At the beginning of the year, I made a list of items I resolved to accomplish. (I called them resolutions, but frequent commenter Junior corrected me.) However, life’s been pushing in its own direction, and things from my past, which I cannot control, have come back to determine the path of my future. While I’m fervent in the belief that history is not destiny, sometimes past actions—things you couldn’t necessarily control or simply bad choices that were made—require resolution before being able to fully move on.
I am not what I was in my youth. At merely 28 years, I’m already beginning to feel some of the signs of aging: pains in certain joints, increased healing time, diminished multitasking capabilities. I’m sure most would say that at 28 I’m still “just a kid”, and they’d probably be right, though if you really want to get down to it, “middle age” starts during the early 30’s, biologically speaking. Hardly a “kid”. But unlike most people, I pay overt attention to these signs. I always have. I don’t know why, though I’ve started to see how it affects the way I see things.
So while my resolutions before revolved around writing and advancing these skills, I find more and more that my health–spiritual, mental, and of course physical–has taken prominence. Without addressing these items first, I find I cannot continue in my current path. In fact, I am convinced that my not having yet resolved these issues–particularly the physical one, since it is through that gate that I must walk to address the other two–is in large part at the core of my worrying about the future.
I came to this realization as a result of someone very wise, who I have come to respect very highly, and hold very dear, reminding me that “the unexamined life is not one worth living.” While I thought I knew this, it wasn’t until he pointed out that I hadn’t been examining my life that the message really hit home. I, who value wisdom so much, had become lost without myself.
In the show Babylon 5 there’s a series of episodes during the fourth season in which Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) resigns his post as Chief Medical Officer and goes on a “walkabout”. In Australian aboriginal cultures, a “walkabout” is a ritual in which a young man goes on a solitary journey through the wilderness in an attempt to learn more about his own character and strength. In the show, Franklin explains it this way:
“If you’re not careful, you can lose yourself in the world. When you’re too busy with things and not busy with yourself. You spend your days and nights living someone else’s agendas, fighting someone else’s battles, and you’re doing the work you’re supposed to be doing, but every day there’s less and less of you in it all. ‘Til one day, you come to a fork in the road and because you’re distracted, you’re not thinking, you lose yourself. You go right and the rest of you, the really important part of you goes left and you don’t even know you’ve done it until you realize, you finally realize that you don’t have any idea who you are when you’re not doing all those things.
“The theory is, if you’re separated from yourself, you start walking and you keep walking ntil you meet yourself. Then you sit down and you have a long talk. Talk about everything that you’ve learned, everything you’ve felt, and you talk until you’ve run out of words. Now that’s vital. Because the real important things can’t be said. Then if you’re lucky, you look up, and there’s just you and you can go home.”
Of course, in the epsode Shadow Dancing, the walkabout has a pretty bloody end when Franklin finally meets himself after being stabbed during a drug mugging, and left to die. “You said you had to keep walking until you met yourself,” says the second Franklin. “Well, here I am. So, if we’re gonna talk, let’s talk. Only, I don’t think you have enough time.”
Here’s a bit from the synopsis:
He asks Franklin what he has to live for, and what he could possibly want, since he threw it all away the first time. Franklin insists he wants to do it all over again, and begins to regain his determination. He begins to move, and pull himself up the ladder that leads out of his prison. With his healthy self taunting him all the way, and despite his wounded condition, Franklin is eventually able to get out.
Franklin, on a gurney, is taken back to Medlab as the remants of the fleet and the numerous casualties are returned to the station. [Herein he sees the selfishness of his situation, injured trying to find himself while the Universe collapsed around him.]
[When Franklin gets better, he] tells Sheridan that he [was using drugs] to do more [work], when what he needed was to do better, and he knows that he ran away when he quit to avoid being fired. He explains that he has, for his entire life, looked at himself in terms of what he wasn’t, but never what he was, and that he missed a lot of important things because of it. He knows he can’t go back and undo his past mistakes, but can appreciate what he has now, and he can define himself by what he is and not what he isn’t. Sheridan asks what that is. “I’m alive,” Franklin tells him. “Everything else is negotiable.”
I guess I went on my own walkabout when I quit a number of the things I was doing. I felt I had lost myself, lost my drive, lost my direction, and instead spent my life chasing what others said I should be doing. I tried to do more, when I should have been doing better; I focused on what I wasn’t instead of what I was. Yet, during this time I’ve become more selfish, more secluded, more worried, and generally more miserable, none of which came to light until I finally started examining my own life. Right race, wrong direction. I wouldn’t have known unless I started examining my life.
For the past few days, I’ve been doing a lot of walking, thinking, and praying. For the first time in my life, I feel that my prayers are actually worth something, that they’re not simply a litany of requests I make from the Almighty to fit around my own schedule, but that they are a conversation in which He controls the mic. (Is this the “walking meditation” I hear so much about?)
During the walks, I’ve reviewed my life, from the time of my first memories. I’ve thought about people I knew, things I thought and did, and beliefs I held. When I was a kid, I worried about my parents dying. I still remember a dream I had when I was five in which my mom died in a car crash on a mountain. Then I feared the depletion of the Ozone layer, and had dreams about people dying of cancer. (One of my dreams played out like a movie. I still remember the announcer’s voice as he announced “El Fin del Mundo” (“The End of the World”). After that it was my being the last person on Earth (Stupid The Quiet Earth movie), then it was World War 3 and Nostradamus, then it was aliens, then… the end of the World. After that, during my teen years, I took a fascination with death: it was real, it was raw, it was… cool. Before that I had tried to be a Fundamentalist Christian (Southern Baptist), so no matter what happened I was saved, right? Mind you, this didn’t sit right with me, but I denied myself for the sake of my faith, as if I knew that that meant. Then I became dark and gothy (though never emo. That’s just too self indulged, though I still like the music). After that, I started looking into other faiths and religions, to find… meaning? Significance? Peace? Whatever it was, I just wanted to make sense of things. And I didn’t want to be alone. This was a big one: I’m was never a real loner, no matter how much I pretended to be, or how bad I’ve been at keeping relationships going. (I hereby apologize to everyone who I’ve failed to stay in touch with.)
Over the past few months, I’ve also been studying Christian Mysticism. While I’m far from an expert in it, I have through it come to a very interesting realization: faith is not about logic. Too much time have I spent attempting to logicize my faith, to believe only those things which could be explained via the scientific method. Yet, the logical part of the brain is only one part of it, one way of thinking. Thinking upon the mystical in order to achieve a state of simply “being” is another. The two work together. Coming to this realization has freed me to once again believe, truly and honestly, in the existence of a “God”, even though I don’t know what that God is (personal or not? in the universe, outside of it? in us or outside? all of these?) except to know that He is like a mirror: everyone looking in sees something different.
During one of my recent prayer times a thought came to me (though I attribute it to a message from God due to the way it hit me, the power with which it resonated in my mind). The message was a simple one:
“Why do you spend so much time thinking about death when you have so much life right now to live?”
I guess until then I had never really thought about it that way. I realized that the majority of my life had in some way revolved around the issue of death, and my capability to handle it. I tried believing in God, not believing in God, believing in a soul and not. Perhaps it was the Christian upbringing (and the refutation thereof), in which attainment of Heaven is so fervently emphasized (as is the reality of Hell). Perhaps it’s because I wish to understand, and my mind can’t cope with believing that this life is it, a thought which while I have tried to believe, I can’t bring myself to.
After that point, I started to see exactly ho much time I’ve spent worrying about death and the afterlife. So much that I completely missed what was right in front of me. In Paradise Lost, Milton observed that the human mind is a wonderful thing, that it could make a hell out of heaven and a heaven out of hell. It can also, it seems, make a death out of life and life out of death.
I started keeping a journal which allows me to really write what I’m thinking about, what thoughts and revelations have come to me during this time. (In other words, stuff I can’t always talk about here.) I haven’t liked a lot of what I’ve seen, what I’ve written, and have started to rectify the situations, though they will take time.
Of course, the subject of death is still important, though I see it’s not as important as the subject of how you live your life.
And yet, I’m still on walkabout, examining my life in order to make it one worth living.