As my neighbor was fixing the gutter, he complained to me about the never ending upkeep of a house. He then looked at my garden and bemoaned it as requiring a lot of work. I began to think about how we always want to get to a place where everything is set and no longer in need of effort. We feel that this would be the life.
I got to thinking, is this not death?
As a child, I had learned of this ideal. It came to me in the image of a business man sitting back with his legs up on his desk and his hands clasped behind his head. He had arrived! I had wondered, though, about the wake he left behind him: the workers whose concerns weren’t heard, the issues not addressed, the processes not kept in check. To me, this aspiration led to doom.
Yet despite feeling this way, I find the idea rooted in my thinking. I believe I should automatically know what’s going on and what to do next. I feel embarrassed when I am not up on current events being discussed and foolish when I don’t know how to respond to a student’s challenge. I don’t grasp that I am in an endless process of learning and becoming. Instead, I feel like I should already “be there” or else something is wrong and needs fixing. Being schooled in a way that recognizes only mastery conditions our minds this way.
National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner travelled the world, finding and studying groups of people who have lived the longest. A common thread among them was that their cultures had no concept of retirement, the ultimate place of arrival for many of us. Instead, Elder folks worked and contributed in ways that they could to their families and communities. In so doing, they had a sense of worth, which fed their souls and kept their minds and bodies enlivened. Not ease, nor health care, but effort and purpose gave them longevity.
As I wash my dishes and listen to the news, it is clear to me there is no arrival, only continuous travel, or what some might call, “travail.” The hope of getting somewhere is fruitless. It is seeking for that which cannot be found. For, as we reach one destination, another appears on the horizon, in an endless cycle.
This all becomes meaningless when we focus only on our outer doings, forgetting the inner paths we are on too. While seeking to form the world to our liking, we can also become informed by it of its ways, ones that in the end are very much to our liking. In so doing, we can develop ourselves and our relationships with others and cultivate virtues like patience, kindness and understanding. These bring us the stability and peace we seek in our outer lives but cannot find there alone. This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven within us.
Rudolph Steiner, who created Waldorf Schools, referred to this path when he said that the spiritual being develops in the world as the child does in the womb. This world is our place of spiritual gestation.
I believe that only when our inner lives are enlightened by lessons learned along life’s way can our outer works be guided by wisdom and satisfy us in the ways we truly desire. This process is not always easy, but its fruits are nourishing, enlivening and uplifting.
In the never ending flow of life, we can find meaning and fulfillment through this dance of becoming.