Walks of Life

The path for anyone begins at the same point: Ourself. Some call this common self the Atman. This is as suitable a name as any, seeing as we know so little about it. From this common origin our paths diverge in every direction imaginable, but our senses limit our perception, so there are only so many ways to travel, only so many walks of life. Yet they all lead back to the origin.

Most of us homo sapiens choose Faith as our guide. When we choose faith, we accept that we cannot know the whole truth. We shut our eyes and perk our ears toward the call of a higher power, or toward the proclamations of a purported authority. Faith is an end to questions, not an answer. Adrift without answers, the faithful often vacillate between peaceful surrender and incredulous outrage as the joys and horrors of existence put baseless beliefs to the test.

Many of us instead choose Knowledge as our polestar. When we choose knowledge we make an agreement that we are ignorant (Ignoramus!), but we will seek the truth together. We plug our ears to a higher calling and trust only the eyes of others. The knowledge-seekers are not without faith. Indeed all knowledge is accepted on faith until disproven—down to the most fundamental principles of logic such as causality. As we continue to confront our confounding ignorance in the pursuit of knowledge, we must eventually choose between embracing the void and espousing (woefully unfounded) beliefs.

Still others among us choose Understanding. We keep our eyes and ears open, but turn them around to focus within. We stand (or sit) under the Tree of Life, awaiting clarity, waiting for Godot. What we seek never arrives, but we find peace in its absence. Wittgenstein puts it succinctly: “The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.” Any profound understanding we reach is ineffable—impossible to convey—for Understanding comes from within.

And some of us, poor fools, choose Mouthbreathing. We shut everything but our mouths and stumble along gorging and regurgitating, senselessly oscillating between consumption and oration. The proof is in the pudding so we sing for our dinner, to have our cake and to eat it. We are hopelessly entitled to our opinions, and there can be no accounting for taste. Without a guiding light we grasp at the shadows and project our hollow aching hearts into the uncaring cosmos.

From these walks of life spring Religion and Science, Mystics and Politics. Few of us choose a walk and stay the course; we dabble, and we frequently dead-end. Perhaps the faithful are correct that we are not to know the answer. But rather than abandon ourselves to the deterministic oblivion of the unexamined life, we can find bliss and purpose in the inquiry itself. Whether you’re a fox or a hedgehog, you can imagine Sisyphus happy. You can even imagine what it is like to be Sisyphus.

We have only one worthy question (“Why?”), yet countless unsatisfying answers. Few of us stick to only one mode of travel; we tend to dabble, and we tend to dead-end. The purpose of this atlas is to inform our dabbling and avoid dead ends.