This month’s existential chapter began with many open ended questions to examine. Questions that most of us have thought about from time to time and questions that a few of us have obsessed over and struggled with for years.
“What is the purpose of existence? Where did we come from? Where are we going? and why?
Honestly, I have to agree with Brad Warner (author of “Hardcore Zen” suggested reading from this month’s chapter writer) He says,
“Purpose deals with goals, direction, and stuff that is going to happen in the future.” And “Wherever we came from is over and done. – I want to know what this is – this place right here, this state of mind right now. What is this?” And he ends the prologue of his book with the most important question, in my opinion,
“Who are you really? And what really is that thing that you so confidently call your life?”
Well, after practicing meditation for only a week I have not come closer to any clear answers for those questions yet, but I can say that the act of living out these chapters thus far has helped me understand a lot more about who I really am and who I am becoming each new moment.
It seems like we all spend a lot of time worrying about the future “what is going to happen to me? Where will I end up? What will I be doing? Will I do something meaningful in this world? All this anxiety created solely by our egos, making us believe that the answers to those questions matter more than what it is we are doing and being now and who we are right now. Our egos have also helped us believe that not knowing the answers to these questions is a bad thing. We grow up with parents feeding our egos and being told that we need to know what we want to be, what we want to do and how we are going to do it. I was never clued in that I would have to continue wrestling with these questions after I have “grown up” and ultimately until I die. I somehow thought there was some magic age where I would have figured it out.
Although I have been asked several times, I actually have never ever made a 5, 10, year, or even 1 year life plan. Those who know me, know that I have problems even planning a week ahead of time these days. It somehow seems that the older I get the less attracted I am to planning out or planning for my future. I thought about it quite a bit in my twenties but my concern about doing this has dropped off in the past five years. Some people who organize their goals and timeline differently than I, have been perplexed/frustrated with the way in which I navigate my decisions. I am aware that this request to plan is given with the best of intentions. It could only bring shape, clarity or direction to my path and may help me reach ambitious plateaus that I couldn’t even dream of reaching. However when asked to do this I often feel constricted and question if an ambitious plateau or a sense of direction is what I really want to strive for. I feel that I have done really well fluttering about buzzing from one thing to the next pollinating each new experience and place with something new. I have enjoyed watching my life unfold in unexpected ways.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of planning. I use to be a teacher. And there is no way that I would ever stand in front of a room of 25 plus kids without a plan of how to engage my students’ attention while teaching them a new skill or idea in a short 45 minute session. But teaching also taught me this: you just never know what life (or small children) might throw at you AND you can’t assume that even your best laid plan will work with each new student, scenario, or day that comes. Teaching (along with extensive travel) has really helped me adjust my thinking and adopt the mentality of walking into the unknown with a welcoming attitude.
I realized that when I resisted the flow of the changing moods of my students or direction of the day, I would miss out on opportunities, learning, alertness, and awareness that always came with the challenge of adapting to the present situation.
I also understand that I may be a bit different from most. Many people accomplish great tasks and goals by mapping out intricate and detailed plans. This makes so much sense when you are trying to accomplish intricate, specific and detailed goals. Maybe its hard to believe but I feel very clear on what my goals are, they just are not specific or attached to things like jobs, possessions, or particular people. Maybe that’s is why its been so difficult to find a direct and simple path to them. If I had to some up my goals, I would have to say that I have been working toward keeping a mindset of happiness. (Aren’t we all doing this?) What helps me keep that state of happiness seems to change from year to year but when thinking about it I came up with these life goals to help me do this.
1. I want to continue to create and nourish positive relationships with others
2. I want to continue doing work that is meaningful and/or useful for myself and others
3. I want to continue to learn, create and explore new things in ways that make me feel alive.
4. I want to continue to be adaptable to my changing surroundings and open to new opportunities that come my way
I created the Living Chapters project with these goals in mind. So if you think about it, Living Chapters itself is a bit of a 1-year life plan. It has timeline, goals, structure, and accountability built-in.
The main difference is this: I created Living Chapters because I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped worrying about future planning for a year and just focused on the living, reacting, and reflecting upon my current situation. I also wanted to see what would happen if I let go of my need to control, curate each next step. Could I become more open to new opportunities and experiences? More comfortable with not knowing what was coming (the unknown in general) and comfortable with letting go of complete control over my life? It’s an illusion that we have any form of control anyway.
So I planned Living Chapters instead of a making a life plan and decided that if I wanted to know more about who I am and what I wanted that I needed to fully explore and determine what I care about, what I believe, and what my unique talents and qualities are before making any plans. (this is what I hope Living Chapters will bring)
Instead of figuring out a direct plan for my future, what I want to do is hone the skills that will help me to arrive at it organically. I need to figure out how to stop doubting my inner guidance and innate skills and become more comfortable trusting, even if it means moving forward into unknown territories or into things that are out of my control.
With all that said and my resistance to planning, This is my first stab at giving Amy’s “life plan” challenge a go. I may come back to this in greater detail later in the month, we’ll see where the month takes me.
1 year from now: Assessment/Reflection
Next fall in September 2014, a few months after Living Chapters project is completed I will assess and reflect upon the experiences that this yearlong experiment has given me before making any more life decisions. Looking at how or if the process has affected my path, I will document those reflections through some chosen creative process. At this point I will decide whether it be public or private but the key is the act of reflection and sharing it with at least those I care about.
5 years from now: Consistency within Change
When I was 12 or 13 I wrote somewhere in a journal that “the only consistent thing in my life was change” I could not have been more right and through some self-fulfilling prophecy it still rings true at age 36. I don’t think this is a bad thing though and I don’t think I lack all consistency in my life today but by the time I reach 41 I would like to introduce elements of consistency into my life. I would like to be consistent with my actions, and my way of being. Can I stay consistently involved with my community? Can I consistently stay active and healthy? Can I consistently be working my creative mind? In five years I will develop a structure for implementing consistency.
10 years from now: Exit Ambition – Move to Meaning
In ten years from now, I would love to be free of egocentric ambition and move to more meaningful personal pursuits, while becoming a bit less serious. (is this possible?) I have been working on this goal for a couple of years now but feel it will take at least a good 10 more years to even make a dent in this process. It takes a while to de-program all that ambition/ego drive that lives within us!
I am not sure how Zen all this planning has been but it sure sounds ambitious doesn’t it? For now, back to meditation.
Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.