Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Experts R Us

Many people know a lot more than many other people on a lot of subjects. For example, the average person probably doesn't understand what a "black hole in space" is, or fully grok Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Experts in such esoteric fields as medicine, computer technology, aviation and all the sciences spend most of their time learning about them, and I applaud their efforts. They are awesome.

But concerning things like how to live a life, how to be happy, how to avoid depression and anxiety, how to relate to others, what to eat, how to think positively and avoid or change bad habits, there are no experts, there is only all of us. Each of us is an expert, living each day as we do from birth on. Yet there seems to be no end of people who call themselves "experts" on the subject of being alive.

Many of these "life experts" write books, give lectures, record podcasts and in fact make tons of money by telling others how to just "be." Their advice is often the same, and usually stuff we already know. For example, every new book on meditation says the very same things as every old book on meditation -- sit comfortably on a cushion or in a chair, do it at the same time every day, focus on the breath, if thoughts come just push them away, do it no less than 20 minutes a day, close your eyes or keep them open -- yet that doesn't stop people from writing another one which somehow finds a willing publisher and thousands of hopeful readers seeking something life-changing.

I am one of those hopeful readers. My nightstand is cluttered with no less than half a dozen new books on finding happiness, perfecting Buddhist meditation and Zen this or that, with even more relegated to bookshelves around the house and the worst of the bunch simply trashed. After much disappointment I'm with Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, writer and critic known for his Encyclop├ędie. Working in the late 1700s during the so-called Age of Enlightenment, Diderot declared, "I find that a meditation practitioner is often quite useless and that a contemplation practitioner is always insane."

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