In a couple of months I will turn 50. One of the paradoxically wonderful things that I have discovered about getting older is that I get to let go of dreams and aspirations that no longer fit me.
At this point in my life, I am quite sure that I won’t become a concert pianist, a Broadway dancer, or (one of my earliest aspirations) a boy. And that’s all OK. Because as I get older, I start to pare away more and more of who I don’t need to be, and start to see more and more who I actually am.
Reading Alan Watts, I am inspired by the science of Who We Are. To begin with, we are literally all made up of the same elements of stardust, separated from each other by something we call space. But the way we see the world is influenced by the fact that our minds can only think one thought at a time. So we look around, and instead of seeing oneness and connection, we see separate pieces. Rather than seeing this whole universe as the one pulsating living organism that it is, we see it as a bunch of disconnected organisms vying for life.
We see things and other people as separate from ourselves in the same way that we see right as distinct from left and dark as distinct from light. But, as Thich Nhat Hanh likes to remind us, we can’t have the right without the left. I always smile when he says that we shouldn’t want to get rid of the conservative right, because it’s impossible to remove them unless we also remove the liberal left. The right and the left are inseparable. If, for example, we rip off the right side of a piece of paper, the new paper will still have a right and a left, they will just be in different places.
Steve Jobs’ Buddhist teacher, Kobun Chino, liked to say that what we leave out shapes who we are. In the same way, the space around any object shapes the object. If we look deeply enough, we can see that we can’t actually separate the space from the object. Without the space around it, we have no way to identify the object. One cannot exist without the other.
By leaving out all of the small things that we are not, we can start to recognize the wholeness of who we are. As David Whyte says in his poem, Sweet Darkness:
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
So I am enjoying letting go of dreams and aspirations that are too small for me. Looked at from a historical human perspective, I am a person who acts in and on the world. But I open to a broader perspective by practicing mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and I gain new insights. I start to see that I am so much more.
Instead of always identifying with my small individual self who strives to become someone or something, I can identify as the aliveness of this world and this life. As an integral part of the entire universe, I dance and grow along with each of you, all parts making up the whole. It is wonderful that I don’t ever have to be anything more than I am. And as I reach this birthday milestone, I am celebrating. Because I am complete without ever having been a concert pianist (or a boy).