In my last post, I wrote about growing up with a fear of having a mid-life crisis. This fear, and repeated viewings of Dead Poet’s Society (“Carpe Diem!”), instilled in me a stubborn insistence on leading an examined, purposeful life. I could die any day – any moment – and so what I did with my time mattered very much. I would take nothing for granted. I would infuse my life with meaning – align my work and life with my values, pursue my dreams, and (as Henry David Thoreau entreatied) “live the life I imagined.”
There’s just one problem: This approach to life, however zestful, is fundamentally based on fear… of emptiness. And life can’t run on fear, just like a car can’t run on fumes.
Writing my last post, and more importantly, reading your responses to that post, really opened my eyes to the flaws in my life philosophy. Maybe that’s why I’ve been quiet these past couple of weeks (well, that, and being insanely busy – but, excuses, excuses); at the risk of hyperbole, I’d say I’ve undergone a major shift in my entire approach to what it means to lead a meaningful life.
And I’ve started taking offense at the barrage of messages I receive every day, imploring me to BE MY BEST SELF. SEIZE THE DAY. LIVE YOUR DREAMS. (Maybe I need to follow some different people on Twitter.) These are great messages, but they require context. Life, I’ve been thinking, isn’t just about this hyper-excited state of pursuing and living dreams. Yes, it’s important to take stock of what you want, and who you want to be, and to hold these intentions inside you – the way you might set an intention for a yoga practice (life is yoga practice, after all). But to dwell on the intention, and the aspiration, without balancing these “mind states” with movement, is to trap yourself in a state of illusion, and cut yourself off from the experience of truly living.
I believe yoga is a template for life. So, let’s say you’re in yoga class, and you try to get into headstand, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll pull it off, or what it will feel like in your body. You notice your reaction. You try another pose – same thing. At the end of the hour, you’ve learned so much more than you would have if you simply sat there, imagining what a wonderful yoga practice might feel like. You’ve moved. You’ve engaged. And you’re different for it.
And if your intention at the start of the hour was to relax – hopefully, that intention guided you to move yourself in a manner that you found relaxing. If your intention was to energize, hopefully you moved through the same poses and felt them in a completely different way. Maybe along the way, you noticed, “Hmm, this kind of pose is very relaxing for me,” or “this pose is very energizing”… so now you have that knowledge, and you can alter your future actions accordingly.
What I’m saying here is more than just, “intention must be paired with action.” I’m also saying (realizing) that action can help you clarify your intentions. You don’t need 100% clarity before you take a step, in order for that step to be purposeful. Moving with uncertainty can lead to clarity. You must have the faith, no matter what, to move.
Stillness matters, too — but as is so often the case in life, balance is key.
At least, that’s what I’m thinking.
What do you think? Do you think your dogged pursuit of a meaningful life gets in the way of actually living a rewarding life? How do you balance intention and action, stillness and movement?