How Many of These Have You Accomplished?

Sunni's picture

What a fitting set of ideas to contemplate now—well, for those who are attached to the Gregorian calendar, anyway. Be warned: this isn’t a typical “bucket list” or similar set of externally–driven “achievements”—the short essay Joshua Zader posted may have most individuals squirming uncomfortably a few times. But it brims with the stuff that is most important in living a conscious life.

My original intention was to copy just a few bits from this essay, attributed to “Oriah”, but in reviewing it, I found it all well worth placing here. So here it is:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon... I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness, and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


One reason this touched me so deeply is that I can answer a resounding “yes” to the question of disappointing another to be true to myself ... a way of reframing the issue that helps me feel better about a very difficult time in my past. And yet, there’s nothing wrong with that—but it’s a sign of how deeply the messages of self–sacrifice can run, that not doing so is nearly universally seen as wrong. Or that feeling positive about such a course is unwise, somehow.

But I ramble, and am focused poorly on my purpose this morning ... For those who wish to see deeply into themselves, and take a true measure of their spirit and constitution, they would be hard pressed to find a better guide than Oriah’s eloquent words. Thank you, Joshua.

I found the author

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Actually it's interesting how well this prose-poem does not speak to me. I guess I just have a different sort of tuning. But that all gets more personal than I want to discuss here. And I don't want to post anything negative about it -- honestly, I rather envy folks who are able to derive inspiration from this sort of writing.

I agree, Mr. Bill, and yet...

More than once have I been in the position, as a nurse, of “sit[ting] with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.” [Paragraph 3] Sometimes things can’t be helped, either physically or emotionally, so one can only BE THERE.

Likewise [in Paragraph 3], there are times when I act TOO human, TOO reasonable even while my gut yells out with Oriah, “I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness, and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.” I need to let go more.

I can see both sides of this prose-poem: I see where she’s coming from, but also where much of it has no meaning — *except to the individual who responds to it.* But I guess that’s what she wrote it for.

I was more intrigued by Joshua Zader’s “Mudita Explained.” He states “There is no English word” for Mudita (“sympathetic joy” or “happiness at another’s success in life”). We see so little of Mudita, even close friends often give superficial response to another’s happiness; there may be shared celebration but no real sympathy or sense of enjoying the other’s accomplishments. It’s as if we stand off and watch them being happy. This is an emotional response we would do well to cultivate — for the sake of the relationship, as well as our own emotional maturity.

What I like most about it

But first, thanks to each of you for sharing your honest responses to it—it is an ever–interesting thing to see how others may be moved or unmoved by something I place here. Letting go is something I could do more often myself.

The thing that spoke to me most from this prose poem is that it cuts through the superficialities that most Americans insist on traversing in the process of “getting to know” another. Instead of focusing on how to align ourselves by very old categories, much of it inquires after the depths of an individual’s real experiences—those that, too often, we wish to rush through and then infrequently revisit. Those experiences provide us the measure of who we are, and what we’re made of, yet we so rarely share them with others.

Betrayal

Forgive me, Sunni, for perceiving the cloud that surrounds the silver lining in this quote:

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

Not caring what's true. Disappointing those one cares about. Betraying them. Being faithless to them.

Yes, "Oriah" appears to argue for self-fulfillment against what merely seems like betrayal -- but in fact is an accusation made for the sake of entrapment. Yet I have seen too many people use ideas like this as their excuse to abandon spouse and children, to run off with some new lover, to be irresponsible, to not take ownership for the consequences of their actions and decisions, to betray their loved ones.

The line between self-fulfillment and self-indulgence can be extremely hard to discern. For myself, I try to always remember that self-deception is the easiest and most comfortable trap of all. To fall into that trap would represent a betrayal of my own principles of thinking as clearly as I'm able, honoring what I value most deeply, taking personal responsibility for my actions, and enjoying only what I have truly earned in life.

One must not fear disappointing others who expect only that one will serve their purposes. But one must also not take pride merely in disappointing others, with the cavalier attitude that you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. The notion that one cannot simultaneously please others and oneself is just another false dichotomy, seemingly endemic to modern thought (along with mind vs. body, happiness vs. virtue, and all the rest).

But perhaps I'm reading more into Oriah's little essay than was intended...

Excellent points.

I don’t think you’re reading too much into the essay, Saint—perhaps you’ve put your finger squarely on what the others found objectionable. And I, too, hesitated when I read the first line you quoted ... but then I remembered an evening spent with an acquaintance a while back. This person cornered me with a monologue that focused on grievances long past—grievances to which I was not a party, being completely unknown to all involved at that time. The sole element of interest to me was how this person’s “truth” varied from another version that I’d heard—and it did, quite significantly in places. I’m sure both tellers would attest their story is the true one, yet neither can be the “real”, full truth ... I don’t think such a thing can exist in the minds of participants, nor even most observers, as the biases of our thoughts and feelings tinge every thing that enters our minds.

Your caution regarding discerning self–indulgence and self–fulfillment is very well put; and it is a caution I feel I need in regular doses. Yet that line, too, can be as wavering as truth, can it not? I’m sure my former husband doesn’t see my departing our relationship as self–fulfillment for me; yet, had I stayed, the stress that was building (and showing itself in all manner of physical ways) would likely have led to serious illness, possibly even my death by now. Staying on the correct sides of these lines can be devilishly difficult ... and possibly not even always the best choice for one.

Lines

Yes, those lines (between truth and rationalization, between self-acceptance and self-deception, between self-fulfillment and self-indulgence, between healthy responsibility and unhealthy duty, etc.) are difficult to discern -- or even non-existent. That's what makes life so challenging, and so interesting. :)

Your Honor, I don't object!

...perhaps you’ve put your finger squarely on what the others found objectionable...

Just for the record, I didn't find Oriah's words objectionable. They just failed to move me personally.

Part of the problem is that I don't know this woman -- I don't know whether she is a sincere and passionate and good-hearted soul, or a shallow person trying to capitalize on a knack for writing stuff that others find inspirational. (Is that fair? Should I just judge the words themselves, independently of how they were created? I don't know.)

The other issue, for me, is the emphasis on passion and following a dream. Is this an absolute necessity? If all I want from life is quiet low-key enjoyment... well, that rapidly gets into areas too personal for me to discuss here.

Hmph.

Anyway, because I know you expect me to have an appropriate Youtube link: Take heart in the deepening gloom that your dog is finally getting enough cheese. :-)

Thanks for the clarification

and for yet another goofy–beyond–belief vid.

(And please, show me where is it written that “low–key enjoyment” cannot be a dream or a passion.)