“Dance on the tip of a spear!
Race your horse on the edge of a knife!
The time is now! Accomplish your purpose!
There’s danger of losing your path in the rocks… Strive on the steed of practice!
Eat delicacies to the cackling of the charnel grounds!”
“And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.” — Marcus Aurelius
There’s an old joke: When the Gods wish to punish us, they give us exactly what we’ve always wanted. Ask yourself what you’re after fame? wealth? the perfect man or woman? Now imagine yourself when you get it. What comes next?
The problem, for most of us, lies in the belief that what we want will fill the void. It won’t. There are plenty of miserable rich people, sad and lonely models, self-pitying celebrities and bored titans of industry. They wanted trivial things — and they got them. Now all they can ask is, “Now what?” and “This is it?”
Much of Stoicism has to do with reacting to what comes at us with equanimity and poise. But this, too, is important: Quelling and quieting that voice in your head that becomes seduced by the latest fashions or fads or must-have riches. You don’t need them. More than that, you don’t actually want them.”
Daily Stoic, — Dan Darwin Hutchins
We are each given the tasks of Hercules when we are born. We have decisions to make about how to live, questions we aren’t prepared for. We only know what we should have done afterwards, when we possess the outcome, the lesson. Even learning the correct lesson is fraught. We could easily draw the wrong conclusions from our mistakes, but in fact our mistakes may contain the gold of wisdom gained.
We don’t know enough to live but we forge ahead regardless, making educated guesses and, more often than not, getting ourselves into complicated life situations. Getting out of those situations and saving ourselves from bad decisions is our education in the present lifetime. We face life with what we are given, trying to balance natural energies with circumstance, reacting for or against what’s offered by conditions on the ground. Most of us are schlepping along, hoping not to die before we figure out how to live.
The gods know us better than we know ourselves. They know that we dream of possessing a life full of cliches, of secondhand ambitions fulfilled. We don’t know ourselves well enough to choose well. We keep choosing what we want over what we need.
Helping ourselves starts with inner listening. We have instincts that see farther and sense outcomes better than our capacity for logic. Trusting that kind of knowing that can’t be proved (instinct) is a way of staying close to yourself. Logic is not completely useless but it would do best to wait until instinct has spoken.
The skills for living a life of meaning have more to do with listening and questioning than inculcated certainties do. The world we inhabit is full of mystery and uncertainty. We don’t even know our own expiration dates. We live in a universe of unanswered questions, in a state of not knowing or understanding how we got here and what we’re supposed to be doing. We react by trying to nail down the things we can be sure of.
We don’t have the right to look over at someone else’s life and declare it a failure, but it seems we each have a sense of whether we are living true to our nature or not. Successfully living the life you are meant to live doesn’t equate to the American idea of “success.” It has nothing to do with looking good in the world. It involves engaging with your own fate, whatever that turns out to be. Maybe you could change it, but only if you change your habitual ways of thinking, judging and feeling.
We create the context and tenor of our lives out of what inside us. As we make the path the path makes us.