My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows long.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of the woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe.
When the moon comes out, I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing so many things.
Lately, my life feels like the Ryokan lines above. What’s in front of me, where my hands and heart and attention currently are, makes my days feel full and intense like a deeper spiral into life. I’m not wishing outward, nor harried to chase things beyond this–except maybe lunch. It’s very “chop wood, carry water.” This hands-on-world feels ordinary and sacred all at once. It feels whole, connected to the pulse of life and to my pulse within it as I “groom horse, write newsletter.” The grounding I feel is borne of a sense of belonging to it all.
When I tune into the cadence of the summer grass, the sound of my horses hooves on the earth, the evening’s cool mountain air blowing down from the foothills, the twinkle of the stars, the sound of crickets and the flickering city lights far in the distance, I find my place in space. That place where I am part and parcel of a larger symphony playing out all around me. It may seem like there’s nothing to write home about here, yet there’s so much richness here that can’t be captured on film or in pixels. Something different happens here. Meaning hangs in these moments. Far, far away from ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ and giving a rats arse what other people think, I find myself feeling “This is it.”
That’s how my horse knows life. In tune with the wind, the wild and lonely sky, the birds, the bugs, the barn cat. His whole way of being in the world is wired to sense the rhythm of things great and small, and at great distances as well as close in. He can even feel how you are feeling. He knows that we’re not just on the brink of everything, we’re in the brink of everything on the brink of everything. If you get still, you can feel the rustle and hum of your place within it all, like he can.
Our life is ours to be lived (a wisdom my colleague Jim Marsden notes often). In this life of ours, there’s no external measure of net worth that measures our worth and inherent deservingness of what is ours to be lived. Yet, sometimes we get that backwards. As Parker Palmer says in this podcast conversation with Jerry, we are all too often hooked on outcomes. We measure how many steps we take, how many likes we have, what certifications we’ve achieved, how many prizes we’ve won, how many zeros in our net worth. Somehow gaining those things aims to bolster our sense of self-worth. But what’s missing? How is “chasing so many things,” as Ryokan writes in the poem above, generative and life-giving?
“People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life,’’ Joseph Campbell tells us. “I think that what we are really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on a purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
What would happen if we made choices that take into account our aliveness factor? (Versus choices that denied that in lieu of something that looked more like the mythical ‘up and to the right’ lifepath?)
A big switch from measuring to meaning (or perhaps ‘from misery to meaning,’ to borrow a line from author and Jungian therapist James Hollis) happens in our way of being when we open up to what’s here with us all the time. When we can find our presence, which is subtle and resounding all at once, we can sense the bigness holding us, something missed as we buzz around through life tangled in our thoughts and patterns and Instagram accounts. In turn, we lighten the load that all that measuring takes a toll on our posture and lifeforce.
[Insert a deep breath here.]
[And, another one if you need it.]
When we arrive here, we find ourselves oriented differently. Here, the sound of crickets may be a welcome recognition of homecoming versus an anxiety-inducing silence. Here, there’s a different rhythm to march to–one commanded from inside us. If we heed that rhythm, what’s dormant or dry within us might enliven and spark. Without tuning into this subtle and important part of ourselves, we can become rigid in mind and body, aching and pained, distant from our deepest longings. We may find our heart has been empty all this time. If we can touch into, even briefly, the sense of miracle and wonder (something we may have lost along the way since we were little humans), we may interrupt fixed ways of thinking that hold us tight and hold us back from our own fulfillment.
The question that’s been holding my attention these days is: “If I was going to die tomorrow, what would I do right now?” This prompt proves to be a blade of clarity. Will I lean into my aliveness? Will I follow the trail of ‘shoulds’? It helps me find my place in space again and align with how I want to live my life.
Pulling from various wisdom traditions, astrologist and writer Rob Breszny reminds us: “When you die,” says the Koran,” God will call upon you to account for all the permitted pleasures you did not enjoy while on earth.” The Talmud offers a similar idea: “A person will be called upon to account, on Judgment Day, for all the permitted pleasures he might have enjoyed but did not.” Are there any such pleasures in your life?”
What if we stopped chasing so many things?
There is a constant no matter where we stand: we’ve already arrived. There’s no out there to be achieved, attained. Here we are. From here the questions become: How have I lived? How am I living?