Sunday, July 8, 2007

Market Place Monk

There was a time when I placed my worth out outward achievements. I had a burning desire to do more and leave behind an impressive resume. Many of my efforts through the years have been thwarted by illness. I never graduated college. I have never been completely financially independent. There are countless projects that I have started and never finished. By many standards, my life has not been a success. This reality has made me feel ashamed at times and has greatly affected my self-esteem.

Example 1:

After my second transplant, I was working to find my place in the world. I was interested in veterinary medicine and took a job assisting a mobile veterinarian. Things started out well but quickly deteriorated. It is my belief that once he discovered I was not interested in being his lover, he began to lash out and try different tactics to get rid of me. One of his tactics proved to be unbelievably effective.

For reasons unknown, he had been angry with me all day. Out of the blue, he started interrogating me about my life. I relayed some of my history: both work and health related. He drilled down harder and harder, pressing me to lay out my “accomplishments”. The difficult truth was that there were few that were in any way measurable. He concluded our talk with a sentence I will never forget: “So what you’re telling me is that the only thing you’ve been able to achieve in your life is to survive.” A cold way of putting it but, at the time, I could only agree.

I left his van that day very broken. Out of his spite and unkindness he had spoken the words I never dare speak to myself. He had said the thing that I always imagined people secretly thought about me. My life had been a waste. I was devastated.

He had successfully gotten me to quit working for him. It is rumored that he now has a young assistant willing to oblige him in the ways I had refused.

Example 2:

When I was dying, there was not much left of my life. I had no job and not much of a social life. At first, I was very concerned that I was not contributing to the world. I had no purpose.

In time, my perspective changed. I saw the world around me with new eyes. Watching those I love run around chasing balls for a job they hated seemed so futile. Seeing those before me hate themselves for reasons unclear to anyone else seemed tragic. Witnessing people value their money more than their souls seemed ludicrous. I was living in a different dimension in which inner peace trumped all other earthly goals.

I had reached a level of living similar to monks in a monastery. I saw only the preciousness of life and wished that others would do the same. I was no longer concerned with who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. My purpose became to be the best human I could be and I enjoyed exploring my internal playground. My contribution to the world, it seemed, was to be and what I did meant little to nothing.

The Verdict:

The dying process has proved to be an extraordinary teacher on the value of being rather than doing. What I have found, however, is that there is value in living both ways.

While there was great peace in being a monastery monk, striving only to be, that existence is hardly sustainable once one leaves the confines of the monastery walls. Once I was well again, I was back in the marketplace, working for money to live, shopping for that which I required and living an altogether more complex daily life.

I have been tempted to find more value in the world of the monastery monk. It seems more admirable and closer to God. However, as I walk through the marketplace I have things that I want to do to improve the world. I have things I desire to do to make an impact. There is value in this as well.

Success is not easily definable. It can be found inside and out. While I am able bodied, I will try to carry with me the lessons I learned in the monastery and use them to the greatest benefit of my marketplace.

1 comment:

Midlife Midwife said...

I find it interesting to read people's near death experiences (people who had died and were resusciated or brought back). None of them come back saying that their careers or educational accomplishments were looked at in their life review. They all say that what mattered the most was their relationships with people. Their ability to love someone else was the most important accomplishment in their lives. Kind of puts the rest of the stuff we measure ourselves with (job, money, prestige) in a whole different light.