Our life is an arc. Like the glorious flight of an expert archer’s arrow. At its apogee we delude that we’ll fly forever, until a health or financial issue pokes us with a reminder that eventually every flight comes to an end. How we react to that poke is what we should really study.
Our reaction is usually from our ego and not from our true self. Ego causes our breath to catch and our chest to tighten when reminded of a negative status in either our health or finances. We should work to unwind this particular ego habit. We should take advantage of these inevitable moments to practice detachment from the impermanent. We all know how the story ends, how the arc of our flight finally bends and descends. The grace with which we land is completely under our control. But, it takes thoughtfulness and practice.
Many of us already know we should practice this detachment from the impermanent. Popular culture refers to it as “not sweating the small stuff” and “focusing on the big picture”. Each of the world’s great religious traditions place this particular anti-materialism practice at their core. But, it’s tough! And, we need help. To be successful, we need entry points into this practice.
I believe the finest entry point for a middle age person is actually while in the throes of a health or financial set back. We have a clear choice during those moments. We can choose to mourn or we can celebrate. Mourning is perfectly natural, but we need to understand mourning will only lead to more attachment to the impermanent and further delusion. Celebration during stressful times is counter-intuitive, but it is also perfectly natural if we choose during those moments to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. Celebration during moments of loss not only helps lead to freedom, it eventually becomes freedom’s hallmark along with contentment with what is indeed permanent and real – love and compassion for our family and friends.
So, as we peak in the arc of our lives and find ourselves descending, we should cradle our inevitable illnesses like a baby, with compassion. That might sound odd, but it’s certainly no more odd than getting mad and fighting yourself and your loved ones just because you’re sick. And, we should view our finances as the cold, dead, mental abstractions that they are. Money is merely a tool like the cold socket wrench out in your garage. Rich or poor, everyone ends their flight in the same way and at the same exit point. It’s a shame that only then do people realize the overwhelming irrelevance of digits in a banker’s ledger.
Of course these things are easier said than done. And, we fail more times than we succeed. But that’s OK, because we can choose to call it practice instead of failure. And, we can identify specific times and situations to double our efforts with our practice. It’s easier to forget when things are going great. But, when we find ourselves in a rough patch, particularly when we’re sick or short on cash, that’s the perfect time to reflect on what is and isn’t important in our lives.