Looking back at the postings on this blog, the anthropopper must ruefully admit that he takes life a little too seriously at times. This po-faced quality is one of the things I would most like to change about Me. Lighten up, I tell myself, but my default personality position seems to be set at Earnest & Responsible and this is what keeps the Inner Scintillating Me from coming to the fore. I spot my Earnest & Responsible side coming out in all sorts of circumstances and situations. As an example, a song by the late Prince Buster came on the radio and, listening to the lyrics, I found myself feeling just a tad disapproving of the sentiments expressed:
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by as quickly as you wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!
Life is not about enjoyment, I thought, although joy can be part of the story. Nor is the implication that we have just the one life a sound concept on which to base one’s actions. No, life is about discovering and fulfilling as far as possible your purpose for this lifetime. It’s about opportunities to burn off some of your bad karma and wherever you can, helping to build up some good karma for future lifetimes through behaving with kindness and unselfishness to those whose karmic paths cross with yours. Hedonism and living for the moment, I told myself, are not compatible with Taking Responsibility for One’s Soul Development.
Well, I’m sure you can tell from this that I’m hopelessly inept at letting my hair down and having a good time; but then I started to wonder whether my default personality position has been reinforced by my interest in anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner, after all, frequently tells his followers to become aware of the seriousness of our age – “serious” and “earnest” are two words that I always associate with him.
There’s no doubt, of course, that more than ever we do indeed live in serious and challenging times – so is it frivolous and trivial actively to seek enjoyment in life? “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sort of thing? I’ve just seen an interview with the Buddhist Pema Chödrön, who was interviewed at her home, Gampo Abbey, in Nova Scotia:
Melvin McLeod: I notice there’s a sign in the entrance to Gampo Abbey that says “Enjoy Your Life.” We don’t usually think of that as a spiritual teaching, but as we noted in a recent issue of Lion’s Roar, enjoying your life is really a transformative practice. But it’s hard for many of us to do.
Pema Chödrön: It’s a great sign to have in a Buddhist monastery. Right away, it presents a paradox: Aren’t you here to escape all that hedonism? Aren’t you here not to seek enjoyment from outer things?
The answer is yes, that is why you’re here. So in that case, what does “enjoy your life” mean, if it doesn’t mean getting your pleasure and sense of wellbeing from external things, including people and relationships as well as material goods?
You know who said it best? Leonard Cohen. He meditated all those years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, often for twelve hours at a time. In an interview, he said his storyline just wore itself out. He got so bored with his dramatic storyline. And then he made the comment, “The less there was of me, the happier I got.”
That’s the answer to how to enjoy your life. It’s to show up and have a sense of curiosity about whatever might appear that day, including it all in your sense of appreciation of this precious human birth, which is so short. I don’t want to call it delight, although it can feel like that. It’s more curiosity. Some people say, I know what’s going to show up today—the same old thing. But it’s never really the same old thing. Even in Groundhog Day, every day was a different experience for Phil, until finally he learned that caring about people was the answer.
This is actually a big point, because the less there is of you, the more you’re interested in and curious about other people. Who you live with and who you rub up against and who you share this world with is a very important part of enjoying your life.
Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but this is the other view of that. When people irritate you, when they get your goat, when they slander you, whatever it might be, you still have a relationship with them. It’s interesting that of all the billions of people on the earth, they’re the particular ones who came into your world. There’s respect for whatever happens, and this is only really possible if you’re not rejecting whole parts of your experience.”
Well, I can go along with that. Caring about people is the answer for anyone who has a problem in enjoying life. Rudolf Steiner, of course knew all of this and in ways far more profound than I will ever know, but I can’t help thinking a disrespectful thought: that he might have enjoyed life more (and lived longer) if he hadn’t taken life quite so seriously. Our karma determines the way our life unfolds, and enjoyment of it is usually not the point. But was it really essential for Steiner to work himself into the ground and wreck his health for the sake of his mission – which in any case it seems all too likely he didn’t manage to complete. Is there a lesson there for me? After all, each one of us has got more than just this present incarnation to get things right – or is that a cop-out?