From the song, “When I’m 64”, by the Beatles.
Ah, the Beatles, maybe they are to blame. My parents warned me about them. A friend of mine once asked me if I ever wondered, just before I went to sleep at night, if I would be alive the next morning. That conversation led to the development of a workshop he and I created on mortality. I told him a more pressing question for me was what value do I have if I can’t do anything?
I mean literally, what if all I can do is breathe and have some kind of consciousness? What if I get to a place where I can’t hear, see, talk, touch; respond in any way? How do I make peace with the knowledge that all I will be doing is taking up space, burning up precious resources, be a total burden, no longer contributing to anyone’s life in any positive way?
The question and the long sought-after answer has been dogging me for decades. I remember when I was telling a friend about it and he said, “Just go buy a hardware store.” I suggested that I would still be DOING something. He didn’t get it. A few do.
I believe I come by this question legitimately. (The Beatles MAY have implanted that thought, but I don’t think so). As a little boy and as I grew into adulthood, I watched what happened to men when they could no longer “do”. It wasn’t pretty. It seemed as if people around them began “putting up with” them. I didn’t like what I saw and took away the message that “if you can no longer offer anything of value, you become a liability and are no longer an asset.” Rocket fuel for those of us prone to workaholism. (I’ll write about that more when I have time).
I think our Western culture feeds that belief. I have spoken before of cultures I have visited where the older the person is, the higher esteem they hold. Not so much in the dominate culture I live in.
Over the years, I have learned that my mere presence, for those closest to me was enough. Just my witnessing their lives was good enough, they needed no more from me. That was a big lesson. A huge relief. But what if I couldn’t even do that? The unanswered question. That is until last month.
We were doing our yearly “Ultimate Listening” workshop in Kauai. When we do these workshops, I try to bring some of the local culture and history into what we do. We were at a special place on Kauai called the Lawaii International Center.
In the late 1800’s – early 1900’s, young men came from Japan to work the sugar and pineapple plantations. Since they had left home and everything they had known, they recreated, in miniature form, a spiritual journey practiced in Japan; the 1000 mile, Shitoku pilgrimage that they might have undertaken had they stayed in Japan. On the side of a hill they created miniature versions of 88 sacred sites and shrines and a ¼ mile pathway up and down a hillside. This is reminiscent of the pilgrimage’s multitudes who have taken to the Spanish Camino de Santiago, Mecca, Jerusalem, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, etc.
Toglen is a Tibetan meditative/contemplative practice that was the inspiration for the exercise I suggested to the group. They were invited to silently walk the path, stopping at each of the shrines and taking in a breath. On this in-breath, there were to imagine inhaling negative energy (pain, sadness, confusion, hurt, etc.) and converting it into its counter-part. On the out-breath, they would be exhaling the once negative energy that had been converted to positive energy; sending that energy out into the world as a gift. It could be their own or someone else’s, or the world’s pain, for example, that they would turn into release; sadness into joy; confusion into knowing, hurt into healing. The suggestion was to do this as they stood in front of each of the 88 shrines leaving a token that would represent their “gift.”
It might seem silly to some, but I must believe that when I breathe in negative energy and don’t change it, I am just adding to the negative energy in the world as I let it go back out. I believe that people can see it, feel it, hear it and are affected by it. Why wouldn’t they then be affected by my taking in the negative, transforming it, and silently sending positive energy into the world. Since then, at various times I have found myself doing this as I have been driving or walking. I like the feeling of “doing something.”
It was during that walk that I found my answer to the question, what do I have to offer the world if I have nothing to offer? As long as I have breath and consciousness I can “do” that. Breathe in negative energy, transform it into positive energy, and send that positive energy out into the universe. If I haven’t breath or consciousness, I won’t be worrying about that.
Is this something you’ve pondered? If so, what’s your answer?