The Great Labyrinth

The topics that I write about seem to go all over the place. Sorry.  These are really just my thoughts on anything and everything that pops into my head. When I have 30 minutes, I write them here.

Today I feel like talking about the Great Labyrinth. If you have no idea what I am talking about, please put down this computer, go to your local book store and purchase Looking for Alaska by John Green. Then read it.  Ok, go.

Ok, I imagine that you didn’t actually do that.  Here is a quick review: quiet boy goes to a boarding school and meets a highly adventurous and emotional girl. Life ensues.  The main character in the book likes to quote people’s last words, which is quite interesting. One of the quotes is “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth”.  The characters in the book spend a lot of time discussing what the labyrinth is. At first, in the quote context, it would be life. But the characters come to see it as something more than just life.  We have a lot of labyrinths in our lives.

I would imagine that some of you know me pretty well, while others may only know me through these writings. I would have to say that I am neither a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” person.  I am much worse than these.  I am a “how can we make the glass more perfect” type of person.  I am the type of person who needs to put ice into the glass and figure out the optimum amount of water in the glass. (Does this water smell right?) Under my gaze, nothing goes without criticism.

I have been thinking about this a lot in my desire to optimize life.  To try to tune things so that everyone is happy (including me), and that everything gets accomplished and life is good. I spend so much time thinking about how to optimize life, that I am not sure that I spend much time actually enjoying life.  Or maybe I do.  I can’t seem to tell anymore.

I do know that one of my major coping mechanisms is to complain about things.  I am not sure that I actually want or need things to get better, but I have a great desire to complain about them. I think that once I complain about it, I get it out and I don’t worry about it anymore. I complain about little things and about big things. But things that are close to the heart, I have a hard time actually complaining about. Or maybe, this is me complaining about those things.

The one thing that we all know is that our time in the labyrinth is limited.  We don’t know how limited.  We don’t have any idea when we are going to find the exit and walk, fall, stumble, be pushed or otherwise leave it.  We should enjoy our time here as much as we possibly can.  But, while enjoying that time, we need to think of others and understand that our time could be quite long (or quite short).

This is my problem – when I think of enjoying the time, I immediately think of all of the other responsibilities that we have besides enjoying our time. How do you cope with so many variables?  Life is like a large optimization experiment.  We go through life trying to find (or maybe stumbling into) a low potential state, where we are content and stay until something kicks us out.  We then readjust into a new low potential state.  Sometimes that state is a well that is really a small valley at the top of a mountain and life is chaotic. Sometimes that state is in a deep valley somewhere, and life is restful and we have no desire to change it.  But, it seems like life will definitely pitch us out of each of those states and we will readjust to some other state.

I took a psychology test that showed that I am the type of person who doesn’t like to stay in the same well (section of the labyrinth?) for long stretches of time.  I enjoy different things.  At the same time, I enjoy structure and schedules.  So, while I enjoy new experiences (sometimes), I don’t enjoy chaos.  I would ideally like to jump from one valley to another valley without any transition.  The problem is that this is not how life works.  To get to a new state, you need to get lost in the labyrinth.  You need to wonder around aimlessly and just enjoy the chaos. You need to let it wash over you. And, when you find another nice section of the labyrinth, you need to enjoy your time there to the fullest (while considering all of the other variables of life).

And when I say “you”, I mean “I”.

The exit could be just around the corner. Or it could be in a completely unexplored part that you won’t get to for 50 more years.  Either way, you have to enjoy what you have. Now.

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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One Response to The Great Labyrinth

  1. I suggest that you go to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and walk through the labyrinth there. Slowly. While walking, say to yourself over and over, “There is no spoon.” You will find inner peace and mental clarity. And perhaps learn how to fly.

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