  While it is nice to ponder the why, and humans like to make up “whys” to give their lives meaning, it is ultimately arbitrary, therefore I find is better to focus on the what.

What should we do?

Well, since there is no why, no end goal, no real purpose then you should do what seems best, simply make the best of it.  What makes you feel good and does good (or at least doesn't do harm)? That which makes you happy and brings you joy without hurting others.  That’s pretty much it right there.  The world is an amazing place and there are a lot of things to experience out there.  In the end we should try to do what makes us happy.  Now you are thinking, "oh right like you can define happiness."

What is happiness?

Logical purpose balanced against innate contentment. As mentioned above, there isn’t really a meta reason or a purpose in life, therefore you need to find your own personal activities that make you feel purposeful.  However, if you are too focused on your specific goals and purposeful activities you risk missing out on the other main component of happiness.  The other component is being content with what we have already been granted by virtue of being human.  This means that spending time with family, appreciating nature, contemplating life and simply existing are all equally as important as having a clear purpose.  It is finding the balance between purposeful activity and aimless enjoyment that leads to happiness.  Too much purpose is stressful and alienating, too much aimlessness leads to sloth and induces anxiety about your purpose.  Ok, I know your patience is getting thin, I'm getting there.

What does this mean for us?

Purpose ebbs and flows.  Goals change, life evolves.  The key to life and marriage is never assuming there is a formula or a status quo that will sustain happiness. Often times it is periods of rest, education and relaxation that lead to the next sense of purpose.  Often the reward of achieving a goal is an emptiness, because the sense of purpose has evaporated.  Therefore, these two notions of“purpose” and “contentment” need to work together and balance each other or inform each other.  

Some major milestones have been achieved in our lives.  Ali and I have been together for over 10 years now.  We braved a move to the South and have established a life here.  Ali has completed the website she was recruited to produce and I have become the designer I wanted to be.  We have achieved beyond what we set out to do….so what is next?  We need to renew our sense of purpose.  We need to take a journey where the goal is simple contentment with our health and enjoyment of the world, while keeping an eye out for our next goal, our next purpose.  Until then we are going to be doing what matters and tempting fate to show us the next step.

For now I will leave you with this edit that my friend and amazing photographer Erick Barrandey made from us skating around downtown one day before I left.  Another example of wandering aimlessly in Dallas and yet everything being exactly as it was meant to be.