We all have our way of doing it. Life, that is. We all know how it ought to be done. And, how it ought not be done. I have a friend—We’ll call him “Charles,” because that’s his name—who douses eggs, be they scrambled, boiled, poached, or fried, with salt. It doesn’t matter if they came salted from the kitchen. He makes sure. That’s the way he does eggs. We have our own way of doing eggs. And, that’s just the beginning. We have our own way of doing everything.
Every living thing has its way of doing things, its own way of being, its idea of how things ought to be done. Amoebas have their way of doing things, flying fish have their way of doing things, Rhododendron bushes have their way. It is a characteristic fundamental to life that life has its idea of how things ought to be. The problem is ideas of the ought to be collide and clash across the board, around the table.
A rabbit’s idea of how things ought to be clashes with Mr. McGregor’s idea, and with a fox’s idea and a Great Horned Owl’s idea. It doesn’t take much looking to see that we will never agree about how things ought to be. We will not iron it all out, and line it all up, and arrange things nicely and in order, so that everyone is happy. Someone’s good is going to be someone else’s bad. It’s a mess out there. It’s also a mess in here. In this room, and within each one of us. We are a mess. We are a conflicting mass of opposing interests, and desires, and motives, and intentions. What we want interferes with something else we want and we can’t get anything right for long.
And, there is no fix for it. But, there is awareness of it. And, there is accommodation and acceptance, negotiation and compromise. It isn’t all wins and losses. But, some of it is. The idea is to reduce our wins and losses to a minimum and to live toward the ideal of a good that doesn’t restrict the good of any one. This is the ideal of optimal living, which is different from the currently operative idea of maximized living, wherein I live to maximize my good at your expense, and you live to maximize your good at my expense, and whoever has the most money and power wins.
In optimal living, money and power don’t mean what they currently mean. In optimal living, we live with the good of the whole at heart. You’re laughing, I know. We’re in this sanctuary at a cool 70 degrees and no insulation to speak of in the walls and ceiling, and, speaking of ceiling, look at all that air between us and the ceiling, which is also a cool 70-something degrees and no one is even breathing it, and we’re chugging away at consuming electricity, talking about having the good of the whole at heart. Who-okay-whom are we kidding? We are going to grab as much of the good stuff as we can for ourselves and let the starving hordes fight among themselves over the rest. And, we will talk about having the good of the whole at heart, and toss some canned goods to the starving hordes to appease our consciences and say we did what we could. But, the truth is that we have our way of doing things, and they have theirs, and we don’t want to complicate our lives by taking them and theirs too much into consideration.
Yet, optimal living takes everyone’s good into consideration. How much does my way of doing anything impinge upon your way of doing anything? How much does your way of doing anything impinge upon my way of doing anything? How do we stay out of each other’s way? There are those whose way of doing things includes getting everyone to do it their way. How do we get out of their way? How do we get everyone to talk about these matters?
We are forming ourselves into a community here, a community that befriends life. In order to do that, we have to be clear about what constitutes life and how to nurture that, nourish that, and bring it into being. How do we assist life, bring life forth? How do we serve the good that is truly good for all concerned? These are not simple questions. Conflicts of interest occur at every turn. If we are going to commit ourselves to optimal living, we are going to pay a price. We are going to be inconvenienced. And, we are going to have to act unilaterally. We can’t wait for everyone to be on board. When it is our good or “theirs,” and “they” aren’t “on board,” what is in it for us to act with “their” good at heart?
Eventually, we have to deal with the profit motive. With what’s in it for us. With what we stand to gain. Does optimal living profit us? Will it sell? Will they buy it in Peoria? Money is the bottom line, you know. But, what does money know about value? People will buy things they don’t want, can’t use, will never need. Pet Rocks and Spud Guns come to mind. Any product can be packaged to sell. It’s all about presentation. Marketing is the real bottom line. But the push behind marketing is money. Money is the real bottom line.
And, what do we do with money? Have our way. Money is power. Power means we get to do it our way. And, when we can’t do it our way even with money, money enables us to deny reality. Escape, run, hide, pretend. Denying reality is the real bottom line. We create a dream world, a fantasy land, where we don’t have to do any of the things we don’t like to do, and we can do all of the things we do like to do—or, at least, where we fabricate that illusion. Doing it our way is the real bottom line. Getting away from what we don’t like is the real bottom line. Pretending that things aren’t what they are is the real bottom line.
But, there is also recognition, acceptance, accommodation. We could snuggle right up to what we don’t like, make room for it, invite it in. We could look reality squarely in the eye, and say, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you! I was hoping you would show up! It’s been too long!” We could adjust ourselves to the conditions, context and circumstances of our lives, and make a place for ourselves in the midst of how things are—without giving up, giving in, giving out. We could.
This is an art, to maintain the spark within the darkness, to maintain our enthusiasm and interest and joy of living in the emptiness, to sing our songs and write our poetry and dance with abandon and delight in the wasteland. What are we thinking? Are we crazy? It’s like this: Heart is the real bottom line.
Living with heart, a heart that understands, a heart with eyes to see and ears to hear, a heart that knows what the deal is and what its chances are and lives—LIVES—on, anyway, nevertheless, even so, using the resources at hand to make life as good as it can be for itself and others. Living like that is exactly what is called for in every situation of life. Where are you going to buy that? What good is money in the search for that?
How are you going to come by eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands, and lives on, and doesn’t quit? It all depends on what you bring to the table, and on what you find at the table. Maybe you have it, and maybe you don’t. Can you bear it? Can you let your life be what it is, even as you work with it to see what it might become? Can you take it? And go on taking it? Not without the right kind of company, you can’t. Not without what you find at the table. None of us can. Not one of us can take it and go on taking it, without eventually coming up against it, without eventually running out of gas.
Eventually, we get to the hard part. To the part where it isn’t any fun. Where we are just slogging away at nothing, and don’t have any idea of why we are doing it. It’s easy to give up when we get to the hard part, and cast about, looking for anything to take our mind off the emptiness and futility of our lives.
What’s so hard about the hard part is the loss of meaning. What something means is always what it means to us, to me, to you, at a particular time and place in our lives. Meaning is not “out there,” in the thing, in the experience, in the doing. It is in “us.” When we do something that has meaning, it has meaning for us.
Meaning comes in two forms. Getting and giving. We can do something because of what we expect to get from doing it, or we can do something as a way of giving what we have to give. When we get to the hard part, the part where it is no fun any more, and emptiness and futility abound, and we have to talk ourselves into getting out of bed, it’s because it isn’t working—it isn’t giving us what we thought we would get (“What’s in this for me? When is it my turn? What am I getting out of all this?”), or we have lost the thread of integrity connecting who we are with what we are doing (“Who am I? What am I about? How is what I’m doing here connected with who I am and what I am about?”).
When we get to the hard part, we have to re-establish our connection with meaning and purpose. We have to ground ourselves in the realization that our lives are the expression of who we are, and take up the work of deliberately living in ways that exhibit, reveal, unfold our “heart/soul/self” in the world.
The hard part exposes the loss of heart, the loss of our connection with our heart. The real hard part of the hard part is the work of finding our way back to the center of ourselves, and living so as to express that in our lives. We may continue doing exactly what we have always done, but now with the focus and intention of revealing ourselves in what is done. The what, and the why, and the how have become one. That makes it easy, no matter how hard it might be. And that is what we get out of our association with the right kind of company.
The right kind of company enables the connection, and the re-connection with heart, soul, self—reminds us who we are and what we are about—and helps us bring forth the life that is our life to live, by helping us be clear about what is being called for and how we might respond appropriately in offering what we have to give to our present situation in life. Clarity is the solution to all of our problems today. And courage. Once we see what is called for, we have to do it. But, clarity cultivates courage. Right seeing is the source of right doing, right acting, right living, and it all flows from right being, from right orientation, right spirit, right attitude, right frame-of-mind. And, that is a function of the right kind of company.