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.
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.
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.
The sages of the ages say that two things are required for the dance of a life that loves to happen. First, a vision.
A few years ago, I stood in the Galleriea dell’Academia in Florence looking up at Michelangelo’s powerful, seventeen-foot sculpture of David, amazed that he could create such a beautiful, lifelike work of art from a block of marble.
Before he started, Michelangelo spent weeks drawing David from every possible angle. He wanted a clear vision of the desired outcome before he ever put chisel to marble.
In his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says that one of those habits is: Begin with the end in mind. Michelangelo certainly did that!
I can see how helpful such a vision could be for many endeavors. If you’re clear about the desired outcome, you can move ahead in confidence. But what about for a life?
Do you have a vision for how you want your life to come out? I confess, I spent years not thinking much about that. Or thinking only vaguely. Too busy running to think about where I was going, I suppose.
So let me share 5 desired outcomes that help me think about a vision for my own life. These are challenging in a good way; I think most would wish for these.
A Life Well Loved. When we come down to the end, wouldn’t we all want to be surrounded by people who loved us, people we loved? That’s all there is in that moment, isn’t there? Knowing that tells us how important it is to love genuinely and freely today.
A Life Well Lived. At the end, we’ll never say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” We want a balance of work and love, a balance of tears and laughter. We want to come down to the end able to say, “Yes, I messed up a lot but mine was a life well lived.”
A Life Well Liberated. Blake talked about the “mind-forged manacles” that keep us from living. We can be imprisoned by fears, by failures, by habit, by bitterness, etc. But at the end, I think we would all want to be able to say, “I may have fallen into some traps, but I found a way to break free and live. Mine is a life well liberated.”
A Life Well Fought. There are plenty of battles in life. And sometimes we wish we could just crawl under the covers and never come out. But at the end, we want to know that we stood up to the trouble, that we can say, “Mine was a life well fought.”
A Life Well Spent. How am I spending my time? Is it worth it? I want to come to the end knowing I took time to listen, to encourage, to share laughter—that I gave of myself each day. I want to know that mine was a life overflowing, a life well spent.
Look, do we believe there is something extraordinary about being a human being? And don’t you deserve to be able to say at the end, “Boy, what a life!”? I think we all do.
Over the next few weeks we’ll explore what the mystic poets say about these 5 desired outcomes—and how they can guide us. We’ll also look at 5 timeless inner resources we can tap into to help us achieve these outcomes. (That’s the second requirement.)
A vision to guide us. Inner resources to keep us dancing. Together, these can help us make our life a work of art.