Friday, September 7, 2012

Stop Wasting Your Life! But how?


"I respectfully urge you who study the mystery, do not pass your days and nights in vain."

Last lines of the Sandokai

What does it mean to not waste your life? How do we do it, not pass our days and nights in vain?

Over the past few years, I have been much more intimate with "don't know" than in the past. Sometimes, it feels like I'm drifting along, which my little mind associates with "wasting life." Other times, it makes total sense. I really didn't know what all was going in the past either; I just thought I did. It's easy enough when you have a lot of the "normal" markers (like a steady job, home to take care of, etc.) in an adult life to forget about not knowing. And to assume that what you are doing is "not a waste," or not a total waste anyway. When you strip away a lot of those normal markers, however, you start to see that your stories might not be terribly accurate.

I'm really getting a sense these days as to why so many of us do everything in our power to resist liberation. In the depths of our hearts, we want to be in touch with our boundlessness. But even small shifts towards that, like letting go of some of the conventional things that once defined you (or so you thought anyway) brings with it a palpable fear, confusion, and desire to get back some stable ground.

A friend of mine, who has been struggling to make a few key decisions in her life, recently said something like "I don't want to live the rest of my life doing the same things." But then she goes back to doing so, for now (that's what we all think, for now).

Like my friend, I have done the "for now" return many times.

This returning doesn't define either of us, but it does make me think that the mind is so desperate for things to be stable and predictable, even if it's causing a crap load of suffering.

In living in a more stripped down way over the past two years, I have been trying to break through whatever it is that makes that "for now" so attractive. Attachment. Fear. Stories about success and failure. Desiring that things are stable and predictable.

It's a long list; I'm not through it all yet, and may never be in this lifetime.

What does it mean to not waste your life? How do we do it, not pass our days and nights in vain?

Keeping questions like these close, refreshed daily. That's the best answer I have to offer right now.

How about you?

9 comments:

Dalai Grandma said...

Another blogger friend just wrote in a comment on my post "Is Suffering Optional" "Working only to improve our samsaric life is the misstep of ignorance." I thought that put it well. That's where people get lost - going for something out there that you think will make you happy or secure. It is not wasting your life to be here right now. Whatever practice takes you there is not a waste. Whenever you are there with someone in the most mundane situation, buying a doughnut, that is being really alive.

Was Once said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Ashton said...

Wasting time is tricky to pin down - sometimes doing something is wasting times, other times, doing the same thing isn't. I tend to feel that if I'm not doing something helpful and not doing something to enable me to be more helpful, I'm wasting time. In the grand scheme, perhaps nothing is wasted, but it still doesn't sit well. I called resisting liberation Unification Anxiety.

Nathan said...

"I tend to feel that if I'm not doing something helpful and not doing something to enable me to be more helpful, I'm wasting time. In the grand scheme, perhaps nothing is wasted, but it still doesn't sit well."

I think this is the tension. Absolute and relative rubbing against each other.

"That's where people get lost - going for something out there that you think will make you happy or secure." This makes a lot of sense to me.

And no doubt, when "I" claim to know THE better way, as opposed to a potentially better way, misery usually ensues.

kloncke.com said...

"Absolute and relative rubbing against each other."

So helpful! Thank you.

I think I'm struggling right now with the paradox that my life's contribution will be ultimately insignificant and imperfect, and yet I have to try my absolute best.

See, there's that sneaky mind: when I say "try my best," I think what I mean in my head is, "accomplish good things." But that's not what "try" really means, at all! It can mean failing, too. I agree with Dalai Grandma: being fully alive is a practice completely orthogonal to achieving what one sets out to achieve.

Feeling really grateful for you, nathan, as part of a community of activist practitioners who can really grapple with the multiple registers, the tensions, the being and doing. Much love!

katie

Anonymous said...

You have to be aware of the uselessness of your self-importance and of your personal history.

How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?

The issue of our death is never pressed far enough. Death is the only wise adviser that we have.

Think of your death now. It is at arm's length. It may tap you any moment, so really you have no time for crappy thoughts and moods. None of us have time for that. The only thing that counts is action, acting instead of talking.

When a man decides to do something he must go all the way, but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them.

Look at me, I have no doubts or remorse. Everything I do is my decision and my responsibility. The simplest thing I do, to take you for a walk in the desert for instance, may very well mean my death. Death is stalking me. Therefore, I have no room for doubts or remorse. If I have to die as a result of taking you for a walk, then I must die.

You on the other hand, feel that you are immortal, and the decisions of an immortal man can be cancelled or regretted or doubted. In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is not time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.

When you get angry you always feel righteous. You have been complaining all your life because you don't assume responsibility for your decisions. To assume the responsibility of one's decisions means that one is ready to die for them. It doesn't matter what the decision is. Nothing could be more or less serious than anything else. In a world where death is the hunter there are no small or big decisions. There are only decisions that we make in the face of our inevitable death.

Was Once said...

...By not worrying about it.

Nathan said...

Anonymous, you really seem certain about knowing who I am, and how I am in the world ... hmmm.

Thank you for the reminder about death. If I die wrestling with doubts and "minor" concerns, so be it.

Katie, the achievement drive can be such a beast. I'm making the effort to face it head on, but damn, it's difficult to let go of.

David Ashton said...

Katie,

We want to make a dent in all the suffering out there, but our problem is believing the fallacy that we need to make a dent that is significant to us. We can't possibly know what effect even the smallest action will cause. In a very real sense, we have no idea what we're doing and no idea what the universe is doing. Just because we can't do everything is not a reason not to do anything.