"Sunrise and Olive Branches"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
I am celebrating a birthday and I am of an age where I can no longer put a candle on the cake for every year I have lived unless I want to create a fire hazard. When I look back over the years of my life, I sometimes wonder if there is anything I would have done differently? For the most part, I do not live with any regrets but as I think about it, there is a part of me that I wish I could “do over again.” Looking back, I would cling to life less tenaciously and try to control my life less rigidly. Perhaps this is the one great wisdom I take with me into my later years.
In the past I would often imagine that my life was “something I possessed,” my life was something I needed 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, the tender embrace of my spouse, I overlooked the kindness of a friend or missed experiencing the joy of a morning sunrise, all because I was to busy trying to control the next step along the way.
I have since come to know that the fullness of life reveals itself only in the present moment and this is now the deepest wisdom I have to offer.
As I celebrate my birthday, I know that “today, like every day, is always a new beginning, a new opportunity to live fully, embracing life as it comes. None of us ever “possesses” our 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 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 well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?
These are the questions that steer the compass of my life for the journey that remains.