I have a friend who’s a writer. I read her Facebook posts, which are more entertaining than the norm. She happened to make a few cheeky jokes about death. (Foreshadowing). A short time after that, I saw her post about the death of her friend. The jokes stopped; she became very somber. There were a number of posts about him, a loyal following. Then there was a pause for a few beats, and then – what else could she do? – she returned to her old style, but with a touch more warmth this time.
It’s easy, and even fun in a way, to posture about topics that are larger and more dangerous than we are. From our protected perches we can safely make our jibes, without feeling vulnerable. All it takes is for a little ray to break through, however, to put us in our places, and make us feel small. Though we don’t like to dwell on it, there are many ways in which we can be hurt – an almost infinite variety.
Some of them don’t give us a chance to avoid them. In fact, the very worst one doesn’t.
[Edit: After I wrote this, another woman I knew better had her husband die also. This isn’t a typical occurrence, I should add – I don’t know that many people on Facebook. I don’t think I knew either one of them well enough to say very much to them, but I am sincerely sorry for their loss. Their husbands were nice people, though I only met one of them; for the spouses, this must be extremely hard, and I hope they get the support they deserve.]
Death is always unnerving. What is there to say? You think, I don’t want it to happen to me, but then you also think, Neither did they. On one level, you can minimize the risks, but on another level, you don’t get to choose. It’ll come, ready or not.
So we do what we can with the time that we have, understanding that only some of this is under our control. We try to make a difference – to make life better for others and for ourselves, with our work. I don’t particularly like to think about it, but then not thinking about it doesn’t make the problem of a well-lived life, which is to say our life before death, go away. Pretending we’re never going to die is problematic also.
Ultimately, our legacy will be in the love of the people we knew, and the work we did.
I hope that the people I love know that, in the same way that I feel privately loved by them.
Since work, the other half of this equation, is what the greatest number of people will know us for, it is, in a way, our public half.
Our task, when we are working, is to concentrate our attention on a point, and stay there until we finish. This is the best and most efficient way to work; since so much of our success comes down to how effectively we work, the details matter.
To do this, you have to know where your awareness is, moment to moment; and for that, to know where your awareness is on the micro-scale, you have to track it, inhabit it, live with it, from the inside. You have to be there, mentally, when you go off track, have enough awareness and flexibility to put yourself back on track, and then stay on that track that you didn’t want to be on, a moment ago.
The mind wants to jump. In its purest form, when I meditate, it doesn’t want to stay on my breath. If anything, it runs in the opposite direction, even to things I didn’t enjoy that much a short time ago, just to move out of the present, to some imaginatively colored Other. But learning to be here, where I am, in the space that I am in the time that I’m there, is my practice.
I’m starting to understand that learning to stay in one place, mentally, is the key to happiness. By definition mind jumps are signs that the mind isn’t happy, and wants to be somewhere else. That desire to be somewhere else, never satisfied, is an engine of unhappiness.
So training myself to be happy means learning to stay in one place mentally, not resisting, and not leaving until the work is done.
I won’t ultimately get to choose exactly how long I get to practice this, but I can choose to do it while I have the opportunity, and to do well by the people I know. When my time is up, I hope that my work, my friends, my family, and my mind will be my legacy.