A friend recently asked me, “What are your plans for the future?” Since my late teens, I have been able to answer that question with bullet-point clarity and precision leaving little room for either interpretation or negotiation. An objective-driven life. A master of my destiny. This disposition served me well through the preparation, achievement, and actualization phases of my life. But this time, in response to her question, I couldn’t provide an answer that was more than a day-and-a-half into the future. I expect it surprised both of us; I know it did me, and probably didn’t satisfy her query. I, however, was left feeling weirdly wonderful. Rather than feeling deficient, I felt light and at ease. I felt liberated.
Throughout my life, I subscribed to the maxim, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A pejorative dismissal of what I saw as the un-compassed losers—the aimless wanderers. There comes a time, however, when striving must give way to thriving; when just being is more satisfying than becoming. To be clear, my near-maniacal focus and determination served me well to a point. It generated great successes and set me up with enough financial resources to afford my current luxury of just being. I understand and am grateful for this last-quarter of life capacity. In addition to many victories, my objective-driven life has also been accompanied by many setbacks and sacrifices for myself and others, but alas, here I am now staring at a path of transcendence—the fourth and final phase of life.
In the last three years, I have zeroed-out my life. Much more than a Marie Kondo closet cleaning. Rather, a whole-life cleansing. This was as much an accident as purposeful, ushered in by divorce and disease; one devastating and the other deadly. It seems a bit early to feel grateful for these events—to characterize them as beneficial—but they have been catalysts of transformation. And, in the case of cancer, I certainly don’t want to tempt or taunt fate. While the pain of divorce has passed, the cancer still lurks. As anyone knows who has been through it, that sword of Damocles seems perpetually perched above the back of your neck; one abnormal blood test away from sucking you back into the gauntlet of radioactive imaging, toxic drugs, scalpels, and all manner of wires and tubing that make you feel like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians. I do not wish the pain of betrayal or cancer that I have endured on anyone. Fortunately, I have always been one to persevere—to find opportunity in the rubble of catastrophe. Of that I can indeed be grateful, and most of all recognize my mother in me. I thank her for that. She was a stoic’s stoic. When she passed a dozen years ago, it was with no regrets and on her own terms. She was truly transcendent.
As with many things in my life, I have made it through with a dogged determination to learn. Knowledge is everything to me; it facilitates that essential capacity to process the world. In this case, to figure out how to turn devastation into liberation. Yes, to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. I took a deep dive into philosophy and spirituality. Many books and many teachers and many hours of contemplation and meditation. The cleansing process is, I think, the most critical. Without it, clarity is not possible; it is a prerequisite to awakening. Discarding, purging, and disentangling are key. Of not just possessions, but of desires, obligations, dependencies, conflicts and—perhaps most especially—of toxic relationships that diminish rather than enhance your life. Among other things, it has affirmed for me a notion I have long entertained: that wealthy does not mean being able to buy whatever you want, the wealthy among us are those who want what they already have. Once you arrive at that place where mornings are a moment of wonder about what the day will bring—and you embrace that—you are on the doorstep of deliverance. The only thing in front of you then is transcendence.
Along the way, I wrote this piece of verse, reading it to myself over and over until it was etched on my soul. I titled it, “Declaration of Liberation.”
Needs and wants and desires fade,
discarding what was or might have been.
Unconcerned about every tomorrow.
Today is what matters—a gift to tend.
Attention has space to savor the now;
no demands nor conflicts to disturb the moment.
No grasping, no clinging, no clenching, no suffering.
Just look around in awe.
Time stands still—no wait, no hurry;
clarity in presence of mind.
Unseen beauty lurks around every bend.
Breathe it in, then out.
Let it be, let it go.
Just this, just now.
Relax, release, and rise.
Notice how the poem moves from cleansing to a cadence of flow, savor, and flow. Only once you have cleaned your slate and largely discarded your old identity is flow even possible. Flow is that state of mind that allows life to move with the prevailing natural energy in a relatively frictionless manner, which allows awareness to thrive while accepting the reality of the impermanence of all phenomena, whether good or bad. It sets the demands of ego aside in favor of tranquility. Savor is the discipline to let the good land; to capture the moment of beauty—however it manifests—with any or all of your five senses. (Savoring is something I rarely did during my objective-driven life.) The big payoff? In a state of flow/savor/flow, it is simply not possible to be disturbed, let alone slip into a spiral of despondent rumination, which are both principal contributors to psychological despair.
Here follows another bit of verse to bring it all together, titled “The Last Quarter.”
Standing now, on the footings of wisdom, this last quarter of life is mine.
Preparation, achievement, and actualization have passed.
Reflection is lost to manufactured memories that loop and fade and deceive.
A different future beckons that neither dwells nor dawdles.
I accept all that I am; granting short shrift to sorrows.
Becalmed on the waters of tranquility, I neither fix nor scorn.
Time is limited, but undivided by obligations and dependencies.
Demands fade in a culture that easily dismisses the grayed masters of yesterday.
Never mind. My grin leaves its own trail of knowing.
Just let it be.
And, to close, one last piece: “The Fading Light.”
My wake, once deep and frothy, recedes now—ripples to glass.
Wisdom swells in its place, washing the stains of life away.
Hands hardened by toil and conflict give way to a softer heart,
beating to the delicate rhythm of tranquility.
Alone with thoughts both grand and small,
mediated by memories of triumph and loss.
Cast as a voyeur now to the victories and defeats of others.
Eyes fixed on the tumbledown of humanity.
Will they find their way, or consume themselves?
Time knows but remains, for the moment, silent.
My mark fades now into the twilight of obscurity.
Just enough light to find my way out as the curtain falls.
This post is my offering to those who may be struggling as I did over the last few years, or who just want a life upgrade. For my readers younger than sixty, I recognize it may be largely irrelevant to your life today, although others would argue this path of enlightenment can be pursued at any age. (I am not so sure.) If you are young and living an objective-driven life as I did, you might want to put “transition-to-transcendence” in your long-term goals and save this post in your tomorrow file.
For those of you in or nearing the last quarter of life, I highly recommend spending some time to affect a thorough cleanse. I see too many of my contemporaries clinging to their old identity and becoming intellectually and emotionally sclerotic, which is a clinical way of saying mired knee-deep in their own doo-doo. Bitchy and/or cantankerous are not how anyone should spend their last decades but, sadly, many do. It is a tragedy when the final phase of life is marked by a slow incremental descent into suffering, rather than the uplifting radiance of transcendence. There is no reason why the rest of your life shouldn’t be the best of your life; perhaps as joyful or more so than your youth.
On this Independence Day, maybe consider a little personal liberation. Start by getting out of the way of your own self. You might just discover a whole new world.