“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” ~ Walt Whitman
I have burned out. My mind has a hummm in it, like an overheated laptop or muted TV. It is funny how quietly the burnout descended upon me. Twelve or sixteen or eighteen hours a day looking at electric-lit blue screens, seven days a week for eleven years…and I find my hands shake, my mind is fragmented unable to settle and rest on the river bottom. I am always tired, now: though my energy still roars like the Canyon Waterfall, it is muffled, out of sight. Now, when I am charming as I am wont to be, in company, I feel fake.
All I want to do is nothing, for some time.
One more hire, a few more months, and I will get to be human, again. It will take many little tricks to stay on this horse, but I am good at this and have already barebacked many miles. I am aching and weary but it has been a good path.
Love without service is selfish. And service without love is this path I have traveled and while it is long and quiet and sometimes bitter, it is not one I regret.
You are delighted in life, conscious of your sexuality; you are an artist, a sad soul. Poised. There are things in you that are rich and sweet and fun.
But know that there are things you will not like about me.
While I love to dance, and am good at it—I do not get much practice so I may be clumsy. I struggle with my diet—eating too much or too little or not exercising enough when I work too much. I am a brown bear in the morning before coffee—keep me at arm’s length, or laugh at me, for I tend to grump and growl. You will have to deal with the storm in my heart, if you want me.
I would like you to feel my sadness, and not to shy away, but to take me in and see that I am weathered on the inside, too—weary, beaten, rain falling down. I would like you to see that I have been a boulder on the side of the river—I have not changed my day-to-day life though others have changed so much, for years, now.
I have a house. I have a dog sleeping four feet from me. Otherwise, my outward life has not changed in a decade. I am still building community, still going on dates with women who are still the same age, still doghiking the sage green red pink Mountain above my cozy red home. I have not changed, and I am left behind; and yet I am current in ways those who have stepped out of the current are not current. My world expands outward, and their world grows within.
Loneliness is not merely romantic. It is a cold thing to get cozy in. Broken heart is our warrior’s path. We are not afraid of traveling it alone. Loneliness is only a threat when we conflate it with lack of self-worth.
Sad, but smile. Sunshine, and rain—rainbow.
I would like us to agree that focus—whether at work, in a relationship, as a parent…helps us to build things that matter. Some of us build things but we lay folks off, throw big parties, and promote highly-profitable disease in society. But some among us build human beings: we are parents, or teachers, or we run non-profits or nurture successful businesses that benefit society.
Whatever we build, our focus leads us to miss out on important things.
What is more important: to live life fully, or to change the world for the better?
Both, you quickly say. But our own lives do not reflect “both.” For sometimes a choice must be made—this is the definition of focus. Sacrifice is not a word: it is life and loss and achievement and most of all it is caring about other more than self. It takes Mad Ones with ascetic drive to cultivate something bigger than ourselves.
How many Saturdays do we get, in this life?
This past Saturday my trotting Red dog and a best friend and I go for a slow walk below the mountain, and along the creek that curls around and into town. We talk about work and success and dating and defeats, and laugh. Friendships are like that: they take the bad things and place them into a bowl of golden ziji.
Ziji: a Buddhist term for brilliance, confidence, charisma, glamour, grace, overwhelming presence, resplendent radiance…”
“…A person possessed fully of the blessings and health that come from on high is said to be ‘full of splendor.’ This majesty is an authentic presence that envelops a healthy and prosperous warrior.”
It is raining lightly in my Small City, this: our green-wooded valley is shaped like a football, the narrow ends running North – South. To the West, the garish red rocky mountains. To the East, the endless, golden plains. The sky, above, is bluegray, grayblue: the yellow, white, pinkwhite, red, purple wildflowers naively, obstinately persevere in sunny optimism. It will snow, tomorrow, a heavy white snow full of water.
But I, like these silly flowers, have persevered. For I have been trained all my life in the present moment, in service. I have read stories of heroes, and I have read too many headlines that all agree: our wonderful world is under assault. Elephants, tigers, rhinos extinct by the time you have children. Disease-bearing plastic consumed by animals and humans, alike. Oceans swelling with melting ice. Politics: a playing field for petty hate, not discussion. This is the best of times; this is the worst of times: this is a time for heroes and adventurers. And lovers.
If we have been given much, it is our duty to help others. In so doing, service waters our hearts with joy, no matter how sad we feel.
Selfish love is not the point of this life. Service with love is. Community is real wealth.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
Walking below the mountain and along the creek, my good friend and I walk into town and settle at an outdoor silver metal café table at a favorite downtown farm-to-table restaurant for a mid-afternoon lunch. We are well-liked in this Small City, so sitting outside makes it impossible to be private—we are washed over by a shallow but rapid stream of stop n’chats.
Popularity is not community; its saccharine joy comes with a bitter aftertaste. I am too tired today to enjoy it. The draws on my energy as I ride this path of service have been endless. I have not taken the time to rest, enough—my discipline has been to find rest within the routine of my life as it is.
Another friend joins us, and I feel how my popularity—brash, bold, bright—is thin. I have willingly sacrificed it—skipping parties, events, weddings so that I could focus. When I serve society instead of playing with my friends, I am no longer important to my community.
The gray rainy day makes me cold. I pull on an old white wool sweater with blue stripes and a hole in the elbow.