What Really Matters?

  • Posted on Jun 21, 2015

This morning's (Sunday 6-21) Courier column--about what really matters.   Not 
an easy subject, given the shock we've suffered this week--and I'm in Charleston (my second home city) right now, struggling with the unvarnished reality of race hatred that led to the cold-blooded murders of nine Charlestonians in their church.    

Still, the idea that there's a larger reality that really matters is what's helping people get through that hatred and move toward healing.   


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Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, wrote Gershwin.  It’s true, at least 
when summer vacations roll around and beaches and mountains loom.   
Time for a change of scene, for easy relaxing and pondering.  

 Ponder what, you ask?   

What really matters, that’s what.  It’s the best all-around question to ponder during those days without deadlines and pressures. 

 Everyone will answer it differently.  

 Winning matters hugely for some, meaning being first and best at everything.  The competitors, we might call them.  

 Others spend serious time finding and nurturing a soul-mate, a love of their life, and that’s what matters most to them.  They’re romantics, bless their moonstricken hearts.   

 Fame, for others, so that everyone notices them, seeks them out, makes them the center of attention.   “Look at me!” their lives seem to say, and cameras beckon to them like moths to flame.  They’re narcissists, and they’re everywhere these days. 

 Wealth, for still others, so that they never have to deny themselves a new Luxemobile, a granite-countered house, a fast boat, a perfect vacation.  They’re high-enders who seek big bucks.  

 For still others, friendships, near and far, supportive and intimate. They spend hours cultivating friendships, lunching, writing, catching up on social media.

 They delight in lending a hand or shoulder to those they’ve gotten to know, love to be
counted upon for favors, and seek to maintain old friendships.  They’re our friends, and thank heavens for them. 

 We all belong to some of these groups, and derive satisfaction from the undeniable benefits that each provides. 

 So, is that all?  Once you’re winning, famous, rich, soul-mated, and surrounded by friends, have you found everything that matters?  Does your happiness at that point know no bounds? 

 Alas, no. We all know such seemingly fulfilled people who still rely on therapists and happy pills to calm their frayed nerves.  They’re still seeking something that really matters.   

 And what might that be?    

 Dylan’s 1979 song “You gotta Serve Somebody” points toward it:  
"You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

 As Trish, the character who tries to commit suicide in that great film “Educating Rita” laments, “I’m not enough.”   

 If you live for furthering yourself and meeting your needs only, you’re headed for disappointment and suffering.   Truth be told, none of us are the complete center of anything.  Our egos don’t really matter. 

 Realizing this amounts to growing up, and the sooner the better.  

 This is not easy, especially with our little digital screens tempting us to believe that we are the center of everything. 

 Granted, a strong, confident self does help you succeed. But that’s not what really matters.   

 Religious folks get at what really matters through worship, faith in some supernatural power, and prayer.  

 Non-religious folks do it through wonder, curiosity, contemplation, and seeking enlightenment through in-depth awareness.  

 I’m among the non-religious, and have found what really matters is a spiritual path that’s stimulating, endlessly challenging, and ultimately satisfying. 

 If you like pondering what really matters this summer, and you’re leaning toward the non-religious, let me suggest two books I’ve found helpful:  Tara Brach’s 2005 “Radical Acceptance” and her more recent “True Refuge.”  She’s a clinical psychologist and an American Buddhist teacher who has been pondering what matters for 35 years.   

 If you’re curious and open to new approaches, these books make perfect summer reading. 

 I can’t imagine a summer without spending daily time seeking and pondering.  
That’s what really matters. 


Posted in
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  • Crime
  • Death
  • Religiosity
  • Conservatives/Liberals
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

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