About a year and a half ago, I sought out an oracle that delivered to me the following four words: money, mission, mate, and home.
Now, when I say “oracle” I really just mean a brilliant friend and colleague from The Circle School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Jim came out to visit us at Alpine Valley School and do a public presentation, and I took the opportunity for a private chat on the dilemma I’d been grappling with for some time: why I felt so restless when some of the key elements of my life—especially my job and choir—were so very, very good.
As he’s wont to do, Jim not only heard me out for ten or fifteen minutes but then quickly condensed what I told him into the above mantra: money, mission, mate, and home. (Actually, I added the “home” part; otherwise the mantra was also alliterative.) And I have to say, while life rarely reduces to easy formulas, this one really helped cut through the clutter: it gave me a handy way to assess what I want in my life and how well any particular situation measures up to that standard.
Before I continue, perhaps a word of clarification is in order for each of these terms.
By Money, I simply mean enough so that I’m not distracted by worries over whether I can not only feed, house, and clothe myself, but also provide for transportation, health insurance, and a modest level of recreation.
A sense of Mission has always been critical to me. Most people, I think, long to be part of something larger than themselves, to know that their life has some purpose and that their legacy will outlast them. Often, but not always, one’s mission is largely manifested in one’s work.
Mate is, I hope, largely self-explanatory. All I will add here is that, for me, a life situation that makes it less likely for me to find a loving relationship is a life situation that’s far from satisfactory.
The subject of Home could take up several posts. For years I’ve been seeking a sense of home, something more than just a place to keep my stuff and pursue my career and preferred forms of recreation. Rather, I want to feel grounded, rooted, connected. Ideally, this home would combine access to nature and urban opportunities; vibrant, overlapping communities and not too much sprawl; and not be too far from my family.
Applied to my situation at the time, I saw that I had Mission easily covered. Money and Mate weren’t present, but the Denver-Boulder area isn’t a bad place to seek either of them. Home, however…the climate and topography there, however great, weren’t what I was used to as a lifelong Midwesterner (from birth to age 31). That I might have dealt with as well, but my experience of the area was that things are so scattered geographically, given my interests, that the sort of local community I wanted was going to be very difficult to find.
Of course I’m reducing countless hours of contemplation, conversation, and anguish to a few sentences here, but my point is that, for me at least, having this mantra made it relatively easier to make the hard decision to upend and rearrange my life. About a year after Jim and I talked, I decided to stop accepting a life that was good, but not great; I decided to give up the best job and choir I’d ever known to pursue this crazy dream of having it all.
To me, this gets at the essence of mindful living: consciously arranging those aspects of life one can control (such as work and location) in order to maximize the chances of living the life of one’s dreams.
And so I want to ask you—or better yet, for you to ask yourself:
What’s the life of your dreams? What life are you currently leading? How big a gap is there between the two?
What things can you not live without, and what are you doing to ensure they’re a part of your life?
If you’re so inclined, leave a comment with your answers to these questions. I’m curious to see what my readers would have to say on this subject. Thanks!