The past week has been one of great contemplation about how to make a profit and what constitutes success, which is amazing because it seems like I didn’t have time to breathe. We had two rounds of snow, I had six emergencies, several surprise deadlines and the little ass was in high gear. A bird person suggested that I get more toys of the foraging type and rotate them around the cage to keep the little sh*t busy. The finch cage now looks like a carnival.
|you get the idea|
The good news is that not only did he calm down, but the shyer ones started to come out more and forage around on these bizarre little perches covered in festive paper and little bits of string. The cat has taken to sleeping on her back beneath the cage, which is a level of cat language I can’t even guess the meaning of. The thing that worries me is that while shopping for anti-bullying devices for finches, I came across Clyde. Clyde is a sunburst Conure who is “shy, but curious and friendly.” I spent some time with Clyde and briefly fantasized about justifying adding Clyde to the household when I pulled myself up short and asked, “Hell is with this bird thing?”
The fish are business. I run a Zen center and they are calming. I have always loved dogs and cats, cats slightly more although the mad kitten has been giving that preference a run for its money for years. Much as I love dogs, they are very similar to having a child and having both raised a child and had a dog for over 12 years; I think I am done with that. Living with a cat is like living with a little alien. Dogs know you are not a dog. Cats can’t tell the difference and just think you are stupid as all get out. But birds? The bird thing has been growing over the past few years and has hit full on in recent months (witness the finches). Now I look at a bird like Clyde and my first thought is – yes.
I looked up the general meaning of birds and was surprised to find out that the association with freedom and so on is minimal. They are considered to embody the characteristics of the divine and to represent rebirth, re-newed life and hope for the future. Now, my growing bird fetish begins to make sense. They are also supposed to be messengers from what it is that cannot be seen.
So I am living with a pocket full of futures and trying to live up to it. In the past week, much of my work and discussion has revolved around:
· Whether or not compassion and love are compatible
· The importance of meaningful work
· The misperception of balance in modern life as meaning one does not participate in meaningful work when one has time to devote to it
· How one defines success
· How one creates a profit that is compatible with the idea of meaningful work
It is interesting to me to watch two opposites pull at each other in what people are looking for in relationships – they want someone with a passion, but prefer someone who is not passionate about their passion. Somehow, the notion of relaxation has evolved into a state of apathy and passivity. When you consider that activity and mental engagement create healthier states of mind and body; it makes one wonder where the idea of “doing nothing” being rejuvenating came from.
Many of the people who come to me for help in trying to change their lives have habits that only appear at night and on the weekends. It is easy to spot that these are times that in the name of relaxation and balance they engage in intensely passive and boring behaviors. The statement of “boring” is not judgmental; it is based in a certain fact about our brain. If our brain can process 25,000 words (written or spoken) a minute and we read about 300 a minute or speak about 150 words a minute; watching TV or a movie is going to bore the bejeesus out of you without you realizing it. It is why reading is a much more engaging pastime because your brain can be busy taking in words, building full images and making connections to memory, sounds and smell while also applying what you are reading about to other issues. It is also why walking in mostly silence with someone can be more rejuvenating and create a greater feeling of intimacy then hanging out and talking non-stop with them. If you are too focused on the conversation, there is no conversation interesting enough to keep your mind occupied. It is why meditative practices can be so centering, by sitting and opening your mind – you let your brain engage itself as much as possible – which feels better than following you around like my cat follows me and wondering how it is possible I have lasted so long given that I just don’t seem to get it.
All of this plays into the idea of how to make a profit based upon what you decide is success. GK Chesterton pointed out that with the dawn of industrialization; the privileged classes began to determine what success was for all. Everyone needed housing. Yes, they do. But what everyone needs is housing that they have claimed as a home. A bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath do not make a home. The sensation that your home equals what you value and matches where you are on your determined path of success is more important to the psyche than a generic box to provide one with shelter. Chesterton warned about trying to equalize notions of success because it would eventual destroy innovation, integrity, accountability and the drive to take responsibility. You can see why he is one of my favorite authors.
In Buddhism, there is a constant reiteration about getting rid of desire and being content with where you are now. Nowhere does it admonish not to move forward and build for the future, but it cautions against seeking success for the sake of success or comfort’s sake. Without meaningful purpose behind the success, it becomes empty and eventually turns on the person in the form of illness, disorder and addiction. In fact, complacency and apathy is seen as an even bigger evil than the pursuit of desire.
Lao Tzu said that a scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar. Therein lies the definition of profit and success. What is the profit for a scholar? Recognition or knowledge? What is the basis for their success? If they strive to be recognized then they are falling into a love of comfort, if recognition comes from effort to gain knowledge and to share it for benefit of others – that is success. What is benefit to others? This is tricky. What is of benefit to others is what is of service to them and that is determined by the other, not the author. The modern world has reversed that order and tries to “help” people by pre-determining what their problem is and what the help should be. This negates the validity of the person, their life and their goals.
Success is defined by many things. Yes, it does include the ability to pay your bills and not worry about food and shelter but it is more defined by the ability to be fully present in life. Profit is that which success provides that allows one to continue to move forward with success. There is no profit and no success in apathy, complacency or passivity. One moment of that can undo months of passionate effort. That is not to say that you have to be full out in one way all the time, but care must be taken to make sure you are not wasting time when you are nourishing and replenishing your resources. Modern people are great time wasters.
When you waste time, you waste life.
When you waste life, you live with regret.
When you live with regret, you lose the chance to see the future in such shared symbols as a shy bird with large eyes, or a person who has an idea, or the potential represented by someone who comes into your life who doesn’t immediately fit into a slot to define what your relationship will be.
To live without regret is to know that you were fully engaged and that you tried. Having failed or succeeded, you continue to examine your life to learn how to incorporate the experience and knowledge into something new that will benefit you and others as well, should it be what they are looking for.