After the sun sets in the mountains of Atenas, but before the darkness has consumed the landscape, a shade of purple tints everything in sight. A disorganized chorus of tropical insects and birds closes in on you. The hillsides, which are so blanketed in vegetation you can’t see any ground beneath it, come to life with thousands of fireflies sparkling sporadically. They make it look like a fantasy world. The clouds of mist come through the jungle canyons between the peaks of the mountains as if the clouds themselves were living creatures. They move through the air like the Sea Cucumbers called Spanish Dancers move through the sea.
I am sitting at a table overlooking it all with a bowl of papaya. Tropical fruit is so abundant and unfathomably good in Costa Rica that it will ruin the experience of eating fruit in the rest of the world. But papaya is my favorite tropical fruit. I love its gentle sweetness in my sinuses. I love its creamy, chalky flavor. People who hate papaya say it has a flavor that reminds them of sweet vomit. I have tried again and again to detect the flavor they are talking about, but I can’t seem to find it. To me it tastes like absolute heaven; so the community enjoys letting me hog it like this. It is funny where life takes us. I often think about what I would think if someone took a video of my life today and showed it to myself when I was a child or a teenager. How different my life was then. I remember the first time I ever tasted papaya. It was a Christmas Eve. The local grocery store surprised the whole town by suddenly offering a selection of exotic fruits in time for Christmas. Now I am growing those very same fruits on the property that I own in a foreign country that I never knew existed back then. I recently saw a movie based on this concept called “The Kid”. I love that movie. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before now. It is a movie about a kid meeting his future self. To begin with, the kid cannot believe what a horrible disappointment he grew up to be. But over the course of the film, the main character turns his life around based on meeting his child self. I can honestly say that my life is overwhelming. It is really hard. To be honest, my life is larger than life. But I can honestly say that if my child self met my adult self, she would not be disappointed. I have taken the risk to truly live. And it has led to moments like this… Moments that take your breath away. Moments that are rich with meaning.
It is both sad and frustrating for me to see how hurt people are by the way their lives have disappointed them... How powerless they really feel to changing their lives for the better. So often on the inspirational things I post now, the comments will be things like “This is the same old bullshit spewed by ignorant, entitled rich people who have never had to put food on the table for their starving kids”. It is so obvious that fulfillment is a feeling we are all looking for in life. We want to feel fulfilled by the things that we are doing. We want the things we do to really matter. We want a life that is rich with meaning. But all too often we feel like we are just going through the motions of life, getting busy with the emptiness of the things that we feel must or should be done. Suffering because the things we want seem so out of reach. But regardless of whether we are homeless or a billionaire, creating a life that is fulfilling is done the exact same way.
We need to take two approaches to making our life rich with meaning through living our life for what matters. The first is to make sure that everything we are doing actually matters. The second is to realize that if we change the meaning of what we are doing, we can make the vast majority of what doesn’t seem to matter, deeply matter. When we take the first approach, we take a serious look at whether what we are doing really matters or not. And we then live our life according to what really matters. We stop putting our energy into the things that we realize really don’t matter. One of the greatest gifts of lying on your death bed or experiencing a near death experience or even of having someone you love die, is that it puts all things into perspective. It shows you what really matters. One of the best tools to use in your life on an ongoing basis is to practice closing your eyes and imaging that you are on your deathbed but you are looking back at whatever you are currently (and in this moment) trying to make a decision about, whatever you are putting your energy into, whatever you are worrying about, whatever you are doing or thinking about doing. And ask yourself, does this matter? If the answer is no, stop putting energy into it and find something else that matters to put your energy into. If the answer is yes, ask yourself why for the sake of your own awareness. And put energy into it. Only you can know what really matters to you. Start to live every thought and word and action in your life according to what matters.
When we take the second approach, we can look at anything we are doing, any activity, and we can change the way we look at it so that doing it can really matter and really have meaning. For example, I could decide that doing the dishes in the sink really does not matter. It is just something that has to be done. But what if I realized that doing the dishes takes pressure off of other people in the house and that frees them up to experience more things that they enjoy? Then doing the dishes does matter. Doing the dishes does have deep meaning. Or for example, I may have a terrible customer support job at a cell phone company that I hate. I may tell myself that my job does not matter and that there is no meaning in what I am doing. But what if I realized that making someone’s phone work might just be the thing that makes it so they can have the talk that saves their relationship or what if making someone’s phone work is the reason that someone sees an amber alert and actually reports the whereabouts of a child that is stolen. Then, suddenly your job really matters.
Sometimes, we cannot change the fact that something we are putting our energy into does not really matter and does not hold deep meaning. But often we can change the meaning we assign to the things we are putting our energy into and as a result, we can make the things that seem to not matter, really matter. This is one of the deep meanings behind the old Buddhist sayings “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water and after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” This saying conveys that enlightenment does not change what you are doing in your life. It does not make you any less human. What does change however is that the way you see those simple activities, and the meaning you assign to doing them, changes the quality of doing them completely. Before, chopping wood and carrying water was a chore that had to be done… Something you had to mindlessly get out of the way before doing something that actually mattered to you. After, chopping wood and carrying water has great meaning.
In my opinion, the person who is able to open themselves completely to the world and follow their own internal north star to the things that really matter, is the person who is the bravest. Most people are too scared to do this. They are too afraid of the risks and so they call the person who is open to the world and who follows their internal star, a fool. But the fool is in fact the person who cuts themselves off from the world and who follows an external star. They cannot see that they are killing themselves in an atmosphere of their own constriction. If you are brave enough to follow your own internal north star with the promise to make sure that anything you are doing really matters and also the promise of finding a way to look at the things you are doing in terms of why they really do matter, your life will be so rich with meaning and your life will matter so much, it will make it impossible to be disappointed with your life. And in the end, you will be able to say with absolute conviction that you have really and truly lived.
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