My life goals are simple. And, I think I speak for the species when I say that I want to spend more time doing what I like to do and less time doing what I don’t like to do. I want more assisting me, and less getting in my way. I want what I want when I want it, the way I want it, for as long as I want it, and then want something else instead. I merely want what any two-year-old would love to have. Interesting, isn’t it, how infantile we remain no matter how old we get? Growing older is the easy part. Growing up is another matter entirely.
Why would anybody ever want to grow up? Set themselves aside? Do what needs to be done, even though they don’t want to do it, enjoy nothing about it, and derive no benefit for having done it? Living requires us to do what needs to be done, and being alive requires us to do what we enjoy doing, and therein lies the rub. We cannot embrace one at the expense of the other. We have to do what it takes to live, AND do what it takes to be alive. And, we have to do that consciously, deliberately, mindfully, attentively. If we live well on the earth, we do it intentionally, not accidentally.
Here we get to the heart of the matter. Psyche and Soma. What it takes to live on the level of Soma and what it takes to be alive on the level of Psyche. What Psyche needs and what Soma needs are not the same needs. It is not enough to live. We live to be alive, fully, deeply, consciously. On the border between Psyche and Soma there is life becoming aware of itself. It is the place of consciousness to bring Psyche to life, while doing what it takes to live, by being aware of being alive in the time that is ours for living.
Part of the process of living and being alive intentionally, willfully, is listening to our lives and knowing what is being asked of us. How do we work ourselves into our own lives? How do we decide when it is our turn? It takes understanding how things are and how things work to know.
It has always been the task of the Wisdom Literature of the Ages to explore the questions of how things are and what can be done about it. Whether we are talking about the writings of Confucius or Lao Tsu or the I Ching or Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or The Sermon on the Mount, the questions addressed are the same: How do things work? How can we work within the givens of life in ways that allow us to be alive? What does Life and Being Alive require? What does living require? Of what does being alive consist? And, where is the balance point between the two? The balance point is in constant motion. We cannot move beyond the question, “What does living and being alive require, here, now?” The changing answer encompasses the work of being human.
The answer changes because life itself is not static. Death is the only steady state, and the more steady your state, the more dead you are. What living requires is not the same thing that being alive requires, and what each requires varies with the time and place of our living. We have to pay attention, live with mindfulness and awareness, and decide between the requirements of living and the requirements of being alive. Ah, but. That decision is hell itself. Consciousness is an agonizing burden. It is better to be asleep, to just want what we want, when we want it, for as long as we want it, and then want something else instead.
We want to live exactly as we want to live without anything unwanted happening to us. We want recklessness without consequences. We detest consequences, and try to arrange our lives so as to be consequence free, and the people who deny that they do, take medication to off-set their life style. “Bring on the Zantac, I’m eating onions and bacon!”
What of alignment, living in synch with the way of things? What of granting concessions, stepping aside? Let’s say you’re walking on a path and meet an elephant coming toward you. The prudent thing to do is step aside, give way, make room. When you meet an elephant on the path, step aside. Growing up is setting ourselves aside—something a two-year-old is incapable of doing. Growing up is standing aside, giving way, letting the elephant have the path.
Growing older is a path replete with elephants. Our sleeping patterns change, our digestive ability changes, our endurance and stamina changes on both physical and emotional levels. The list is long. We can hang onto youth. We can willfully impose the ways of the past onto our future. We can grow older, or grow up. We can deny the changes and refuse to step aside. But, these things are elephants on the path. What are we thinking?
The level of symptoms for which we are being treated nation-wide, both physical and emotional, would be reduced by 75, maybe 90, per-cent if we stopped trying to will what cannot be willed. We make ourselves sick by not stepping aside, by refusing to let come what’s coming and to let go what’s going, by failing to make adjustments and accommodate ourselves to our lives.
Ah, but. We don’t want to go too easily into that good night! We are here to “rail, rail, against the dying of the light”! We are certainly here to live as fully as possible as long as possible. What’s the difference between stepping aside and complete capitulation, between acceptance of the way things are and unconditional surrender? Awareness is the difference. Awareness, awareness, awareness.
By paying attention to how things are, we can make the distinctions required to do what can be done without willing what cannot be willed. We can find the difference between forcing something and finding a way. We can listen to our lives and discover what they will allow. In any situation, circumstance or context, we can do more than we are afraid we will be able to. Stepping aside for the elephants is not leaving the path for good.
The world is filled with people who are accommodating themselves to their losses and living beautiful lives. They have stepped off the path without losing their way. They have adapted themselves to their circumstances while maintaining their sense of identity and their connection with what is truly important. They have lived with disappointment and heartache without becoming bitter or brittle. In spite of all they have suffered, they have not been consumed by cynicism and despair. They remain gracious and kind, and are a joy to be around. They incubate life, cradle life, nurture and nourish life. They carry life forward into ten thousand futures. They are who we must become.
And so, on the trains to Dachau and Auschwitz and Buchenwald , we make a pledge to one another, we take a solemn oath: To Life! To Living! To Being Alive! We swear to one another that those of us who survive will live—as fully as possible for as long as possible—in honor of, in memory of, those who do not survive. Life is the gift. We cannot surrender it to fear and intimidation and the threat of the complete loss of everything. We cannot die before our time for dying. And so, we swear to one another that we will live, we will nurture life, nourish life, cradle life, incubate life in the face of the worst that life can do. And, in order to do that, we have to understand what life requires.
In Costa Rica, they have a saying, “Aqui estados!” “Here we are.” It might be better, it might be worse, but “here we are.” The cornerstone for life, the fundamental building block, is the understanding, “Here we are.” This is the foundational realization. The Wisdom Literature of the ages is geared to bringing us to the point of understanding “Here we are.” “Here we are.” What are we going to do about it? What now? What next?
Everything flows from this point forward. Everything depends upon our response to this here, this now. Since we are here, we may as well make the best of it. We may as well make ourselves available to one another, and offer each other as much of the right kind of help in the right kind of way as we are able to do.
We may as well offer as much kindness as we can muster, as much humor as we can spare, as much grace and warmth as we can manage, as much gentleness and generosity as we can summons. The truth is “here we are.” The question is, “What are we going to do about it, with it?” The question is, “How are we going to live here, now, in ways that bring as much of the good to life as can be brought to life?” The question is, “How are we going to incubate life, cradle life, nurture life, nourish life, here, now?”