If you visit my booth at a convention or festival, I'm likely to tell you that I'll be delighted to answer your questions. I'm better at questions about my work, I'll say, but I'll answer anything.
Surprisingly few people take me up on this. Most laugh, and continue to look through the prints. A few ask about the images, mediums or techniques I use. Fewer still ask something meant to be funny, like "What's the Capital of Assyria?" or "What's the Meaning of Life?"
The Capital of Assyria was originally Assur (or Ashur.) It was a city state, after all. Eventually, the capital was moved to Calah, and then to Nineveh, where it remained until the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC. (Sargon built another one, Dur Sharrukin (Khorsabad), but we don't count that.)
The Meaning of Life is to have fun, learn stuff, and help other people have fun and learn stuff. It's just that simple.
But what stuff are we here to learn?
Love and compassion, mostly.
The older I get, and the more I learn about Life, the Universe, and Everything, the clearer it seems to me that we are here chiefly to learn to approach every situation, every individual, every ethical question, every thing, with love.
To learn to be loving in all our thoughts, all our plans, all our actions, all that we do, every day, all the time.
You can find this in the sacred writings of most religions. Nearly everyone, from Christ to the Buddha, from Mohammed to Zoroaster, to the Wiccan faith, has stressed that love and compassion are the most important things in life.
Add to that the descriptions people relate of Near Death Experiences they've had. If you read them, and I've read hundreds, the overwhelming majority of those with Life Reviews are given the impression that the only thing that is important in the life being reviewed is the love and compassion they showed. (I tend to feel that's significant, whether or not these experiences are "real." That is, even if all of these reports are just the last gasps of a dying brain, I find it interesting that all the brains are coming back with the same answer.)
In other words, what is truly important is not what happens to us; it's how we respond to what happens. If we respond with love and compassion, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.
This is hard.
It's hard to find a loving response to someone who annoys us; one that is equally compassionate to them and to ourselves. (Because, of course, each one of us is also an individual, and therefore also someone we must learn to love.)
It's harder still to figure out a loving approach to someone who is deliberately trying to harm us or our loved ones. One that will stop the harm, and still love the person who is being malicious.
Hardest of all, at least for me, is loving someone who hates us and everyone like us; who is doing their best to make laws to marginalize us, or to change the very Constitution to make it impossible for us to care for our children and spouses, or to enjoy the rights and responsibilities that everyone in this country is taught to take for granted.
Your "hard, harder and hardest" might be different, of course.
And yet, those very situations are the ones where it is most important to learn to love, and to treat those people, or face that situation, with compassion, honor, humility, and respect.
So why do we so often find ourselves in those situations?
I think part of the reason is that the very difficulty enhances the learning process. Like an athlete training with weights, the resistance allows us to improve our capacity more quickly, and to a greater degree, than would otherwise be possible.
Part of the reason is Free Will.
I know this will come as a shock, but you and I are not the only ones here. (grin)
The whole planet is full of beings who are also learning the same thing. (And I'm not just talking about humans, here.) Since very few of us have mastered the lesson, and approach every single situation with love and compassion, there will (naturally) be plenty of opportunities to interact with those who are being selfish, greedy, self-righteous, nasty, or simply out of sorts that day.
So, you may ask, doesn't that justify my bad behavior? Isn't it necessary for me to take what I want and ignore the needs of others, at least some of the time, so they can learn compassion?
No. No, it isn't.
Even if every single one of us, from the least cockroach to the most powerful Head of State, was completely loving and compassionate, there would be plenty of other opportunities to learn.
We can safely leave that to the planet herself. There will still be tsunamis and volcanoes, hurricanes and plagues, forest fires and famines. There will always be plenty of chances to exercise compassion. Providing one isn't any part of your job.
So, how can we do this? How can we learn to show love in all situations? To let compassion become a way of life?
I believe it can be done by changing our focus.
By concentrating not on what we have, or who we are, or even what we do; but on our state of being.
By realizing that this whole universe isn't the important thing. That it's all temporary; and that the things we amass, the name we make for ourselves, the influence we have, the deeds we have done, everything that we tend to think makes us "winners" or "losers" in life doesn't have the least little bit of importance beyond this ephemeral frame.
That, once this part is over, what we will have, the only thing we will have, is our capacity to love.
That, and only that, is eternal.
The rest will just be amusing stories one day, that we look back on the way that we can look back on a role-playing game now. Fun while it lasted, but not really important.
I'm not saying this is simple. After all, this frame of reference can sure feel real while we are in it. But that feeling, too, begins to fade once you have maintained the other focus for a while. And there is internal positive feedback for being loving, on many levels.
It just plain feels good, to love others.
It releases brain chemicals, such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, that ease and relax you. Loving interactions can boost your immune system, reduce pain, and prolong your life. Being loving fills you with joy.
It's self sustaining; being loving makes it easier to continue being loving. Love can spread from one loving act like the proverbial ripples in a pond. (Of course, most emotions are self sustaining, and evoke mirroring emotions in others, so that doesn't set it apart from the others; but it does make it a little easier to do.)
You can train your body, your being, to return to a loving state as your normal "rest" point. You can learn to change your emotions to "love," whenever you want to.
Think about how you were feeling at a moment in time when you felt pure love for another. Not lust; love. Think about the day you got your first puppy or kitten, or the time you held your newborn child for the first time, or a moment when your love for a parent all but overwhelmed you. We all have moments like that.
As you relive the moment, what is the expression on your face? What is your pulse doing? How are you holding your shoulders, your arms, your legs, your head? Check a mirror, if you like, to see.
How does it feel, inside? Warm? Expansive? Effervescent? Does it feel as if something is radiating from your heart?
As you think about it, and change your facial expression and the way you hold your body, you will feel the feeling of love again. That's one of the things about emotions; you can always use memory and the outward, physical signs to experience any emotion you desire.
So, experience Love.
Do this as often each day as you think about it, and hold it for as long as you can. (Generally until something else distracts you.)
The more you do it, like anything else, the easier and more natural it will become for you. The more you practice, the easier it will be to move from any emotion, or state, to one of Love.
Combine that with the change of focus, and you will find it more and more possible to act and react from a position of love at all times.
Loving will become as normal and unconscious as breathing.
And, I believe, you will find yourself in the center of what you should be doing here. You probably won't gain material wealth, but you'll find that doesn't matter at all. And you will have incomparable wealth of spirit, and vast stores of joy and love.
Which is the Meaning of Life, after all.
Christ - In the Christian religion, Jesus told his followers that there were really only two commandments; to love god, and to love each other. ( Paraphrase of Matthew 22:37-39. It's too bad that's not all the Bible teaches, but that's the Problem with Christianity.) Back
Buddha - Compassion (karuna) and loving kindness (metta) are central to Buddhist teachings, and two of the four sublime states. The whole point of Buddhism is to alleviate suffering. In Mahayana Buddhism, the primary characteristics of the bodhisattva are compassion, selflessness, wisdom and servitude. Back
Mohammad - Charity, compassion, and generosity were central to Muhammad's teachings, second only to belief in God and prayer (although it's true that it's not one of the Five Pillars.) This is shown in a number of hadiths as well as in the Qur'an.(Anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor. Anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously. And anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should say what is good or keep silent. Sahis Al-Bukhari, Vol 8, Book 73, No 47) Back
Zoroaster - Zoroaster stressed the importance of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. These were expressed in compassion and charity, among other things. (truthfulness, justice, care of the earth, education, and service.) Back
In Wicca, we are taught that you can always tell a Witch by the love she shows to everyone, and that we are to harm no one. Back
If you are interested in looking at the beliefs of other religions, you might want to look at the Religious Tolerance site. Back