On this, the eve of completing my 46th lap around the sun, it’s hard to resist the ritual of looking around and taking my bearings. Where is my life in comparison to my preferences or plans? Am I, to borrow an awful educational phrase, making “Adequate Yearly Progress”?
I don’t particularly want to engage in that game, and I expect many of you can appreciate why. For several years now, I have taken my life down roads lacking in most of the conventional markers of success: steady, good-paying work; a family of my own, or least a spouse; a decent car, ample savings, etc. Instead, I’m living year to year, with an intriguing sense of where I want to go but no map (not to mention, my ex-wife got out of the car several exits back).
Really, though, you’ve got better things to do than read a depressed or depressing, woe-is-me post—or conversely, a Pollyanna, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow, rah-rah ranting, either. Instead, I’d to share a bit of what this “where is my life” line of thinking has called to mind.
For one thing, it’s eerily reminiscent of a certain aspect of my Sudbury career. That is to say, our schools don’t offer students or parents many of the usual signs of progress and success, such as grades. As we shun standardized testing and curricula, we also lack the sort of maps represented by “what every Xth grader should know” books.
So yeah, thanks to my Sudbury experience, I know better than to expect convenient, conventional signposts that will tell me where I am and whether I’m nearing a particular destination.
For me, Zen also alleviates the inevitable fears of accepting life’s uncertainties. Giving up the notion of a fixed, individual self; embracing transience and compassion; letting go and immersing oneself in the moment—these things become easier when one has a practice, as well as a community of fellow practitioners.
I suppose the older I get, the more critical community becomes. My Sudbury community supports me in defining success on my own terms: things like being responsible and self-sufficient while pursuing my passions. My Zen community reminds me of the value of being present, paying attention, and cultivating awareness and compassion. Sudbury and Zen alike reinforce the importance of being earnest and sincere, mindful both of who we are and the effects of our actions.
Since my birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, I also try to focus on my gratitude that, if nothing else, the path I’ve taken has brought a wealth of beautiful people and awareness-expanding experiences my way. It would be difficult to imagine swapping my traveling companions or the lessons learned for a safer, more comfortable ride. As much as my inner editor cringes at cliches, they often come from a place of truth: and today, that line about the journey counting more than the destination rings especially true.
So I suppose I love this map-less life, even though it sometimes drives me nuts that there are so few highway signs here on the road less traveled. I still get anxious and depressed, I still have to lean on my support network and ride out the emotional storms. But hopefully the intuition and courage I’ve been cultivating these past several years will continue to grow. Progress? Success? I think it’s more about opening my eyes and learning to trust, accepting reality and letting my desire to become evermore myself lead the way.
Because in the end, I don’t think any of really knows where we are or where we’re headed. There aren’t any guarantees and—while the desire for them is totally understandable—security blankets exact the awful cost of narrow horizons. Truly, like I said in yesterday’s post, a life of stretching yourself seems to me the only way to go if you really want to live.