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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walking the Walk

I've not been feeling one hundred percent lately, and there are probably a lot of reasons for that. As an aside, the whole "feeling one hundred percent" is rather an odd and subjective yardstick that we like to bring out. Suppose that we really had never felt more than fifty percent all of our lives. That fifty percent would seem like one hundred percent, until one day when we suddenly felt sixty percent, which would actually feel like one hundred twenty percent and cause us to reevaluate what one hundred percent was, except that it would still be only sixty percent despite all of our beliefs to the contrary. If that won't make you appreciate subjectivity, I don't know what will.

When Thomas Merton was in his late forties and rapidly approaching his fifties he started to think he was soon going to die. Eventually he decided that his body wasn't telling him it was getting ready to die but rather that it needed to slow down. Ironically, he did die accidentally not too many years later at the tender age of fifty-three. I have often wondered if his body was, indeed, trying to tell him something. There are people who believe that his death was not an accident at all but rather that he was killed by someone within the Roman Catholic Church who was threatened by his openness to other traditions. In any event, I am starting to believe that those of us whose bodies begin to betray us earlier than the average person are forced to confront the reality of our mortality in a substantial, if premature, way.

You might expect that such a confrontation would have predictable effects, and it does. It has led me to reassess quite a bit in my life. I am thankful it has not led me to get hair plugs, a sports car, a mistress, or to start shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch. That's not to say I have emerged unscathed, however. I find that I do not have much patience for nonsense or for wasting my time, and I am not willing to invest huge amounts of time in some project in which I do not believe. I have always struggled with that last one, but now the struggle has been elevated to epic proportions. You might say that the sensitivity on my bullshit detector has been turned way up, and the screeching noise inside my head when it is tripped is almost more than I can bear.

Especially prominent are issues of right livelihood, not just in the traditional sense (which is actually not very demanding at all assuming you aren't manufacturing dirty bombs or something similar) but also in the sense that I have a hard time justifying wasting my gifts doing busy work. All of this comes at a time when my body is severely limiting the kinds of work I am physically able to do. As you might imagine, this sets up a conflict between my physical and spiritual selves of epic proportions. That conflict is only intensified by the years that I spent running away from what it is I knew I was called to pursue - my authentic self. No matter how much we want to believe that it is easy to disconnect from the expectations and definitions of not only society at large but also those closest to us (for better or worse), if it was easy we all would simply stand up for ourselves and live authentically. The fact that we don't reflects how much power we allow others to have over us.

I'm reminded of the old joke that it doesn't matter how old a mother gets, she never gives up hope that her kids will one day make something of themselves. Imagine moving to the place where no matter how old we got we would never feel compelled to make anything of ourselves that wasn't authentic. That might require that we recognize the self-destructive nature of listening to others in their attempts to define us. In the end it is clear that happiness never arises from being disloyal to ourselves. That may be one of life's most important lessons.

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