I am celebrating a birthday today and a friend of mine asked if, when I look back over the years of my life, is there anything I would have done differently? I have been thinking about this question and I realize that there actually is a part of me that I wish I could “do over again” - I would cling to life less tenaciously and control my life less rigidly.
Over my many years I often imagined that my life was “something I possessed” – my life was something I needed to guard and to cultivate for “maximum results.” Far too often I would find myself plotting and strategizing for better leverage - the better job, the next move, the nicer house, the higher rung up the ladder of success.
It all makes me think of one of my favorite Thomas Merton quotes:
People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success
only to find, once they reach the top,
that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
I have come to the point in my life where I no longer have even the slightest concern about that ladder of success, but as I look back at my years I can’t help but wonder what it is that I may have missed in life because I was always looking for more, bigger and better.
The Buddha taught:
You can only lose what you cling to.
I find great wisdom in this teaching. I think I probably lost a lot because I gripped onto my life so tenaciously.
My guess is that I often missed seeing the joy of my children’s laughter, I paid little attention to the tender embrace of my spouse, overlooked the kindness of a friend or missed experiencing the joy of a morning sunrise, all because I was too busy trying to control the next step.
I have since come to know that the fullness of life reveals itself only in the present moment.
Today on my birthday, I am not at all plagued by regret over my past, but “honestly” if I could do something differently, I would certainly have clung to life far less fiercely, but as an old saying goes: “that was then and this is now."
As always, today is a new beginning, a new opportunity to live “now” and embrace life as it is. None of us ever “possesses” life, we simply “participate” in it. As our life flows on we all belong to one another, all of us held together in that awesome, abiding power of universal Love known as “God” – who could ask for anything more?
The comedian Lily Tomlin once humorously quipped:
Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.
That’s what I want to do today and for the rest of my remaining years- I want to forgive much more and cling far less.
The Buddha also taught:
In the end these things matter most
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?
Such wonderful questions for a birthday- don’t you think?