I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
I’ve been reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and the other morning I read this passage that resonated with me:
“Casting aside other things, hold to the precious few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only the present, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or is uncertain. Brief is man’s life and small the nook of the earth where he lives; brief too, is the longest posthumous fame, buoyed only by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die and who know little of themselves, much less of someone who died long ago.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book III paragraph 10 (1997 Dover revision of George Long’s English translation)
These words reinforce a theme in my life of late: in short, that living is more important than writing. I have previously expressed to you my longings to someday write great works that will help make the world a better place. In that youthful, ambitious mindset, I have always identified with Keats’s poem that begins “When I have fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain…” Exactly! What if I die before I get to write all the things I want to–or even some of them?
The answer, I’ve been learning, is that it’s okay. Life is for living, not rushing to meet a morbid deadline. And besides–now that I’m a little older I can see this–the likelihood that I can fix all the world’s problems with my pen is right around zero. And even if I did have the fortune of making some small difference to some few people, my legacy would be soon forgotten, as Marcus Aurelius points out so eloquently. So I’m beginning to view the natural human longing for significance as a youthful drive that has its uses but needs to be tempered by the realism of maturity.
And even if I tried, I would never accomplish everything on the agenda of my youthful-intellect-ego-energy (or puer, as Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul calls it, using the Latin term for a male child. Or perhaps yang, to use the word from Chinese philosophy for the aggressive, active, masculine energy as opposed to the yin of passive, reflective, feminine energy). So I would do better to carefully choose what to spend my energy on and also do a lot of yin sitting back to relax, reflect, and enjoy the journey, savoring the “precious” things in life.
Because ultimately, what life boils down to is simply being alive. Experiencing. Living. Being a part of this amazing thing called life that’s happening right now. The present moment is all I actually have, so why not slow down and soak up its every detail and sensation?
Besides, if my little life is to have anything worthwhile to contribute to the world before I die (whether through writing or otherwise), I think it is more likely to come from a lifetime of soaking up experiences and learning from them rather than one of straining my intellectual energy to satisfy my ego. The world does not need more ego. It needs more listening–more open, thoughtful awareness–more slow-cooked wisdom that inspires strategic action.
In this mindset, then, writing ceases to be something by which I hope to one day save the world and becomes simply a thing that makes my life richer. I do not live to write; I write to live.
I’m hoping to remember this perspective over the next few years as I enter the most intellect-humbling, ego-reducing, and present-reality-immersing life stage I can think of: motherhood! When I find myself changing my zillionth diaper and pining for my intellectual ambitions, I will try to remember: always, but especially right now, just living is the most important thing of all.