I have never failed to be disappointed by people and by life, but I probably have failed at pretty much everything else I have undertaken by my own standards. Basically, my standards are often and have been skewed, unrealistic, and self-defeating. I do often feel measures of joy, as a limited human being in the physical world. I delight in chocolate of most types, and good food. The variety of color, shape, and texture that nature delivers never fails to amaze and impress me. This morning, bunches of unlikely purple berries the color of candy sent a soaring feeling of joy into my heart. Other times, I torture myself into delusions of perfection in the limited sphere of my home, trying to dust and clean out remnants of decay and death in an effort to sweep the fears and shadows out of my home. A hopelessly impossible task, given that death and decay are built into the fabric of beauty, creativity and life. I guess I will just have to embrace the cobwebs and learn to relax.
At somewhere around or past mid-life, I am now somewhere close to giving up hope with respect to the physical world and the common notions of success. In my youthful years, my initial expectations after striking out on my own in the world were to find love, recognition for my talents, and to make a living through the gifts I was given. Things did not turn out as I wished, but life has continuously and with great dedication worn down my illusions and expectations. Life is a great teacher, patient and persistent. I have struggled wilfully, but as time goes on, I learn slowly, painstakingly. According to my readings about Buddhism, to be attached to outcomes and expectations is to suffer. We are all suffering in this world; people all try to accumulate wealth and power to provide a hedge for themselves against suffering. As I walked our puppy this morning in a pretty neighborhood full of mostly well-groomed cottages, I contemplated this idea of security. Concurrently, when we try to accumulate material possessions to protect our bodily lives, we are also building a wall against their own enlightenment, since the purpose of the suffering is to break down our attachments and our resistance to spiritual rewards. Which should I choose? I am not very good at competition, business, relationships and being in the world at large, so maybe I will be more successful at the mystical game. Just give myself up, accept that suffering is the nature of life on earth, and that in fact that is just what my soul intended for me by choosing this life in the first place. Suffer and learn lessons and be done with it. Becoming naked of illusions is necessary to become fully human, so in that sense I have been successful. I began full of hope and have arrived at mid-life not expecting much of anything or anyone. In spite of this loss of hope, I remain optimistic. I love to feel joy, and I am always ready to learn more about life, love, and compassion. I pause and examine my own shadows, and I work hard to see my flaws and not project if I can help it. I am not quite ready to give up hope on love and companionship in this world or other material delights, but very close. And that is a good sign, in some respects. As a younger person, I don’t think most of us are ready for spiritual life. I have been seeking for a long time, for some kind of meaning to my life. In the early years, as I explained above, I thought salvation would be found in other people, in the material world. I wanted so much for my art to be recognized, and to meet other people who could understand me, love me, cherish me. I was wrong, so what is left? My son is 13, and he is an atheist at this point in his life. That is ok. I love him, and he loves me. We differ on some things, but we do share a deep connection. So I lied: I am not a total failure! He has to travel his own path, and he is full of hopes and dreams. I sincerely encourage him, and I hope that he will find the happiness he seeks. He is a great long-term planner, devising a complex and detailed plan for the pursuit of his heart’s desire, as long as the desire is alive and well and inspires him.
I have been giving some thought to the advances of medical science and technology on longevity in connection with the “second half of life”. While in some countries where people do not have access to most of the benefits of advanced western medicine and have a lesser life expectancy, I am considering those that do just for the purposes of bringing this thought process to completion. While humans have been seeking a sense of purpose to life through both physical and metaphysical paths for thousands of years, most people throughout history were given perhaps a 30 to 50 year life span, most of it spent toiling to survive. In many cases, only privileged individuals such as royalty or the clergy were spared some of the physical discomfort and exhaustion that survival requires. Now that most of us are more comfortable and have more years to live, the possibility of a change of heart at midlife becomes more likely. This means more time to explore our physical bodies, desires, and the possibilities of this life through work, food, travel, money, sex, homes, children, and to realize that while many of these things bring pleasure and some level of fulfillment, none truly define the true reason that we have come to live on this planet. I guess what I am saying is that perhaps the more successful we are at achieving worldly success, the less likely we will seek spiritual fulfillment early in life. I don’t know why I am drawn to the metaphysical, the poetic, the inner life. I suppose that a lifelong pursuit of art, solitude and poetic meaning has revealed to me that life is extremely mysterious. The ordinary pursuits have never given me full satisfaction, and the adventure provided by exploring my inner life is more exciting and fulfilling to me. And so I am working to be thankful for my failures and to finding joy in becoming a vessel for divine purposes for which I have no plans or expectations.