Steve Roberts color photo: shirtless boy with muddy arm

What is the single most important human activity?  Okay, besides breathing and football.  For a while my story has been: Growing our passion to learn from our experience.


Well, for starters, our experience is all we have.  It’s not only our best teacher; it may be our only teacher.  You might say there’s really no such thing as Shakespeare or polka or chocolate pudding––there’s only our experience of them, of everything.  And how we choose to learn from our experience defines our life.  Moreover, this learning is shaped by how much we embrace whatever we experience as a sacred event on our journey of self-realization.

The rub, of course, is that some of those events are painful, terrifying, shameful and so forth.  Part of us would just as soon keep them at arm’s length, or deny their existence, or rationalize them away.  You know the drill.  We all do it.  “I’ll just put it out of my mind,” we’ve been known to say, as if that were possible.  So it follows that the extent to which we choose this path of separation is the extent to which we limit our ability to grow from all that life presents.  It’s how we keep ourselves small, triggering the inevitable: choices that harm––ourselves and others.

Which is where growing passion comes in.  Passion is the fuel that helps us move beyond our fear of pain, shame, rage, etc.––and thus open ourselves to “what is” and allow it to teach us.  Ergo, growing our passion to learn from our experience is the single most important human activity.

Or so I felt until recently.

Now I’d say it’s number two.  Number one is something much more simple: the choice of where we place our attention, moment by moment, breath by breath.

“Who am I?” may be life’s most powerful question, but leave us not ignore its first cousin “What am I doing?”

I bet you’ve heard this story:  Man walking down the street encounters a group of construction workers on a job site.  He asks one, “What are you doing?” and the worker says, “I’m laying brick.”  Moving along, the man asks another worker the same question, to which that worker answers, “I’m putting up a wall.”  Further along, the man meets a third worker, who responds to the question by saying, “I’m building a cathedral.”

The late peace negotiator Danaan Parry wrote that how we define our world actually creates our world.  Defining our world, answering the question, “What am I doing?” is a choice, one we make in every moment.  That choice is the single most important human activity.  Or at least that’s my story until a better one comes along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth