I was hiking and listening to a podcast a couple days ago and I want to jot down some stuff that I liked and think will be valuable for future reference.
It was talking about these three pursuits of a quality life: 1) truth, 2) beauty, and 3) goodness. I actually just googled it and found another word for these is “transcendentals” (because they are worth pursuing in and of themselves, not as a means to any specific end).
The word “transcend” is sort of a buzzword (no shortage of yoga mats and throw pillows with the word) but I actually like what it means in this context. I read a book by this dude Sam Harris last year where he talks about how the default, mindless state of being a human is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, and just constantly wobbling back and forth between those two states. Rising above or “transcending” that constitutes what he calls “spirituality”.
Anyway, back to this podcast situation. So they’re talking about these three things worth pursuing in life, and talking about how we can pursue them. Intellectual exercise brings you closer to truth: reading, studying science, using logic. Spiritual exercise brings you closer to beauty: art, nature, meditation, prayer. Social exercise brings you closer to goodness: being part of a group, doing service, doing your part to improve your community.
It’s important to have a balance of the three. If you forget one of them, it can throw you all out of whack. A few concrete examples:
- Truth without beauty = rigidity, coldness. Example: you think yoga is stupid and useless because you don’t believe literally in “life energy” or “chakras”, so you miss out on what could have been a beautiful experience.
- Beauty without goodness = selfishness. Example: you go to church and love to sit and experience the hymns, sermons, and worship, but when it comes to volunteering within the community, you lay low and avoid helping out.
- Beauty without truth = naivete. Example: you get swept away in a new religion or cult because of a charismatic leader who inspires emotion in you, but you don’t think about the claims logically, and you find yourself being controlled.
- Goodness without beauty = exhaustion. Example: you have a giant checklist of things to do for other people, but you aren’t spending enough time on self-care or “spiritually feeding” yourself, so it wears you down.
- Goodness without truth = misdirection. Example: your child confides in you that they are homosexual and afraid of not being accepted by their peers. You love them and want to help them, but you are misinformed, so you put them in an extreme form of conversion therapy to “turn them straight”, which hurts more than helps.
While listening to them talk about this, I started checking myself. I found myself taking an inventory of these three exercises in my life. What am I doing to pursue them? Here’s what I came up with. Some are part of my life currently, and some are goals to prioritize going forward.
- reading news about world happenings, new scientific research, etc
- approaching and discussing things using critical thinking
- reading nonfiction books and watching documentaries
- pursuing further education: classes at community college, using free online resources to learn about various subjects (youtube videos, khan academy, etc)
- enjoying inspiring or interesting media: books, movies, music, video games, art
- hiking or jogging in nature
- therapy and introspection
- playing instruments
- cooking food
- being a good friend/family member: texts, phone calls, birthday cards/gifts, making an effort to make plans, looking for ways I can help out
- being kind to people I interact with: coworkers, train attendants, the grocery checkout guy, etc
- volunteering at the animal shelter, taking good care of my dog
- making ethical consumer choices (diet, beauty products, clothing)
- donating money monthly to worthwhile, financially transparent charities and causes
I think putting these into writing will be helpful going forward. I hope to look back on this list in a month, two months, six months, etc. to evaluate how I’m doing and tweak my priorities over time. NAMASTE FRIENDS, NAMASTE.