pure white bud promise
blood red rose: love, life giver
fades to black within
“Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.”
Morning Song, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
“Gather ye rose-buds while ye may;
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.”
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
The countdown starts from the moment of our conception, yet it often takes many years for us to come to terms with our mortality.
My father died when I was very young and I have no conscious memory of him or his death. I remember being told that the sticky, milky sap of the frangipani tree in our garden was poisonous, and thinking that must have been what killed him. His actual cause of death was lung cancer. He smoked and worked in a paint factory, and that was what killed him.
When I left my boyfriend in my early twenties, he tried to take my life, then threatened to take his own life and kept his promise a few months later. I was traumatized, but still I did not get it.
A brush with cancer at the age of 24 did not even do the trick. I just felt really old. It was only when my mother died two years later that it hit me. I needed to understand where she went and what we were all doing here. But as I was already on the work treadmill that only speeds up and never slows down, such concerns eventually took a back seat in my daily life.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
“Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.”
If I Could Tell You, Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)
Three years ago at the age of 42, I quit my professional career to save my life. I was neither being brave nor foolish, as suggested by some people from whom I have now distanced myself. In the end it came down to survival. I wrestled with The Devil, my ego attachment to money and my fear of poverty, for several months before I realized that all I really wanted was to be happy. I had a little help from my body making the decision. I knew I had no choice when I lost my appetite and was unable to sleep because I was stressed beyond my limits. I was not prepared to be a martyr on the corporate altar.
One of the reasons I am writing this is because I am still encountering resistance to my decision to leave the workforce and am so tired of the prevailing obsession with making money. People make all sorts of suggestions to me based on the assumption that money is the only thing worth working for, or living for. Since I quit my job, I have tried various types of contract work and have come to the realization that it doesn’t matter who you work for, they all demand their pound of flesh and then some. I came to resent the 24×7 sense of entitlement that comes with being paid a regular fee for a service. I may as well have stayed in my job, which would have killed me.
Another reason I am writing this is because I know some people who are struggling with the same issues that I have struggled with, and may be able to give them some healthy food for thought (although I had at least ten minds about baring my soul).
I am not suggesting that anyone else rush off and quit their job after reading this. This is my story, and I can afford not to worry about money for a while. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like money and the things it can buy, it simply means that it is not the most important thing in my life right now. My freedom is priceless.
“For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)
“But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.”
As I Walked Out One Evening, Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1048-1131), as translated by Edward Purcell Fitzgerald (1809-1883)
“What a folly to dread the thought of throwing away life at once, and yet have no regard to throwing it away by parcels and piecemeal.”
John Howe (1630-1705)
Not only was I stressed out of my mind, I was also bored to tears and some parts of my brain had literally stagnated and died. Every morning as I walked into the office I would say to myself “This is not my life. This cannot be my life.”. My life was passing me by, and I was not happy.
And even outside the office, my life was not my own.
If you have the disease to please, give yourself permission to say No to others and Yes to yourself. What other people think of you is not nearly as important as what you think of yourself and when you give someone back their burdens, you make them stronger.
I am not saying this is easy. Last year on my 45th birthday, I realized I was still allowing other people to insidiously steal my energy and my happiness, by controlling me and bombarding me with negativity. It made me very angry. It is a very difficult cycle to break and I honestly don’t know how to do it without severing ties, thus disengaging from the unhealthy perpetual drama triangle. I just know that I don’t want to spend the time I have left this way. It is probably the hardest lesson I have to learn in this lifetime, i.e. how to maintain relationships without handing over my own personal power.
Imagine a jar of, say, 50 marbles and that each marble represents a year, month, week or day left of your life. (We cannot be sure which measure applies. While my grandparents had relatively long lives, my father died at the age of 49 and my mother died at the age of 60.) Spend your marbles wisely.
“‘The only way to have more time,’ says Father Lacouture, ‘is to sow time.’ In other words, to throw it away. Just as one throws wheat into the ground to get more wheat. It must have seemed madness to throw that first wheat away but more wheat sprang up a hundredfold. So each day, start out by saying, there is plenty of time. And so to discard time, to throw it to the winds, to disregard all the work there is to do, and go sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour, to divest oneself of these accursed occupations all in order to reap time, for those things which are necessary.”
By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day (1897-1980)
Nature abhors a vacuum, so the cauldron of your life will always be full. You need to make sure that it is full of the things you want in it. I see a vicious cycle in the corporate world of people demanding more money and employers demanding more flesh in return. Spending all your waking hours and energy chasing more money to buy more things that you don’t really need will not help you to fulfill all your needs. Once you have taken care of your basic needs such as food, health care, shelter and safety, be mindful of your higher order needs such as loving relationships, creativity, mental stimulation and spirituality.
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”
The Lake Isle of Innisfree, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Since I left my job among other things I have researched my family tree to the best of my ability and learned a new language (Italian). The mental stimulation has helped to revive the parts of my brain that had been neglected for so many years.
I continued my studies in metaphysics that I had started while I was still working. I also studied various divination systems, which are effectively symbolic languages for communicating with the universal mind.
I avoided religion most of my adult life, having more or less abandoned it as soon as I was old enough to, until I found myself interested in Paganism earlier this year. The nature-based spirituality without religious dogma appeals to me, and it has literally opened up a whole new world of living and learning for me.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. ‘Do you wish to buy any baskets?’ he asked. ‘No, we do not want any,’ was the reply. ‘What!’ exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, ‘do you mean to starve us?’ Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off – that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed – he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.”
Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I am not an arts and crafts person, but I have always enjoyed writing and blogging gives me great pleasure. I have a ton of books waiting patiently for me to read them, and I expect that they will give me plenty of ideas on what to write about. I haven’t thought further ahead than that yet, and for once in my life I am simply enjoying each moment.
As Thoreau is quoted as saying, when it’s our time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived. These are the days of our lives.
“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
Native American wisdom
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The Summer Day, Mary Oliver (1935-)
This article was first published in August 2011 http://mywingsofdesireblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/memento-mori.html