Why? Why? Why? Why?

I have been listening — listening to the words of books and blogs, to the words of those I follow and see, and to the spoken gems of podcasts and stages. I’ve been listening to my village. This is what they’ve said. This is what I’ve learned.

Why? Why? Why?
Ricardo Semler took over his father’s company. He ripped out the time clocks. He let employees set their own salaries. He even let his employees vote him out of his executive position. What gave him the courage to give his employees more freedom? He asked why. Then he asked it again and again.
I find that this method of exploring the reasons why we do what we do is effective in every facet of life. I find that asking an additional ‘Why?’ makes egos shrink and stars glow brighter.

It’s not about me.
Some of you have already read Vance’s post ‘Calling My Shot‘. The post has stuck with me the last couple of months. I seek to learn all I can and live each day in hopes of bettering myself and the world around me. But isn’t improving myself tantamount to improving my our world? Our greatest happiness comes from making others happy. When we consume ourselves with the joy of others, we find that we are cared for from without and within. But is there really any without?

I am just a little person, one person in a sea of many little people who are not aware of me, yet each potentially a simultaneous understanding of the other; each, in a sense, a simulacrum or synecdoche for all others: if I understand myself sufficiently deeply, then in that moment I understand the other, however remote my presence to them.
Hariod Brawn

It’s not about me. What does me even mean? Whatever me is, it doesn’t exist without all of us.

I am going to die.
I mentioned in a previous post that I recently went to an Amanda Palmer concert. One of the standing traditions at her shows is an ‘Ask Amanda’ segment where she answers questions audience members have written down before the show. When I attended, one question was something along the lines of “How do you snap out of it when you’re in a really deep, dark funk?” Amanda’s answer was simple: “I just remember that I am going to die. That tends to put things in perspective.”

Today, Victoria posted about a recent study that showed that much of believers’ disdain for atheists comes from a fear of death. Our culture has a deep fear and aversion to death. We all but pretend it doesn’t happen. Religion exacerbates this fear with its various versions of afterlives and hereafters. Our mortality should feed our zest for life, not dampen our desires.

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.
-Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

The book this quote is from was quite a ride. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it until the last few pages. That’s true of many books I read. It is now one of my all-time favorites. The stars are my destination. The stars are your destination. The stars are our destination.

It’s not about me.
I am going to die.
The stars my destination.


What now?

I celebrate myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.
―Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost
*Special thanks to Victoria for reminding me of this wonderful quote.*

23 thoughts on “Why? Why? Why? Why?

  1. I loved the Alfred Bester and Walt Whitman quotes. They are comforting. What Hariod Brawn said was profound — “if I understand myself sufficiently deeply, then in that moment I understand the other, however remote my presence to them.” Madalyn, I mirror John’s sentiments — this was a wonderful post, and thank you for drawing attention to that study.

  2. Nicely done, Madalyn!
    Here’s a new favorite:

    “Nowness is the sense that we are attuned to what is happening. The past is fiction and the future is a dream, and we are just living on the edge of a razor blade. It is extraordinarily sharp, extraordinarily tentative and quivering….We are quivering between that and this.” – Chogyam Trungpa, “Orderly Chaos”

    Act, indeed. Otherwise, what’s the point of asking the questions or finding the answers?

  3. Gosh Madalyn, here you are commending the thoughts of those you have listened to, when hidden within are some profound, eloquent and very beautiful thoughts of your own:

    “I find that asking an additional ‘Why?’ makes egos shrink and stars glow brighter.” – This is truly very lovely, and more than that it is a practical lesson in patience and humility when applied. I once heard of an English monk who applied himself diligently to Buddhist practices and alongside of which he enquired of virtually everything as to how they came to be as they are. One early autumn evening, he was in the monastery vegetable garden examining a cauliflower and asking why it was as it was. In that enquiry he glimpsed the beyond he had always sought; his ego dissolved and the stars glowed brighter that night.

    “When we consume ourselves with the joy of others, we find that we are cared for from without and within. But is there really any without?” – Just to stay on the Buddhist theme for a moment, then what you write of here is, as you may well know, what is known in orthodox Buddhism as ‘Mudita’, or ‘sympathetic joy’. This state is classified as one of four sublime abodes or attitudes, and one which we Westerners tend to struggle with, perhaps due to our long conditioning in self-interestedness. And yet as you suggest in your quote Madalyn, none of us are islands, much as it appears to be so, and in breaking free of such self-centric attitudes we do indeed find we are cared for from without and within.

    “The stars are my destination. The stars are your destination. The stars are our destination.” – This immediately reminded me of a lovely quote from a book by David Darling called ‘Equations of Eternity’, with which your permission I would share just here:

    “You are roughly eighteen billion years old and made of matter that has been cycled through the multi-million degree heat of innumerable giant stars. You are composed of particles that once were scattered across thousands of light years of interstellar space; particles that were blasted out of exploding suns and that for eons drifted through the cold, starlit vacuum of the galaxy. You are very much a child of the cosmos.”

    Thank you for such a lovely and deeply engaging article Madalyn.

    Hariod ❤

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Hariod. I tell you, I could almost be a Buddhist. Almost. Such lovely quotes. Your comments are always some of my favorites. Thank you.

      1. Yes, who really knows about the cosmology? On the other hand, the Buddhist classifications of consciousness and formal practices are comprehensive, profound and effective. Thanks Madalyn.

  4. I’m sorry I am super late to the party – as usual – but I had to tell you how inspiring and uplifting this post is. It’s easy to get lost in the ego of self and more difficult to answer the riddle of why. As a species, we truly are happier when we let go of the mundane we allow to hold us back and give of ourselves to others. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to forget this.

    1. Thank you. 🙂
      I’m pretty sure I forget this lesson every day, perhaps even most of the day. But I keep trying. Every day I get a little better. That’s all we can do.

  5. Hello.

    What now?

    Kneeling I find clarity. I admit to myself the things I cannot admit at other times.

    I have not been here before, so thank you for the recommendation.

  6. Great post with some fine links and excellent quotes too. Hariod’s being my favourite,

    “Hariod is an absolute gift to the world.” – This is absolutely true. ❤

    If I may, I’ll call you Madalyn now I see it is your name, rather than M.MJ which ain’t half as lovely in esme’s opinion smiles.

    esme upon the Cloud

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