Saturday, February 9, 2008
Small Wisdoms for Boomers: A List to Live By
I think this might be the best advice I have ever read: The difference between making life an adventure or enduring life as an ongoing misery, is attitude. That's it. It's all in how you look at it. The photo to the right is me this past Christmas in Hobart, Tasmania. I'm the guy on the left. The other guy is a famous Australian adventurer/explorer. He explored Antarctica and must have had a great attitude or he would have been spectacularly miserable.
It's been said the purpose of middle age is to prepare ourselves for death. We leading-edge boomers have got, what, mabye twenty years left if we're lucky. Maybe so, and there is some wisdom in that advice. Yet, I take issue with it. Approaching each day as if it were our last may be a fine romantic notion, but it strikes me as a pretty unhealthy way to look at things. In fact, living each day as if we were going to be dead the next sounds pretty miserable to me. It sounds pretty desperate, as if death were someplace we are going that we'll regret when we get there.
I'd rather take this attitude as Rule Number 1: The teachings of various religions notwithstanding, death in itself is nothing. We simply cease to exist. There will be no awareness, no regrets. We deconstruct and rejoin the universe on the elemental level we were on before we were conceived. There is no spirit or soul floating around out there that remains the essential us. We dissolve, we dissipate, we disappear. To believe otherwise has absolutely no basis in any kind of rational, observable, repeatable evidence. That's my approach, but of course, you can use any kind of approach you believe in, religous or otherwise. The important wisdom is to rid ourselves of our fear of dying.
So, then, if we have no need to fear death, what should we be doing with our time as we advance from middle to old age? We should gather in the small wisdoms that life has handed us and live according to them. We've earned them, let's use them. These small wisdoms (some are bigger than others) are observable all around us, every day in the news magazines, in the papers, in the comments of the people we meet, in the books we read, in the wind and trees, in the water--all around us. We need only look and be aware.
That's what this blog is all about. Gathering small wisdoms and then offering them to other boomers simply as ideas on how to live more happily. The small wisdoms can be about financies, marriage, work, retirement, health, what ever. Send them in and we'll talk about them via the "comments" option at the bottom of the blog.
Here's my first offering of wisdom. I found an old copy of selections from Walden by Henry David Thoreau (I had not read it since I was forced to in high school when it made no sense). On page 14, Thoreau says, "The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-nigh incurable disease," and we bring it on ourselves by striving to possess material wealth and prestige, by being "good." Earlier in the paragraph he says, "The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior." And in a previous paragraph he says something wonderful: We might try to live our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes.
I suggest we remember that and avoid as many mistakes as possible. To that end, here is the first item on a tentative List to Live By:
1. Make a list of things that make you feel desperate (make your heart pound and keep you awake at night) and start eliminating them from your life. It's okay to do that. Don't feel guilty.