Inner Music For A Life Well Spent
Today we’re looking at the last of 5 desired outcomes for a life that loves to happen. And this one has to do with how we’re spending our time.
Sometimes, even a very busy, hard-working person will look back and wonder, did I spend my time on the right things? Every day I give away another day; what am I giving it to? Is it worth it? Has it been a life well spent?
The poets tell us about some inner music that helps us achieve the life well spent. It’s compassion. Meister Eckhart writes, in a poem titled, So Fragile As We Grow:
The heart only reflects the sky when it is giving and compassionate.
Who would want to stand before a mirror that was shattered,
and thus distorts our beauty; an oasis for all life
the soul becomes when it is unveiled.
Compassion is about opening up, becoming a bigger person, he says. It’s about making the heart more open, like the sky. But it starts with how I look in the mirror.
If I don’t accept myself, then I might not be accepting of others. If I’m not forgiving toward myself, I might not be forgiving toward others. If I’m not compassionate toward myself, I might not be toward others. And that, Eckhart says, shatters my image of myself and “distorts our beauty.”
Personally, I need this reminder from Marion Parker: “Be kind—everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” It’s so easy to take others for granted. But compassion is about getting all worked up inside over someone, and then doing something about it.
An interviewer said to Mother Theresa, “You’ve done so much for others, is there anything we can do to help? Do you need money?” She said, “No, we’re fine.” “But is there anything we can do?” She said, “Well, you might find someone who needs a friend and be a friend to them.”
I read of a man who decided to regard himself as a one-person charitable institution. So he went through life giving away gifts of kindness, true listening, laughter, sharing tears, giving encouragement. And, really, it takes so little time to do that—sometimes, only a moment. It’s about cultivating a listening, compassionate heart.
And as we work on that, Eckhart says, we grow into a person who can be an oasis to someone who has been through the deserts of life. “Oasis,” what a beautiful description of a human being: someone who can be a refreshing presence.
So the cultivation of compassion will help us stand at the end and say, “Yes, there was a lot of busyness, but I made time to be there when it counted. Mine was a life well spent.”
“Eternal Delight” And The Life Well Lived
One thing’s for sure: no one gets to the end of their life and says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
So our third wished-for outcome in life is to have a life well lived, a life that has a balance of work and love, a balance of tears and laughter. It’s a life that lets me look back and say, “Maybe I did some dumb things, maybe there were things I wish had never happened. But let me tell you, in spite of all, mine has been a life well lived.”
And what’s the inner resource that helps us achieve that? It’s something we talk a lot about in these posts: joy. I believe that joy is just so basic to life. Not joy as a frill, but joy as the purpose of work, the purpose of relationships, the purpose of life. (Can you think of a better purpose?)
A few months ago we looked at Hafiz’s poem, Cast All Your Votes For Dancing, and I want to repeat a couple of lines:
Keep squeezing drops of the Sun from your prayers and work and music
And from your companion’s beautiful laughter…
Hafiz is suggesting that joy is as organic to your day’s experience as sweetness is to an orange. Joy is built-in to life. So how much joy can you squeeze from the day’s experiences? How much zest and humor and playfulness can you find in the day?
Joy is not beside the point; it is the point. Joy is not frivolous, it is immensely practical.
In his book, The Inner Life of Business, Timothy Gallwey writes about a sales manager in a big corporation who told his sales team: “This quarter, we’re not going to talk about sales quotas, sales goals, etc. Instead, whenever we have our meetings, we’re only going to discuss one thing: how to make our work more enjoyable.”
So that’s what they did. At the end of the quarter, this team beat all the other sales teams in the number of sales. And they did it making fewer sales calls and with less paperwork.
The poet Blake said: “Energy is eternal delight.” The student who enjoys studying, the teacher who enjoys teaching, the person who likes a challenge and embraces problems, the person who enjoys people—these people will have extra resources of energy.
The artist Marc Chagall said, “The love of life is necessary to do good work.” Likewise, joy helps us do everything we do…better. It even helps us deal with stress and problems and failures better. Joy doesn’t guarantee there’ll be no pain and tragedies, of course. But if we’ve lived for years with joy as our purpose, we’ll weather these better.
Joy is the resource we can tap into that helps us have a life well lived.
The Surprising Secret For a Life Well Loved
We’re exploring a vision for life suggested by the mystic poets—a vision that includes five outcomes we would wish for in life. Last week we looked at the wish for a life well liberated, a life that breaks out of the cages that can keep us from living.
Today, we’re thinking about the life well loved. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if, at the end of life, you could look out and see all these people that love you? It’s all there in that moment. But it doesn’t just happen automatically, does it?
So what is the inner resource, the inner music of the soul that helps us achieve that? I think this one might surprise you. Francis of Assisi writes:
“Tell me about your heart,” my every word says,
Speak to me as if we both lay wounded in a field and are
Gazing in wonder as our spirits rise.
And one of Shakespeare’s sonnets that ends with these lines:
This thou knowest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must lose ere long.
They are pointing to what we’ll call transitoriness, which is the positive, creative use of the fact that we know our life will end.
Here’s the message: If you forget that one day y0u’re going to leave here, you’ll begin thinking there’s something more important in this world than love. But if you won’t forget the end—not today, not tomorrow, and not next year—then you will never, ever make the mistake of believing that there is anything in this world greater than love.
John Gunther was a travel writer in the 1940s; he and his wife had a son who at 15 years old developed a brain tumor. This was a terrific kid: bright, outgoing, wonderful friends. The parents devoted themselves to caring for him; they brought in dozens of doctors, spent their life savings. The boy lived a little more than a year before he died, and then Gunther wrote Death, Be Not Proud, telling the story. Afterwards, the mother was asked, “If you could do it over, would you do anything differently?” She said, “I would have loved him more.”
Upon the death of his wife, Carlisle wrote in his journal, “Oh, that I had but five minutes more that I might tell her all.”
Isn’t it amazing what death puts into perspective? How it shrinks down problems? Problems have a way of getting bigger and bigger, but if we just remember our end, it helps us keep things in their proper perspective. People who’ve lost a child don’t think about how messy the kid’s room was.
The poets are reminding us: You’re going to pass, so instead of fearing and denying, why not use that knowledge to help you remember how important love is. (Personally, I need that reminder. I guess we all do.)
“Oh, that I had but five minutes more, that I might tell her all.”
Today, we have that five minutes. Find someone you care about and look them in the eye, look at them in a way that makes time stand still. And tell them all.
Keeping “Your Wondrous Spirit” Out of Prison
Last week we looked at an unusual wish list: 5 outcomes we would most wish for in life—5 things we would really want to be able to say about our lives as we come down to our final chapter.
Now why on earth should we think about that on a Monday? Because you can count on it: the things you would most wish for then are the things that matter most today.
Here’s the first one: At the end I want to know I’ve had a life well liberated—that I’m a free spirit. I’m not thinking about a tattoo—though that would be fine. I’m thinking about some lines from a poem by Hafiz:
Forget every idea of right and wrong any classroom ever taught you
Because an empty heart, a tormented mind, unkindness, jealousy and fear
Are always the testimony you have been completely fooled!
Turn your back on those who would imprison your wondrous spirit…
He’s saying your spirit is a wondrous thing, but it doesn’t do well in prison. It needs to soar!
He’s right: it’s an awful thing to be a prisoner of something else—to live for years as a prisoner of fear, or a prisoner of failure, or a prisoner of selfishness or cynicism. Or maybe it’s something really bad that happened to you—something that never should have happened. But it has dominated you and kept you from living.
I’ve done some bouts with some of those, and it’s no way to live. We’re meant to be free. Unfortunately, we don’t learn that kind of freedom in school! A person can get straight As and read a thousand books and follow the rules…and still have an empty heart.
We need a different kind of classroom—one that keeps our spirits free and our hearts full. We need something a little deeper than school learning. We need wisdom.
Thoreau, wrote: “Not by constraint, not by severity shall you have access to wisdom but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness.” Now that’s the school we need!
He’s saying, if you’re going to tap into the wisdom that keeps your spirit free, you’ll have to have some fun with it! And is there anything more free than a child having fun? I watch them, and I’m amazed at the things they figure out.
And we have that child—that wisdom—in us. We can tap into that “childlike mirthfulness,” we can bring a spirit of playfulness to work, to relationships, to everyday moments, even to dealing with problems. We can bring a spirit of abandonment—turning loose of the things that would trap us, keeping our hearts light, and giving our whole self to whatever we do. And the more we do, the freer we’ll be.
You may need to create some quiet space where you can access that wisdom. But the wisdom is there, it’s in you. It always has been.
And at the end, how good to be able to say, “Yes, I got trapped a few times, but I always found a way to break out and live! I’ve had a life well liberated. I am a free spirit.”
Tattoo or not.
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Welcome to The Living Conversation
The 13th Century poet Rumi believed that a good model for your inner life is: “a conversation”.
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