I came across a tweet by Sam Harris that was a (mildly) animated GIF with Harris' narrated words scrolling at the bottom.
He asks a good question. Whether you think his answer is New Age bullshit, ancient spiritual wisdom, or something in-between is another good question.
What makes life worth living? This is an important question, probably the most important question, because if we don't know, then we can't prioritize what we actually value.
We tend to live as if we've answered this question for ourselves. But most of the time we're just doing one thing after the next, following our desires, reacting to what happens out in the world.
And only rarely do we step back and ask what it is that actually matters.
I don't think there's just one answer to this question. We might want to say that love is what makes life worth living, or doing meaningful and creative work, or appreciating the beauty of nature, or helping other people and making their lives better.
And I'd probably say all of these things.
But all of these things have a common property. They all depend on real attention, real presence of mind, real connection with life in the present.
And that's what meditation is, whether most people know it or not. Meditation is the essence of everything else that makes life worth living.
I agree that attention, presence of mind, and connection with the present moment are key to a satisfying life. But obviously there's a chicken-and-egg issue here.
It's much easier to have those qualities when we're engaged in an activity that demands them. Yet almost every activity is more satisfying when we pay close attention to it in the present moment.
I scrolled through some of the comments on Harris' tweet. I liked this one: "people need to live their lives like they're climbing a 50,000 foot tall ladder. gotta pay attention to whats right in front of you, or you'll fall."
That fits with a comment by Tucson, a frequent commenter on this blog some years back, who said something along the same line.
Namely, that we should be as attentive to our life as if we were walking through a forest in the middle of the night that was inhabited by a dangerous wild animal that could kill us.
A more positive image would be that we're walking in the middle of the day along a busy city sidewalk filled with people, one of whom reportedly is hugely attractive and has expressed a romantic interest in us, but told us only "Watch for my sign that I'm the person you're looking for."
In each of these scenarios -- and we could think of many more, such as a combat patrol that has penetrated into enemy territory -- it behooves us to pay rapt attention in the present moment and not be distracted by thoughts of the past or future.
But then there's always someone with a more down-to-earth approach to what makes life worth living, like whoever left this comment on Harris's tweet: "Range day. Smoked meats. Blowjobs. Sci-fi novels. Boobs. Cats!"