What’re you worried about?

 In May I finished a book that was like my Everest, my Appalachian Trial thru-hike – my White Whale.  I finished Being and Time – Martin Heidegger’s masterwork that is widely considered one of the most important works of Western philosophy.   In it, he begins to attempt to answer the question – what is the meaning of being?  In other words (I think) what is the nature of existence. 

It took me about 6 months to read this book, spending about a half hour nearly every day.  That’s over two full work weeks.  Then at the end…

He never answers the question.  His premise is that to answer that question generally, you need to start with the nature of the being for which being is a concern – human being – and that’s what he does for 400 plus pages.   At the end, he says more is coming and, if he ever wrote it, it hasn’t appeared. 

But the first 400 plus pages were pretty cool, and I can’t pretend I fully understand them.  What I do want to share is this, and then some follow up thoughts about what to do with it. 

Human beings exist in a world.  That might seem obvious, but he doesn’t mean world as in how you and I typically think of and relate to “the world.”  You and I typically think of and relate to “the world” as this thing that is separate from us.  Even though I might intellectually get that I am part of the world and inseparable from it and I and it exist together as part of a unified whole… in my day to day living of life, I mostly experience me being here and the world being there and I and it are separate. 

But… while you and I mostly experience that way, it is an integrated whole from which I am inseparable.  So what makes it look like there is a world there and me here? 

Part of the nature of being human (sways Heidegger, and I agree) is that human beings have concerns and interests.   We’re always up to stuff, doing something, and/or making things happen – small or large.   It is our interests and concerns (e.g., making a sandwich, finding new clients, world peace) that give us our view of the world.  What I attend to and what aspects of all of it are influencing my behavior come into view (he says “are disclosed” by my concerns.  When making a sandwich, I attend to the presence or absence of bread, lunch meat, peanut butter, vegetables, and chips.  When my attention switches to world peace, a completely different view of the world emerges. 

There’s a lot more to it than that, but here’s one thing I got out of it.  If the world in which I live is made apparent to me in my concerns, then bringing attention to my concerns should give me greater flexibility with regards to my view of the world. 

For example – I wake up with a general feeling of anxiety and a “case of the Mondays.”  Everything occurs as a drag to me.  Meetings seem like burden and something to survive. 

I look at my concern.  What’s there?  I’m worried about looking good, being accepted, and avoiding trouble.  Generally, my concern is about avoiding bad things.  Given that concern, it makes perfect sense that I have a case of the Mondays.  Avoidance is a drag!

Being aware of that concern, I can then practice creating a new concern.  Communication is enlivening and fulfilling!  People are self-epressed and living lives of passion!  People find joy in the experience of living life! 

When that’s my concern, things show up a little differently.  The meetings I have today are opportunities to connect and create.  The people I have them with become fascinating.  The world occurs fresh and lively. 

Give it a try.  When you’re dragging, feeling down, overwhelmed, etc – ask yourself – what concern am I operating from that I would be experiencing life this way. 

From there, ask yourself, what concern would give me life right now?

I did this with my wife the other day.  I forget what we were talking about, but whatever it was, I was hearing as criticism, and started getting defensive and justified.  Being that way, I found myself cutting her off and raising my voice.  I caught myself, took a step back, and looked at my concern.  It was “winning.”  I wanted to win the argument. 

From there, looking just at the concern, I shifted my attention toward empowering her.  The world altered.  I was able to shut up and listen.  Of course, “winning” was still sitting there, smiling at me, almost begging me to pick it up, but with my broader attention on the question, “how do I empower her?” I was able to stay with what she was saying, acknowledge she had some points, and move the conversation forward. 

So, find an area where you have some irritation or frustration and ask yourself, what is my concern here. 

And now you don’t have to read Heidegger!