The Most Important Question

In the solitude of the laboratory a researcher raises her head from the microscope, eyes looking for the answer. The solemn voice in the background says: “Since the beginning of the ages we have asked the same question…What are we gonna have for dinner?” This is a Norwegian tv commercial advertising a series of readymade meals in the local food store. Funny but true. In Norway the question we ask ourselves and each other the most is this: what shall we have for dinner? A luxury problem, as they say it in Norwegian. But ย jokes aside, what is the most important question in our lives?

Since the beginning of ages we have asked ourselves the same question… Let me propose my version. We have asked ourselves about what it means to live a good life. What does it take to be happy? Plato starts his dialogues with the conversation of Socrates about what virtue is. Because, let’s agree, a good life is not only good food and travel, but it has also a moral bit. That old idea that you cannot be happy by being bad. That ethics is in the base of the happiness. In my eyes, the philosophers of Ancient Greece were at the core of the most important question. Talking about what is ethics, aesthetics, what is noble and what is beautiful. Too sad that in ages to come the philosophy became an intellectual game, with so much logics and theories and so little guidance about the most important question in life.

Recently I have listened to a podcast with Matthieu Ricard here, a Buddhist monk who is called the happiest man on Earth. He is called so because the scans of his brain show a condition which is the closest to the happy condition of the brain. He started his life in the family of the philosopher and the painter in Paris, and has been to the intellectual scene of France, studying. He mentions that what drew him to the Buddhist practice in Tibet was that he didn’t see a real master in Paris. There were intellectuals, prominent people, but they were not the models of a good life. They were anxious, jealous, angry. Maybe, they even carried the good message – but they were not good messengers. To be honest, I cannot imagine traveling from the intellectual scene in Paris to the cold monasteries of Tibet ๐Ÿ™‚ But I can relate to this yearning. And while for me his scene is something I could dream of, for Mr. Ricard it was his background, nothing special, nothing to hold tight to. We all want to grow, so he was growing in that direction. Looking for a practice that can give him a meaningful life.

I call myself a self-proclaimed student of the art of life. Putting it in a flirty French “art de vivre” because in my opinion the French stand closest to the talent of living a good life. The French don’t stress and take time to enjoy life. They are artists at cooking, they pick wine that go along with the meals and linger over their dinners for hours. But again they are not drunkards, they eat and drink with measure, enjoying every bite. They also seem to master the art of dress. I cannot go in the detail here because I can go for hours. I would just mention that mythical French girl who dresses sexy, free and effortless. And then we have an array of questions that make a good-selling book titles. How do the French women age gracefully? Why does the French woman never sleep alone? How do the French eat butter and cheese and stay lean? Why don’t the French children have ADHD?

A little disclaimer here. I haven’t lived in France, so I speak from my constrained view of what I read, watch in movies and see while traveling. Maybe, all those stereotypes aren’t true. Also they have their shadow traits which are not exposed as much as those more marketable habits. ย Maybe, after living a year in Paris I would leave for Tibet, just as Monsieu Ricard did ๐Ÿ™‚ But let me first get there!

With all my adoration of the French and their lifestyle I understand that for living a good life it is not enough to dine well, wear a nice perfume and sit with the newspaper in the Luxembourg gardens on a sunny Sunday. These are all but wonderful elements of a good life. But we humans want more. We strive for the meaning. We want to have that feeling of fulfillment and it doesn’t come with the consumption. We get to feel the most of our potential when we contribute, when we help others, when we can serve with our gifts. So the good life is more about creating than about consuming.

And here is my question. What science or practice of our days studies these questions? Mindfulness? Zen buddhism? Positive psychology? Because the philosophy seems to be occupied with other matters. Once the philosophers like Epicurus and his pupils were reclining in the gardens talking about what it means to lead a happy life. I doubt, that now we would go to the philosophers of our era with those questions. But to whom would we go? To whom would you go?

As it usually happens, when I don’t find a role model, I decide to become one for myself. To find ย my own way. To study, to apply, to analyze, to find what works. And now I want to go back to the root of philosophy. I have trembled with curiosity when I was 17 and read “philosophy” on the title of the books. Little did I know that I would found little consolation or guidance in those books. I want to be a real philosopher, finding answer to the most important questions in life. And, maybe, this idea can be laughable: a philosophizing feminine blogger, dreamy and romantic. But I want to dare being a philosopher with that pink hat. I want to make my discoveries in the gardens under the rose bushes, like the philosophers of Ancient Greece did. And who can come to happy conclusions in the little office filled with dusty shelves with millions of books? Better under the rose bushes. And before I recline under those bushes, let it be vases with roses on my desk where I work and ask those questions.

How do you find the idea of a philosopher with a pink hat? Would you join that movement of thought? ๐Ÿ™‚

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27 thoughts on “The Most Important Question

  1. I enjoyed this post, Marina! Loved peeking into your thoughts! I used to think about these things at a certain point of my “traveling twenties” but nowadays don’t. The closest I go is trying to empty my mind when doing yoga and concentrate on “now”. Actually, I also try to do that when playing with the babies! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I think being able to think about these things is a bit of a luxury. If you are pressed for money and spare time, just working and tired, there’s no time for these thoughts. The Parisian monk sounds like he was from a well-off family and had enough money to become a painter first and then dwell upon these things.
    Beauty and creativity certainly spring to my mind as important things to appreciate life. But I would also say living in the moment, as in not wishing you were somewhere else or in the past or in the future, as I tend to do!
    I once knew an Italian boy who seemed to be maybe the happiest person I’ve ever met. He was completely happy with his life, though simple, loved his job as a pastry chef in a restaurant, and had no desire to travel outside of his home town. He wanted nothing that he didn’t already have.
    By the way, those words from the tv commercial sound very similar to the opening words in Michael Pollan’s rather famous book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” – did they copy them from there, I wonder?! ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Thank you and grazie mille! (and what is Finnish for it again? :))
      Starting with that Italian. There is a saying like “happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have”. Your guy is the perfect example of it. However… I cannot find myself in this, and it is not even my ambition! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have so many ambitions and desires, and I think they are springs of life (not only of suffering, as buddhists say). It is normal for a human to wish for something, and that drives us further. As long there is a balance, and no sick addiction – I am for it!

      I read the book “Power of now” (twice) and I love the yoga and its philosophy, and this is something I want to practice too – mindfulness and presence. But still I don’t want to reproach myself, like I did before, for being light-headed and trying to be in many places, and wishing for many things.

      About luxury to think. Yes – and no. there is a theory that philosophy developed due to the slavery. The slaves did the work while the people were freed to muse. And that French monk had the luxury too. He was like Buddha in a way, who was a prince. It is said, you have to go through luxury and all, in order to come the simplicity. You cannot jump straight to the minimalistic living without going through the luxury. so he had enough of the riches, and he could move on to the philosophic sphere. While we others still crave for the riches ๐Ÿ™‚ everything in its turn. No – because I was as philosopher while living in poorness and striving for my life in Ukraine. The only hindrance for my musing would be lack of sleep (like that of the mothers). Without sleeping – no thinking. But I know what you mean. When the energy is consumed with survival, there is no surplus for meaning. Survival becomes meaning then, no need to search for it :))

      And about the tv commercial – I have no idea))) It is very possible, why not? I don’t know the book. Is it good?

      Liked by 1 person

      • As my friend used to say: from the simple to the complicated, from the complicated to the simple. She was only 20 and so wise.
        It is a dialectics of growth. Like we in poor countries – strive for more. But here in the West people went from little to a lot, and now they are tired with consumerism. Thatโ€™s why the minimalism, eco, Mari Kondo are so trendy here. In Ukraine it is more trendy to acquire still ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Like you beautifully described, I would also go to myself. Within. For the answers. And that process becomes more enriched with our observations and learning from the outside. A delightful combination of living within and without. Loved your note! And the idea of philosopher, dreamy and romantic is never laughable…. What’s life otherwise.. those odd 80 years if we don’t appreciate the beauty and sensibly analyse what we see and experience! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! I am with you. What’s life otherwise, so true. The beauty and poetry make it worth living. I wonder if we find answers – or if we create answers ourselves. Some say that there is no meaning other that constructed by ourselves. If that is true, I want to construct mine around beauty and romance :))

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this mental image. You go, girl, pink hat and all! I love it how you turn to yourself for guidance, the only way to be.

    The way you describe the French could be true about the Italians as well. Probably that’s why they are not the best of friends. ๐Ÿ˜€ The way amore makes fun of my favourite Peugeot cars has no limit.

    There are contentment, living in the now, sense of style, enjoyment of food, love for life. As for Italian shadow traits? Many have to do with religion, naivety, cockiness, egoism, lack of regard for environment, capitalism. I might write a post about it one day, I’ve been here five years, now I can.

    Happy thinking in your pink hat!

    Liked by 1 person

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