Agenda

I started a list of things I had to do over thirty years ago. In the first few naïve years I kept expecting to get to the point where everything was crossed off the list and accomplished and there would be nothing to do. Then I would be free like a kid in playing in summer. Each day lasting more than seven do now. The years went by, but the list never went away. Until I realized it never would.

I think the day of reckoning was when I bought a house and talked to my new neighbor who was 92 years old at the time. He said that he had lived in his house for sixty years and that it still needed work even though he had kept at it all this time. (He shared this old agenda item as well. He told me of the time his car was parked in the yard and he went on vacation. When he came back the neighbor had built a stonewall so he could not get the car out. I asked him what he did with the car and he said it was still there, buried six feet down.)

Life is 90% maintenance, or so I estimate without having to endure another dreadful study. Here is what yesterday was like: Bills to pay, a sick relative to visit, raspberries to pick before they mold, e-mails to answer, vines to pull before they choke the lilacs, the lawn to mow, shopping for dinner, ultimate frisbee to play, time with my girlfriend researching a weekend adventure we are conjuring up, dishes to wash, time for yoga and meditation, a little reading, write for this blog, try to find a publisher for my 2 self published books (uggh), and strategize with my daughter about a job possibility for her. These were just the major items. All this while I am on summer vacation. The agenda wasn’t finished. There was plenty left that I could have done if I had more time. Then I got up the next morning and the toilet was nonstop running and my plans for the day was trumped by the plans for the toilet repair. So it will be tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.

This is the life. Some people call it freedom. And I know, compared to most, that I have it easy. It is my challenge to do what is at hand and remember that it is not the things to get done so much as how I feel while doing it. Pacing, moderation, balance, mental peace, minimizing needs, meaningful work, and knowing that the doing is the life are what matters. Freedom from the agenda is a fantasy and probably not all that great if it could be achieved anyway. Probably my last breath will be no different from all the rest.

Alan Watts, an American philosopher and practitioner of Zen, wrote about his time living at a monastery in Japan. Each day the monks would do physical labor and Alan would find ways to do the work faster and more efficiently. He would tell his ideas to the Zen master and then the next day nothing would change. Finally, he went to the master and asked him why he disregarded all his ideas. He was told that the labor wasn’t about trying to get more work done faster. The positive effect physical labor had on grounding the monks was the point. Outcomes be damned.

One Response to “Agenda”

  1. Terry, you never fail to bring up something that tugs at my ruminations – or should I say my ruinations? Agendas – plans – of mice and men (sometimes I wonder about the superiority of species).

    I’ve never met a plan that wasn’t doomed to fail from the onset. I’ve never embraced an agenda that unfolded as expected. This is partly a blessing – the spice of life. Who wants a predictable existence? Predicticality (is that a word?) is impossible, yet it is the foundational principle that underlies every plan, every agenda.

    As a business consultant I endorse and write plans – marketing plans, business plans – plans that are guaranteed to succeed, plans that promise profit and a rewarding existence. But I know (but don’t share) that there are a million unpredicticalities (another invented word) that lurk and pounce on the best laid plans.

    In my zen days I embraced living for the moment, in the moment, but also understood that the moment is fleeting and seldom noticed by the money-making world. You can be a loyal employee, living in the moment (even as a fully enlightened monk), and will inevitably witness a moment where your employment will be pulled away – like a tablecloth pulled from under dishes that are supposed to remain in place but are, instead, tumbled onto the floor in a chaotic assortment of smashes and cracks. (Even the most impressive laws of physics don’t save us when imperfect humans are involved.)

    It is correct to point out that only the present exists, that we should detach ourselves from the past and future. I personally love the experience of doing that, and actually succeed from time to time – the feeling is transcendental. I once walked along a road and looked at my feet, a shift of awareness happened, I raised my eyes and experienced for the first time an expanded awareness of the perfection of all things – even the ugly things, things that supposedly failed – litter, ugly buildings, gas guzzling cars – all perfect manifestations of a present that has emerged perfectly.

    I emerged from that experience a little confused. What’s the point of being an environmental activist when you perceive the destruction of the planet as a perfect manifestation from one moment to the next. The right path of a human is not a matter of black and white.

    I love the book title, “If You See Buddha on the Road, Kill Him”. The intention of the book is to understand that your concept of Buddha (dharma, perfection) is merely a concept – not the truth – so you should kill that conception. But I might kill Buddha just because I am so annoyed at his foiling all my plans.

    Seriously, there is great joy in living from moment to moment – I totally get it. And there is great peril in becoming attached to agendas. I think, as humans we all struggle with this. I wish it were easier, but if it were then we might not gain wisdom and become better people.

    Life is not easy – for a reason.

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