We come into this life alone. And ultimately we leave this life alone. What happens in-between is what we call living. After seventy-one years of living I’ve come to an epiphany and understand that: we live the life we’re meant to live.
I never thought I would be a septuagenarian, a person between the ages of seventy and seventy-nine, but here I am. There were a couple of close calls along the way but I made it. Looking back now I thought I knew everything.
But as it turned out I knew nothing—and that’s okay because life is all about learning. It’s what we do with that learning that’s important. During what I call my Buddhist phase (which lasted over fifteen years) my spiritual teacher related a story to me. When asked to define suffering one little seven-year old girl responded: wanting things to be different from what they are. How does a seven-year old come to that kind of understanding and insight? Reverend Jisō added: pain in life is inevitable but suffering is optional. We all experience pain in this life but how we choose to deal with it makes all the difference.
I think many people reaching my age start to contemplate their life, its meaning and its end—because it does end for us all eventually. The one advantage we have in old age is perspective if we’re open to it—we can appreciate the long view. I’ve shared this anecdote before but here it is again—in the movie City Slickers the character Curly Washburn (Jack Palance) holds up one finger and tells Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) that: Life is just about one thing. Crystal’s character asks: What’s that? And Curly responds: That’s for you to find out. That’s what life is all about—finding out. For me that one thing is perspective.
With sufficient perspective often comes context and clarity—what seems confused, disordered and blurry can suddenly snap into focus. It’s like the autofocus on my camera (you knew I was going to use a photography metaphor didn’t you?)—looking through the viewfinder the scene before me is blurry and indistinct but the second I depress my shutter button halfway the autofocus on my lens snaps into precise focus. Clarity. Life is the same—bring a little perspective and attention (Buddhism: mindfulness, awareness) to a problem and the solution often presents itself in new, surprising and interesting ways.
When people ask me about my life it’s hard to explain because who & what I was is not who & what I am (it’s an evolution). Yet who & what I am is part & parcel of who & what I was. Have I managed to totally confuse you? What I’m trying to say is that who & what I was in life (all of my experiences, mistakes and successes) made me who I am today. Without yesterday there would be no today or tomorrow. Without those experiences, mistakes and successes I wouldn’t be me. Knowing that, it’s hard not to appreciate even the bad and hurtful things in life because without them I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
Would I do some things differently? Of course. Do I regret some of the things I did or experienced—that’s a hard question to answer in light of what I just shared with you. Life is to be lived and I think we live the life we’re meant to live—for whatever reason: God, Karma or Fate (take your pick). For me understanding comes from perspective. Understanding leads to acceptance which leads to peace. My life’s philosophy has distilled to: live simple, live cheap, live free. I leave you with: Suffering is wanting things to be different from what they are; pain in life is inevitable but suffering is optional.
Field Notes: To my younger followers (and maybe even to some of my older followers) I invite you not to spend too much time on regret. We all make bad decisions in life. If it bothers you that just means you’re not a sociopath or psychopath. Congratulations! Life is short and there are no guarantees. Your purpose in life is to live your life—whatever that means to you. Try to do less harm—we all do harm knowingly and unknowingly (to swat a mosquito is to do harm). Cultivate compassion (something I’m not very good at) and acceptance. It’s never too late to make changes in your life. Best wishes. SFD