“What did you do with your life?”
“I owned a country theater.”
“In the country? What country?”
“In a small town, in the country. An hour or so from the nearest metropolitan area. It could have been in the mid-west, or the deep south, for all the difference that would make.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean people are pretty much the same wherever you go. There may be a different “spirit” in each region, but self-reflective and aware, self-directed, self-responsible, self-transparent people are hard to find anywhere.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Laziness. We all want Momma to do it for us.”
“Do what for us?”
“Live our life for us. Tell us what to do, or, better, do it for us. There is a saying, ‘Too lazy to flush.’ It applies to too many of us, too much of the time.”
“What’s to be done about it?”
“The big problems can’t be solved, or fixed. There are no answers to the important questions. We each can only hope to be as awake and as alive as we can be, and let that be that.”
“It is hopeless in terms of waking everybody up, and getting everybody to agree about how life should be lived, and equally committed to, say, living in good faith with themselves and everybody else. You can waste a lot of time trying to make that happen.”
“Talk to me about wasting time. How do you waste time?”
“Me, specifically, or everyone in general?”
“Well, I waste time thinking about things that don’t go anywhere. That go round and round. Dying, for instance. I can try to imagine my dying, and think about how I would like to die, and wonder, or worry about, what will kill me, or how I will die. The possibilities are endless, but they go nowhere. When it’s over I’m still right where I was when I started, and I’m still going to die, and no amount of thinking about it is going to answer any of the questions I have about it, and that’s a waste of time. It may help me come to terms with the fact that I am going to die, and it may spur me to make a Living Will, and make arrangements for my cremation, etc., but thinking about the details of how, when and where goes nowhere. It just involves me, immerses me, in the drama of life. We, as a species, spend too much time there, in the drama of being alive, and too little time actually being alive.”
“We’re getting away from the idea of wasting time, and I want to get back to it, but let’s go with what would we be doing if we were ‘actually being alive’?”
“We would be paying attention, for one thing. We would be self-aware, aware of what we were doing, aware of what was happening in response to what we were doing, inside of us and outside of us. The more aware we are, the more alive we are, and the more responsive we are to the situation as it arises. Life is all moment-to-moment. One situation flows out of the last situation, and gives rise to the next one. Life is lived one situation at a time. If we are going to be alive anywhere, we have to be alive in the moment of our living, aware of it, responsive to it.”
“But what would we be doing with our life?”
“Each situation as it arises has to be lived in light of an overall spirit, direction and purpose.
“We have some grounding realization, or awareness, and some centering purpose, or intention, or vision. We have to mean something with our life. Mean to do something, to be someone, some particular one, in some particular way, or ways. We are forming a life here, shaping ourselves into being, as we would carve a human figure, or chisel one into stone—we would not carve, or chisel, the same exact figure. No matter how many figures we carved, or chiseled, they would each be different from the others. We are bringing ourselves forth in a way that is not a duplicate of the people around us. We are not cookie-cutter people! We are individuals, each with our own bent, drift, interests, direction, etc. Where our intent to be our particular Self is lacking, nothing happens. We take our place in a long line of cows following a worn path from the barn, to the pasture, and back to the barn, and never do anything that is unique to us all our life long.
“We also have to have an ethical and moral outlook that we are able to clearly articulate. We have to know what is right and what is wrong—what we see as right and wrong—and we have to be committed to effecting that sense of what is right and good, and what is not, in the way we live our life. Our life has to reflect and express what we hold to be good, and not good. We live in light of our sense of how life ought to be lived—and we have to be able to visualize that “ought to be,” and be able to say what it is.
“We do not get enough practice doing this as we grow up. We do not practice thinking about, and saying, what we think—what we think—is valuable and worthwhile, worthy of us. We get plenty of being preached to. Enough people tell us what they think is valuable, and what we ought to think—but we don’t get enough practice thinking this through for ourselves. We aren’t invited to evaluate movies we see, or books we read, or imagine how they could have been different, and what might have happened if they had been different, and if that might be better, or worse, than it was with the movie, or the books.
“Nobody much invites us to find our own voice, to think our own thoughts. We are just encouraged to say what we are supposed to say, to parrot back parental lessons, and cultural codes and standards of behavior, but we are not asked to evaluate life as we see it being lived, or to ask questions about the way things are and how they might be instead. We aren’t allowed to question much of anything growing up, or after we become “grown up!” No real questions allowed! is the reality of our life.
“Well, what kind of life is it that never questions anything? Living stirs up questions! We were told that things were like this, and it turns out they are like that, or that! Things are not the way we were told they would be! And we have to make sense of that, or “take it on faith that things are what they are supposed to be, and it will all be made clear (and made up to us) in the end.”
“Questions have to be welcome. We have to grow up experiencing our experience, and evaluating what we experience, and reflecting on what we experience, and forming new realizations growing out of what we thought, which conflicts with what we experienced, and what we make of it all. And, whatever we realize, we will have to rethink it as it clashes with other experiences down the road—and form new realizations that shatter, or expand, the ones we make now.
“There is no once and for all sacred, absolute, always the way it is, way of looking at anything! We make up our life on the run. And we have to be able to do that. We have to learn to think about things, about the things that are happening—and about what we think ought to happen instead, or in response, and why it isn’t happening, and what can be done about it, and how we are to make sense of all of it.
“We don’t just do that. We have to practice it. We have to rehearse it. We have to learn how to do that. We get better at it over time. And, we need the company, and the guidance, of those who know how to do it all along the way. But. We grow up among people who have no idea of how to do it, or of why it is important. They take their place in a long line of cows going from the barn, to the pasture, and back to the barn, unthinking, unseeing, unhearing, unquestioning all their life long. They are born into a life they are told how to live, and they live it, and they die, and are buried, and that’s that. And Jesus said of them, “Leave the dead to bury the dead, and you go find your life and live it,” or words to that effect.
“We have to go find our life and live it, with or without the kind of help that would be helpful. That means we have to read a lot in order to find the help we need from people we are not likely to know personally. We have to expand our circle of acquaintances every way we can! Help comes from the most unexpected places—so, we have to be expecting it, looking for it, at all times, in all places. It can be anywhere, but it won’t be everywhere, so, if it is a while between helpful experiences, don’t become all droopy and down on your luck. Keep expecting to be lucky. You will be amazed at how often you are!
“And read! Reading will lead you to books on mindfulness, and Jon Kabat Zinn is an author who will be helpful for you to read. It all starts with mindfulness—with compassionate, mindful, awareness—that sees what is happening, within and without, and what is happening in response to what is happening, without judgment, will, or opinion (and fear and desire are opinions as much as anything else). Once you see into the heart of things, what to do about them is spontaneous, automatic. When you see that the building is on fire, you get out of the building, and call the fire department. You don’t stay in the burning building, wondering what to do. We see, and we do. That’s how it works. Seeing is doing. If you want to know what to do about something, see into the heart of the matter. There you are. What to do is obvious once you see all aspects of it, and lay it all out on the table, and walk around the table—without judgment, will, or opinion. To do that, we have to have nothing at stake in the outcome. When we have something to gain or lose, some investment in what is going on, then we cannot consider options that leave us in the lurch. Well, maybe we ought to be in the lurch!
“We have to take everything into account in order to know what needs to be done in any, in every, situation as it arises. And that means having nothing at stake in the situation—being completely willing to do what needs to be done for the sake of the good of the situation. That kind of attitude on the part of everyone involved would completely transform the world as we know it overnight!”