Flesh and bone
Turn back now before you're gone
When you go your spirit lives on
This life is more than
Flesh and bone
- Buddy Guy, Flesh & Bone
* * *
I have been away for a while. It has been important to be elsewhere, to be away from words. From time to time I need to step back, to silence my thoughts, to drain away the habits of thought and see if/when I might say something again. I fill my days with the day job, painting, music and cooking for my best beloveds. It is good. It is a good life and I didn't know if I had anything left to say and that was fine, just fine, with me.
A few days ago something new arrived. Something unexpected. It is the song above: a duet between Buddy Guy and Van Morrison. The song caught my eye because it was dedicated to the memory of BB King. So I listened. I listened and a dam I didn't know existed burst within me and I could write again.
* * *
Viktor Frankl wrote that happiness could not be pursued, it cannot be aimed for. Happiness, he said, could only ensue, could only occur if one did not aim for it. It was the by-product of living for a cause greater than yourself.
In the Dhammapada there is this:
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
These two comments are the saying the same thing.
* * *
The way to unfuck your life is to live it so that others will know they are not alone. We, the living, assume we are the most important to have ever lived, for our time is important to us. But we are waves, cresting and falling again and again, each wave thinking it was the ultimate. You know what's the ultimate in this metaphor? The ocean, the thing that holds, supports and is changed by waves. To presume a greater significance to your life - over and above the dead and gone, over and above others now living who are not you, not like you, over and above the ones making their way here - because you are the one living it is the very mechanism of fucking things up.
Listening to Buddy Guy and Van Morrison trade verses about the nearness of their deaths, the recent death of BB King, and the call and response of a sweet by and by, it split me open: thunderbolt and sword. We come and go. Others came and went. Our time to depart will have its day. The ones yet to be will know the same. It is here, now, now while we have breath that our work is to be done. And that work is to set the table, to leave clues, to live so that stories of our days outlast our days. Not for immortality's sake, but for the comfort it may bring to those who stay behind, the solace our effort might bring those we could never know. It is kindness, generosity, courage and the strength to choose such a life.
* * *
There is no promise made to any life. There is no guarantor of happiness, wealth, love, peace. None. It is up to each life to sort through what is at hand to craft a life. Some lives are a torment throughout. Others run in a greased groove. What is essential regardless of what is suffered, is how it is engaged. We retain, in all circumstances, the freedom to choose how we will undergo the life we have, the life we create, the life we live. In that freedom lies the seed of all wisdom: our lives are not solely for ourselves, but are part of other lives - present, past, future. What we choose we change by the choosing. This, too, is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. To live with that forward in the mind changes the things you say and do. It makes you kinder, gentler than you might otherwise be.
But don't fall into the trap of perfection. Such a thing is bloodless and nothing to aspire to. No, it is precisely because we are fallible, imperfect, often inconsistent, forgetful, fearful that these choices have the power to encourage and embolden others to live closer to the bone. Imperfect is within reach. Never forget that.
* * *
Our work is to be free and act like it. Those acts hold the possibility of touching other lives. What message you send is entirely yours to choose. It can be for good. It can be for ill. Your call. It does not matter how many know your story, know parts of the story. Again, your story may be one that encourages by example; it may encourage by rejecting your example. Your call. Your freedom.
I will venture this, promise this: if you find your way to some place where your fevers have cooled, your anger quieted, your hurt healed, you cannot help but be generous to others for you will have passed through the fire they are walking through. Buddhas are perfect - fuck that. Bodhisattvas reject perfection in order to stay close to those in need. They stay because of compassion. They stay because they know much it can hurt to be stumbling and they choose, from the well of their being, to lend a hand.
This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible: happiness ensues when you give your live to a cause other than your own.
* * *
May your well run deep.