The Things That Matter
It started as a way to live responsibly. Knowing all the suffering and pollution caused by industrial farming and how that impacted my health, I made the commitment to eating organic and supporting local food whenever possible.
To simplify my decision-making, I made up all sorts of rules about what I could and couldn’t eat. Soon, adhering to the rules became more important than what the rules were meant to help me accomplish, which was eating in harmony. This harmonious way of eating would naturally give rise to health, but when I ran into the Paleo and Primal communities, health itself took the top priority.
In all the obsession over good vs. bad carbs, optimal post-workout nutrition, and coconut substitutions for everything, I realized my diet had become meaningless. By all accounts, I ate well. My food was high quality and nutritious, but all this was lost on me. I didn’t even taste my meals anymore.
I don’t know how common this is among Paleo eaters and I hope you will leave comments sharing your experiences. It seems to me that obsessing over the health aspects of Paleo (dangerously easy to do given the mindset of the community) could lead us to forget how to enjoy our food for its own sake.
Eventually, I came to believe that my health doesn’t matter, per se. I didn’t live to be healthy. I was healthy in order to live well. How I ate needed to be a reflection of that goal.
“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear.” – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
When I realized that, I stopped getting so upset with the dietary rules. Eventually, I was able to reconnect with the enjoyment of my food again.
The thing is, as you get deeper into Paleo, you realize that optimal health requires eating and living sustainably. So, even if your main priority is health, you are forced to aim higher, to prioritize something more general, in order to achieve that. The reality forces a widening of your concerns. If you refuse to see this, you end up chasing your own tail in a never-ended spiral of healthy living.
There are important things and then there are things that really matter. The important things are those that empower us to accomplish what matters, but they themselves aren’t the end goal.
What matters are the things you would die to protect, those things and people worth more than any amount of money you could ever accumulate. These are the things you live for.
As an example of this distinction, take money. It is important because it makes a lot of other things easier in our society, but it isn’t the end goal. We don’t (or shouldn’t) make and save money for its own sake. We make money to use it to do some good in the world, or to give ourselves the resources to do the things we enjoy.
However, there are many ways of organizing society that don’t rely on money. Barter economies and communal living situations both provide people with all the necessities of life without requiring money.
We only need money in our society because of the way the rules are set up.
Health is a bit of a trump card in this regard. As biological entities, the rules of nature dictate that poor health detracts from our ability to function. Without money, you can still figure out ways to acquire your material needs, but without health, you will be hard-pressed to get by in the world, much less enjoy it (though, importantly, there are many people who still do, having accepted poor or deteriorating health and focusing instead on their contributions to society and their relationships).
So, health is certainly more important than money, but it is still a means to living a good life, not the end goal in itself. As long as the larger goal is still on track or intact, we can forgo the hair-pulling.
So What Does Matter?
I believe what really matters differs from person to person, though I do think that those who are consistently and stably happy tend to place value on certain similar things.
Here are the things that really matter to me, the things that I want to protect and cultivate in the world. The thought of losing them is nightmarish:
- The natural, wild world. The thought of my children growing up without the opportunity to see a free-growing tree terrifies me on a visceral level. If there were some magic situation in which my death would forever ensure the integrity of the wild places of this Earth, I would immediately sacrifice myself.
- Compassion and kindness. Among humans (and even among non-humans) these two sentiments make the difference between happiness and suffering. Do everything you can to cultivate them within yourself. The way I see it, insecurity and a perception of personal ineffectiveness lead people to become selfish or aggressive to protect themselves. So, I try to help people see themselves as strong, effective, and inspired because I feel that will lead to greater compassion for others. One way I do this is through encouraging healthy living. Another is through Buddhist-inspired psychology.
“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
- Stories and art. Industrial, mass-produced, force-fed conceptions of beauty are pretty abhorrent to me. Real beauty has been pushed aside in favor of convenience and cheapness, but true art has a power all its own to pull back the curtain between our day-to-day concerns and universal truth, if just for a moment, connecting us with the inner peace that is our right and which calls us to great things and bettering the world.
- Good friends, families, communities, and tribes to share all these things with.
I would love to hear about some things that matter to you. Please share in the comments if you would like. Perhaps, like me, you got distracted and became more concerned with the means rather than the true purpose, but hopefully you can look up from the trail to the mountain you set out to climb in the first place.