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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How I think the universe works.

Olomana - back view
When I was first living in Hawaii, I had an existential experience. Yes, you read that correctly, existential. Please don’t confuse that with paranormal, religious, extraterrestrial, or anything remotely involving crystals or moonlight.  I decided to go hiking up Mount Olomana by myself. This is a volcanic monolith that juts up from the Kailua valley floor reaching some 1200’ in fast accent. You can hike the first half, but you must scramble and climb the second half. If you move fast, you can go up and down in under 2 hours. I started early that day, reaching the first peak summit by 6:00am. I felt good. I quickly made my way down to the trail head. I wanted more. I went back to the top. It was now around 8:00am. I felt somehow bigger than life, almost invincible. My legs and calves were pumped. I was bathed in sweat and mud. I felt amazingly good. I did it a third time. There is a small area at the peak. When you sit there you see out to the ocean, framed by the distant ends of the curved mountain range. The ocean in Hawaii is staggeringly blue. So many shades of blue that even Crayola has not made all the matching crayons. It's gorgeous. And that day was bright and sunny, with little wisps of clouds moving off the ocean like sailboats in a race. Behind you is the impenetrable green wall of the Koolau mountain range. Both foreboding and primeval, it’s a 4000’ wall of stone and greenery.  When you first see Kailua valley, you will wonder if dinosaurs roam the valley floor.

Olomana - side view

I finally decided to rest. I was the only one on the peak. I sat looking out at this unsurpassed beauty. I watched the ocean, the sailboarders streaking across the bay, and the cars moving below on the highway. As I watched, I noticed some ants were moving in a line on the mountaintop rock. From the angle I viewed, the cars moved parallel to the ants. Two lanes of cars and two rows of ants. This is when my existential moment occurred. I was lost in the comparison of the ants and the people. And in that moment I realized a few things that had never occurred to me before. Ants are a communal species. They require an entire nest to survive. The ants divide all their work, some gather food some make babies, some tend to the young. Every ant has a job. In many ways, the nest is a complete organism. The ants are like the cells. One ant cannot survive on its own. It must have the whole nest. Yet people believe they are individuals. We leave our homes when we grow up. We have our own families. When our kids grow up, they leave and we retire to smaller homes. We each do our own thing, go our own way , and live our own lives. We are all individuals.

My son on the peak 2011
But as I watched that line of ants and parallel line of cars. I began to have my doubts. What if humans were just as communal as ants, only they were unaware of it. What if we all needed each other to a much greater level than any of us were aware of. I thought about the implications of where I was headed with these thoughts. When an ant dies, the colony lives on. Some ants colonies have been in the same place for hundreds of years, growing, adapting, and surviving. People assume ants are just simple insects. You would be surprised to learn all the complex behaviors and interactions ant colonies have with one another and their environment. Just viewing an ant as a single ant, and you will miss the big picture. I think the ant colony itself should be viewed as a living thing. It acts with purpose. The sum of the ants is much greater and more complex than the individual.

I realized that day, that we are no different. We just convince ourselves otherwise. Many of us are concerned about ourselves. We worry about our souls, our own everlasting life, our money, our cars, our lives. But very few of us worry about the rest of mankind. Sure, we care about our children and families. Our friends are important too. But what about all of society? Is the earth one great big colony of people? If that’s true, then what does it mean when one person dies? What is important, you or the whole colony? As the minutes passed, I saw the importance of all humans.  That we are all connected in so many ways. We are not individuals, we are a colony, a world community. We are all together more than we are apart. 

So what does all of this have to do with my aim or yours? I know, this is starting to sound more like religion. Or possibly even anti-religion. Well, it's not, I promise.  But I can’t help how you interpret this. I have a feeling I may lose a lot of fans by writing this, but it's too important to my story to leave out.

 The individual is just not that important. Not when viewed on a global scale. Not when all of mankind is valued as precious. We lose that sometimes don't we? We view people as right and wrong. Poor and rich. Smart and dumb. But that's all false!  What is important is what you do to impact everyone else. That’s what helps the colony and allows it to live on. The way I view life is that what you pass on to your children and other people is much more valuable than how much you have or what you yourself have done. I think things like art, and movies, and books - things that influence other people and inspire them - are much more important than having billions of dollars.

The kids and me on the Olomana 2011
All that came to me in the minutes I watched the cars and ants move the same way. I no longer viewed myself as an individual. I saw myself as a working piece of a machine. The question was, how could I best help the machine function? I know this will sound insane, but I decided that very moment to have children. I realized that I had a short life span and could only hope for a very small impact on mankind. But I could help children. I could make my own. I could raise them with the understanding that helping other people was the most important thing they could do.  I decided that day to move back to Florida, to help my ailing Grandmother and have our children. Less than one year later, my son was born.

So, that all happened. The decisions I made on Mount Olomana that very clear day resulted in two lives being created. I also was able to spend time with my grandmother and family in a way that was impossible without my moving. Yes, I lived to regret the move and spent 5 years trying and eventually succeeding in moving back. But those two new lives in my life were good decisions. I see now that I only live on through them. Not that they become me or live out my fantasy of a life. But I give them a part of myself. They take that part and combined it and mix it together with other parts through life. Eventually they pass what they have to their children. That’s how I live on forever. I am everlasting in the effect I leave behind. We leave waves in society. Some of leave ripples that move for hundreds of years. Others make a cannonball splash that fades in months. I don’t need an afterlife for myself.  I already have a part of me rippling on in time through my kids and through people I help, hopefully through my writing. In all these ways, I am immortal. 

View of the Koolau range from Olomana

The question is, what part do I want to play? If you noticed, all the companies I started are based on helping people. I am a physical therapist who helps people walk and function. I was a home care agency owner, helping families and their loved ones remain in their own homes.  I was a landlord, but I helped lots of people buy their first home.  I helped many tenants become owners.  Everything I have done since that day on Olomana, has been to help people. My frustrations and fears have always been based on a fundamental desire to not be stopped from that goal. My aim is to help people. Almost every hour of the day, that’s what I do. I help my children with their schooling, I help my patients, and I help my wife. I really spend very little time on myself, and I am quite fine with that. I have to spend time writing this blog, but i feel justified in the hope that it might help someone. Maybe not now, but after I learn to write this well enough to really affect people.  I have never felt  I was not getting enough satisfaction from life. I often feel that I am not doing enough for those around me. That’s what motivates and drives me. My misdirected feelings about money often center around not being able to meet this goal.

View of Kailua Bay from Olomana

I have thought a lot about those ants. I realize now that there are so many things that separate people. Wars, religion, race, prejudice, so many things to tear us apart. I hate seeing the news. I feel sick when I hear of 2000 people drowning in an Indonesian ferry accident. I can’t just shake those things off. It sickens me and I am often lost in wondering about their lives. Unfortunately, most people just aren’t concerned when ferries sink in Indonesia or when planes crash in New Delhi. Society helps us separate everything. We belong to countries, religions, schools, professions, political parties, and country clubs. It’s so easy to say, "Our group doesn’t have to worry about that. We are smarter than that." Somehow, being part of a group makes people feel they are exempt from the whole colony. They feel exempt from caring about the brown people who drowned on the ferry or died in that plane crash. I think that is wrong. I believe that is the wrong path for much of society.

Anything that separates people is bad. Anything that brings them together is good.

That’s my core belief. I judge everything I do on that alone. I find myself not wanting to join a lot of groups. There are many things that have come along in recent years to bring us together. The internet has given rise to free communication in many forms. Video and voice conferencing, chat rooms, newsgroups and websites dedicated toward what they now call social media all bring people together. It's having a huge effect, both positive and negative. But at the end of the day, it's good. It's making people closer, destroying barriers, and getting people to share ideas. The internet has given all of us, including me, an opportunity to share ourselves. To make the road easier for everyone regardless of their melanin level or religion. Hopefully, it will lead to a realization that we are all the same. One person's hurt is everyone’s and one person’s success is all our success.

Distant Olomana

Lofty pie in the sky ideas, no? Well, I am shooting high. I think my aim is to somehow be part of all this. I want to leave a piece of myself in my children. But I want more. I want to leave a part of me for anyone to find. I know my life is short. Just surviving is sometimes all you can hope for. But I have been lucky. I find myself in a position where I can do more than just survive. Many of you can say that; probably most of you do. You can choose your method. Maybe you write or draw. Perhaps you simply teach kids to read. Some of you might combat racism or fight for equality in education. I have a very good friend who is an economist and spends all his time researching and writing about school inequality. Perhaps you do something you hate to make a living. Okay, I am sorry for that! But you might also write letters to the editor to ask for change. You might write children’s books with a message of helping mankind; or sex stories helping couples relate to each other. For me, finding my aim, my true aim, is to find better and better ways to help people. I don’t think there is any other way for a human being to find real satisfaction or fulfillment. I know that anytime I have found a way to do this, I have felt better about myself. You will too, I promise!

I worry I am about to be bombarded with religious emails as a result of saying this. Understand that what I just said does not disagree with any religion. I am saying human beings matter. Nothing more.  I am saying that your aim should have something to do with you giving yourself to society. Not money, fame, or power, just yourself. Just that part of you that you feel will help others. Who knows what would be possible if we all just tried.



  1. Hi Doug,
    Interesting story.
    It says a lot about your values and beliefs.
    It jars with your addiction to the green stuff though huh?
    Are you truly aligned with what you are doing in life with your core values I wonder?
    This was a great article/exercise I came across last week:
    Your story reminded me of this quote..."It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" (Henry David Thoreau)
    Kind regards, Gary.

    1. Thanks Gary. Sorry it took me so long to see your comment. I love the quote and the link. I think I am slowly getting my life aligned, to answer your question.