It always seems to start about 2 weeks or so before a birthday that has at least the number 4 as the first number.
Is my life worth it? Have I really accomplished anything? Am I making any difference?
These are typically spoken more as declarative statements versus questions. A bit of desperation blended with a dash of self-loathing are the ingredients in this amalgamation disguised as questions. The more the question is asked, the fewer the answers come forth and the darker the feelings get.
This was the conversation I had with my wife whose birthday’s is all of 10 days away. Fortunately I still had a solid 5 months until my 49th rolled around so I viewed this as a preview of upcoming attractions as well as a practice run of sorts.
The question was one I certainly asked last year. . . and the year before. . .and the one before that. You get the picture.
Since I was not quite as emotionally attached yet, that gap allowed for Inspiration to seep through the cracks in my pseudo-questions. Ten years ago, I was treating people – helping other people who were sick or in pain, in one form or another. Yes, then I was making a difference. That was noble work.
But now, I just write and work on the computer primarily. Yes, I do get the semi-regular health question which I address. I do teach, using martial arts as a platform for life lessons, but none of this seemed worthwhile compared to what I used to do.
None of this was worthwhile compared to what others were doing. Some were protecting our country, ensuring we have the freedoms to ponder and write about questions like these. Others were in hospitals or hospices, helping the sick or dying. They are making a difference. I am making a living.
Free time? I do marathons and sword training. My neighbor goes to Thailand and passes out water filters in his free time. Am I making any difference?
Seek out a question with a pure heart and the determination of a pit bull and answers will come forth. Other times, being in a state of allowing and openness does the trick. Today was the latter.
My book from Amazon arrived, entitled “Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of a Zen Master” by Dogen. A quick scan through the book and I was very excited to read it. It had the feel of “right book/right moment.” Little did I know. . . .
Still obsessing over the “making any difference” question while simultaneously flipping the pages of the book, I glanced over and read one of the paragraphs. In summary, it said that regarding anything whatsoever as more important, more valuable or worthy of more respect compared to anything else is deeply erroneous.
I watched my wife compliment the waitress at the restaurant today about her smile. I never saw anyone so happy to hear something. A simple comment and one person beamed like a brilliant star in the dark night, while I was reminded how powerful words are. Even simple compliments. This may not have qualified as successful emergency surgery or saving someone’s life, but who is to say that such acts are not just as valuable.
Maybe it is not my life. Maybe it is just the act of comparison that is the problem.
I realize you don’t have to invent a better lawnmower or jump on a grenade to save the unit, for your life to matter. What you are doing now matters, regardless of the activity. As long as you are participating in life and moving forward, you are making a difference.
Are you happy? Are you living with passion? Are the people around you better because you are in their life? If so, your life is worthwhile. If not, your life is still worthwhile. You’ll just feel a lot better about it if you starting living a passionate, participatory one.
This may be the best birthday gift anyone has ever received.
Dr. David Orman is the founder of AnOrdinaryBuddha.com. He can also be reached at DocWellnessSite.com.