Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Born to it, I deeply suspect.

One of those people who say stuff that ends up being quoted in desk calendars and shared as inspirational Facebook stati (I've decided to use the short form of the plural for 'status' there, see how many letters I saved?) said something once that went a bit like this:  Do the thing you love most, fully, and you'll never have to work a day in your life.

At some point, most of us find ourselves asking a version of one of those Big Questions about what we're 'meant' to be doing here, what it's all for ... I'm thinking of the "what do I want to do with my life" variant here.  I received some wisdom late in life that illustrated to me that I, along with most people in my culture at least, had fallen for the myth of predestined inspiration.  That there was a 'something' that you'd find, a career path, or a certain way of expressing art, or something, which was innate - and which, once found, would provide some magical wellspring of motivational energy and force and transform you into a driven, productive, purposeful and happy person, living out the fulfilling life "that you were meant to live".

It's a crock, as a universal truth though, innit?  For most of us, happily, we are not so embound as to have some early-imprint narrow path carved into our karmic talisman, the pursuit of which becomes a life's consuming work.  Who am I to judge anyway?  Whether that is fortunate or unfortunate, I mean - if it makes you happy, then it does; end of.  The truth for most of us is somewhat different however, and we find that motivation to 'do' things is actually a skill we need to learn, to grow and develop as we go along, and it's especially obvious in our society of incredible affluence, where we have choices abounding beyond the requirements of sheer survival.

Today, as often happens, someone did me a great kindness (thank you Joe) and I was moved to write him a little thank-you for their presence in the world, as he is Good For Us in the way he does his thing.  I threw in that platitude about doing the thing you love, for it seems he's doing it now, and it's been really gratifying to see someone have the courage and do the work to overcome all sorts of life obstacles and internal machinery set up to block their path; to see them succeed in finding the voice that speaks their own power, and which sustains both them and, through its honesty and creativity, all of us.

Then suddenly I looked at myself and saw that, in a weird, weird way, in a very deep and 'karmic' (for want of a less cheeseclothy term) way, I'm doing what I love too.

By being sick, and dying of it.

Look, it's not exactly news to me either, but I did see it fleetingly in a new and sparkly light.  I shall explain.

I got born with something already in place, I suspect.  If not, then various accidents of Fate produced in me a very good semblance of some karmic deal (there I go again with the hippy word, but it fits) and which is no less real to me however you want to reduce its origins in your theories of existence.

There's a school of reincarnative thought that tells us we live many lives, and in each life we have a lesson to teach, and a lesson to learn, and we reincarnate through a set of such lessons more or less randomly, occasionally 'succeeding' in learning and/or teaching a lesson sufficiently well to blank it off our karmic slate.  I don't go for the exact details of this arrangement, but broadly speaking, it's a metaphor that has some resonance for me.  These 'lessons' can be seen as the foundation stones, or stories, beneath that thing we often seek that is the 'thing we are meant to do' in life.  And to me now, it does rather seem that 'die this way' is a thing I am meant to do.

Or less dramatically and perhaps more accurately, I can say to you honestly that it has become a thing I truly love.  I do, I truly do love this whole process now; the suffering, the periodic relief, the knowledge, the wisdom, the ignorance, the doubts and uncertainties, the fears and loathings, the light of sharing and the darkness of self-protective hiding.  It's not so much that it has just become so familiar as to be a contemptible 'comfort zone' but rather has found its place as an actual vocation.

Dying is a thing I'm actually working at, and working at doing well.  And it's really cool, because the way to die well is to live well along the way.  Like everything else Zen, it works in a mirror too.

Early clue:  I used to really love funerals as a child.  My mother used to organise the roster for the altar boys in our local church, so naturally I got the plum jobs (and was trusted to handle them I guess) like funerals, which got me out of maths class or whatever for an hour or so.  More than that though, I always felt very much at ease around death, the dying, and the bereaved.

Later clue: 18 years old or so, entirely unsure 'what I was meant to be doing' and just randomly floating along landed me a job as a hospital orderly at Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital, where - due in large part to the superstitions and cultural sensitivities of most of the other orderlies - it worked out that maybe half of my job would be working in the astonishingly busy morgue with Weird Earl.  I'll say this for Earl, he was organised, and neat.  He kept his Penthouse magazines in date order in the bottom drawer of his desk, and was fine for you to 'use' them whenever as long as you didn't crinkle the pages and put them back in date order. This oddness in the middle of the main morgue floor didn't strike me as out of place at all; analogs of sex and realities of death right there next to each other.  I found the morgue work really peaceful and nice, actually, even the 'gross' stuff.

Later clue: decided to seek work in funeral homes, but discovered quickly it was a) incredibly poorly remunerated and b) pretty much sown up by family ties.

Early clue: when my mother was first diagnosed with a malignant cancer, I found myself confusingly split between a calm coping compassion and envy.  I envied her the closeness to death.  For a long time I thought I envied her being the necessary centre of attention, you know, that power of martyrdom where the one who suffers the most gets the lion's share of authority and urgency in the room.  Then she had the gall to do it *again*, years later. But it was the proximity to mortality I envied, really.  The sharp relief of life against its immanent absence.

You'd think, then, with all this awareness, that I wouldn't actually have to go through all this illness and stuff.  But it's the deal, you have to live stuff for it to be real, you can't just go all Cartesian and do it in your head.  Plus, the ways and flavours of my illness tell a story of the other part of the lesson duality.

One of these things I am here to teach.  The other I am here to learn.  And I can have no way of knowing which is which, but that they are a pair, I feel sure.  The dying part, and the illness part.

The manner of my illness also tells of my karma.  The oppression of the restricted movement, the slow compression of the body and the shrinking size of my physical effectiveness in the world.  The way certain senses are rendered less, all the flavours and quirks are telling, for sure.  That's all fodder for another story though.

What I'm here to share today is that somehow, I've come to live my life well, and the irony that it took an impossible prognosis, an entirely uncertain and indefinable future projection but one whose direction and destination is nonetheless all to patently clear, is delightful to me.  That some sense of certainty in life should come from my acceptance of uncertainty in its continuance and the embracing of inescapable doubt over the circumstances of its ending is wonderful to me now.  Now that the pathos has well and truly worn itself out, anyway.

If it is that I am born to teach something about this, then I hope I do a decent job of it,even if it's only me that I teach well.  If it is rather that I am born to learn this thing, I trust I am being a diligent pupil.

As to the question of whether it's 'meant' to be; whether it's karmic, or whether it's just an adaptation I have made to a situation I found myself randomly in ... well, it just doesn't matter, does it, the 'reality' of that answer?

My deepest gratitude in all of this though is for your company along the way, dear reader, for without the mirror of your singular, unique humanity, it would all be just that bit less piquant and potent, this whole life thing.  I'm so glad we're here, together, in this moment.

Thanks to all those who contribute materially also; this is every bit as great a gift as your taking the minute to reflect life back my way by reading this.  Humbly, deeply, thank you.


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