My Dad and I used to take our dogs to visit people in a long term care facility where 90% of the occupants were older than 85. If you talk to enough dying people you learn some cool things.
First off, about 3% of the people approached death with an almost enthusiastic interest in the experience. Those people had lived full and interesting lives and they were ready for something new. The rest lamented that they had spent their lives invested in nonsense and they just couldn’t believe they’d been so blind to that fact. So let’s open your eyes so you don’t end up being one of them.
When you’re a baby, a toddler and then a youngster, you do what interests or pleases you. That’s it. Nothing else. You don’t have any other motivations. Other than acting on your primordial instincts–like feeling hungry or tired, or having the desire to cry out when you’re in intense pain–you simply do what only you would choose to do. But slowly you gave that freedom away to become part of society and to think other people’s thoughts. That’s why you should go back to using your feelings to choose. Because you only are alive in the moment anyway. So when it comes to choosing, you really should be quite selfish about your own joy.
That’s why, as a kid, you’re naturally enlightened. You trust yourself. Your ego isn’t telling you to be impressive, so when you paint you just choose what you want in that moment, and you apply it in the way you do in the that moment. And the patterns in those verbs—those choices—are what makes an individual an individual.
The ability to make those choices unselfconsciously is what makes an individual enlightened. Following rules, rituals and customs is what happens if we live too unconsciously. We literally hand over our ability to make basic, logical decisions, to a committee of people we’ll never meet or know.
Slowly over time though, you begin to build a weird framework of thought around you and you begin to climb around on it because everyone around you is climbing around on it. You’ll learn about ownership, and purchasing, and money, and credit, and taxes, and laws, and work, and financial pressure, and politeness, and obligation. And these thought-ideas will increasingly dominate; acting as thought-barriers to you pursuing the natural interests that made your childhood so fascinating to you, and so productive in terms of what you learned (vocabulary, grammar, balance, etc. etc.)
Some of these thought barriers can be remarkably silly, like fashion. Most of us try to fit in by wearing “fashionable” clothes in public, and yet Einstein absently but routinely wore his wife’s pink bathroom slippers in public because he cared so little about what others thought, and so much about the idea he was studying.
By dedicating all of that time to his own imagination instead of to thoughts about other people’s judgments of his clothes, Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity even though he had been told by various “authorities” to think of himself as a poor mathematician, unqualified to be a high school physics teacher. Fortunately he didn’t pursue their ideas about him, he pursued the ideas that occurred to him. He valued his interests over their judgments. It’s is a form a mental health.
Yes, as James Carse described it, within this giant infinite game we must play several smaller finite games like capitalism and earning a living. But we don’t have to become slaves to these ideas. We can’t begin to think that our wealth or status is more important than our enjoyment of our very limited time here. You and I are blips. The universe is vast. So vast we can’t even hope to know how big it is. And it is forever. Eternity. All time.
There are tons of people who don’t even know who The Beatles are, so don’t think that what you do in your life is going to live forever. No one in the future is going to be sitting in the Hakan Loob Library on the galactic capital of Darius Kasperitis, reading some critical chapter about you in the universal best-seller The History of Earth.
Your life is wonderfully tiny and insignificant. And yet you are simultaneously fundamentally necessary to all that is. Because it includes you, you are therefore integral to the existence of it. You are insanely important in your meaningful insignificance.
So relax. You’re already where you were trying to get. So just have fun. Stop striving. Simply Be. Because the people I met who were dying all wondered why they’d spent so much time worrying about things that wouldn’t really matter to anyone anyway, when they could have been visiting with a friend who made them laugh.
Trust me, when you’re laying there dying some day, you won’t be sorry about not getting to see next season’s jeans. You’re going to be sorry that you’ll soon laugh your last laugh.
Go call a funny friend. Hugs. s
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.