Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m living my retirement now, while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.
It’s not the worst analogy I’ve thought up. Though still in my mid-40s, I’m currently getting by on minimal income and worrying about health insurance, or lack thereof. Meanwhile, I’m keeping busy volunteering with various nonprofits, including a school, a spiritual community, and two choirs. I read and journal as much as possible, and I try to stay fit by running or cycling nearly every day. I spend too much time online, and not enough time sleeping.
Although my life is very much in transition these days, I can’t complain. In fact, if only I didn’t have to generate even a modest income, I’d be set.
Once again, then, I’m reminded of a series of questions I like asking people, one that I mentioned in a recent post:
What’s your ideal life, how are you living now, and how much of a gap exists between the two?
A logical follow-up to this inquiry might be the following: If you didn’t have to earn money, how would you spend your days? For all my concerns about where I’ve taken my life and how I’m going to earn a decent living doing what I love, it does seem like a good sign that I wouldn’t live very differently if income weren’t a concern.
That’s not to say I don’t spend a good deal of time wondering what I ought to be doing. Ideas of varying degrees of craziness constantly flit about my brain, such as:
- Should I stop blogging on whatever subject occurs to me, whenever I feel like posting, and instead find a way to generate income from this thing? Should I spend time researching how to properly go about blogging?
- Should I cut back on my volunteering hours and focus on my writing, looking for ways to turn a skill and passion of mine into money? (For example, should I should I try to find a publisher for my children’s books or look into self-publishing?)
- Should I arrange a extended tour of Sudbury schools, spending a few weeks at several different ones?
- Should I through-hike the Appalachian Trail next year, while I’m still relatively fit and before I run through my savings?
- Should I look for an opportunity to spend several weeks, or even months, at a Zen retreat center, really digging as deep as I can?
Glancing over this list, I see that three of the five items involve putting my life on hold for a period of time. It occurs to me that it’d probably be better if I focused on the “mindful” part of this blog’s tagline and looked for the lessons where I am now, in what I’m currently doing. This reminds me of a quote the head teacher at Austin Zen Center recently shared:
“Your difficulties are not obstacles on the spiritual path; they are the path.”
~ Ezra Bayda, Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life
Rather than concocting schemes, looking to exotic locales or unusual scenarios for the answers to my questions, I could strive to be more mindful of one of Zen’s core lessons: in the words of Sylvia Boorstein’s book, Don’t Just Do Something—Sit There. I could worry less about money and focus more on the other elements of my mantra of mindful living: mission, mate, and home.
Or I could just keep doing nothing—but the sort of “doing nothing” is essential to both Sudbury schooling and Zen, as I blogged this past September. The sort of nothing implicit in the Taoist concept of wu wei, “effortless action,” which implies acting without the deliberative, narrative mind getting in the way; acting naturally, guided by intuition or simply by being present.
But what a challenge it is, this doing nothing! Letting go of expectations and results, yet staying engaged and mindful of the demands of living in the real world.
Mostly I think I need to let go of my fears that I don’t know what I’m doing; that I’m being reckless and irresponsible; and that it’s even possible to know what I should be doing at any given moment, or with my life in general.
If only I could internalize the words of the Indigo Girls song, how it “seems easier to push than to let go and trust,” even though in truth, “it’s alright.”