It’s my Birthday, I can wear my Birthday Suit if I want to. Okay, I’ll wear shorts, at least, so I can go to the pool without getting arrested. Wanna join me? Do.
Here’s the 40 Profound Lessons I’ve learned over the past 40 Years that I’d like to pass on to you, now, in my unending generous wisdom:
Okay, I got nothing.
I turn 40, this week. July 16th, to be exact. It’s always been a day blessed with fairydust: a day of joy, summer, heat, swimming pools, birthday cake, mom, and friends. And presents.
I turn 40, this week, which is weird. Because all my life I’ve been young. But 40 doesn’t sound all so very young, unless you’re 80.
I turn 40, this week, and I’m looking forward to it. Would I trade 40 for 20? Well, it’d be nice to be superyoung, again. But I’m in better shape, now, probably. I’m certainly smarter, and I’m still just as vulnerable, sweet, and silly. Some folks call me Peter Pan—I could certainly pass for 34, say.
But I have grown up. I’ve built a business up, twice. I’ve learned to take care of an animal, my best friend. I’ve dated lots, and learned at least a little, each time. I’ve even traveled, now, and look forward to doing more. I’ve been taking care of my mom. Paying a mortgage. Meditating twice a day like clockwork.
But, yes, when it comes down to it, all I’ve gained is maturity, and I’ve lost a lot of that innocence. When you’re young, life is hard. Folks who look back and say it’s all sex and flowers and parties are kidding themselves. But: when you’re young, the future seems equally rosey as the past does to the elderly. When I was a boy, I figured being old would be cool, ’cause if I liked something, I could buy it, because I’d have a job.
I was right on, I think. That’s the only real difference. Being old, we’re still young, inside. We’re still joyful and we still fall in love and we still have hard days when we feel like giving up, and fun days when life seems like a big silly bicycle ride.
So what have I learned? I’ve learned to hold on to my ethics. That’s what the Buddha said was all that we can protect as we grow older. A lot of folks, when they get older, become immoral. Money, sex, drugs–they want happiness and they think it comes from the outside and they think it’s finite so they’re willing to take it from others. The worst things in life: rape, greed, war—all come from the mistaken notion that joy is outside of us and that it’s limited.
It’s neither. Truth is joy is free, though invaluable. Read a book, do nothing for 10 minutes, sit by a stream, go for a hike in nature–you’ll find it if you’re paying attention.
In my next five years I plan on settling down. I plan on growing up—what Trungpa Rinpoche called the most important mantra of them all. But I don’t plan on growing old, inside.
How do we stay young? Read the Four Reminders, each morning. Dedicate yourself to joy—to others’ joy. Guard your ethics against the low bar that society tries to trip you with. Boulder, Colorado, where I live, wins Happiest in the US, healthiest in the US, best town to bicycle in, best place to retire, best educated…all of those awards are comingled for a reason. Because we exercise on lunch break. We don’t smoke. We do bicycle commute, eat real food, engage in civic activism, connect with community daily. And we guard Nature against greed, so that the commonwealth continues to be rich.
Enjoy your week. And if you’d like to give me something for my birthday, you could become a member of elephant journal (and read unlimited) or donate to New Era Colorado, a local organization that works to involve young people in the political process: in the past few years New Era has made it easier to vote, gotten rid of plastic bags, supported civil unions, fought for domestic energy (and won, twice), and registered hundreds of thousands of first-time voters on both sides of the aisle. Let’s come together, right now.
PS: I’ve read a lot of quotes today, in preparation for writing this and actually having something to say, about how it’s important never to grow up. That’s bullshit. Grow up. That said, it is important to never get scared and careful and closed by the edges of life. Instead, use the hard times to soften this heart, as Pema advises.
This quote seems to capture the inherent contradiction in life. We do need to mature. But we also need to stay raw.
“The trick is growing up without growing old.” ~ Casey Stengel
Here’s the 10 Things I want for my Birthday, with some dorky photos of young me.