We are but visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.
— The Dalai Lama
The more I reflect on my life, the more I end up feeling the sensation that I’m simply a tourist spending a short amount of time here.
In the past, I was racked with endless anxiety over what I should be doing with my time here. These days, it’s getting easier to meet each day with a little more lightness.
The question of death and what to make of it is a question that’s very much always on my mind. Human beings are unique in that we’re aware of the finitude of our lifespan, and so we get torn up over how we should approach living.
What are we supposed to do with ourselves?
What should we strive to accomplish?
Will we ever get a chance to truly love and to be loved?
Questions such as these are hard for a mind gripped by the death anxiety to grapple with.
There are so many things to consider — so many variables to ponder — that one wonders how it could ever be possible for life to feel fulfilling.
But I have found a measure of relief in the words of teachers such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other advocates of a more mindful approach towards life.
The British philosopher Alan Watts is one such person, who got at this same idea in his own unique way.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everyone rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
— Alan Watts
I have found that the daily practice of writing has helped me to slow down my thoughts and re-focus my energies on what is really important.
It’s because of that slowing down process that I’ve come to feel more and more like an outsider to the rest of society. I look in at the great majority of people involved in the frantic day-to-day hustle and bustle of modern living and think to myself, “My God, where did it all go wrong?”
The Dalai Lama’s words provide one potential answer.
It is because of our modern striving that we forget the essential ingredients of the human experience: kindness, compassion, and empathy.
When you really think about it, we aren’t here for that long.
70 to 100 years may seem like a long duration, but Father Time is a crafty fellow.
Whenever we arrive at a point in the future, we always experience the past as something that simply disappeared, almost as if it was never there. It is not as if we have some sensation of a past being “stored up,” in which every moment is as “long” as it felt when we were going through it.
Furthermore, we live as if we’ll be here forever, totally unaware of the fact that life offers no guarantees — we could die at any moment, or worse, lose someone we truly care about.
It’s important then to figure out ways to focus on what’s really important versus what society makes us think is important.
Society — and in particular profit-driven ones such as the United States— pushes us to be increasingly self-centered as we move through life.
In this way, we become increasingly closed off to the needs of others, when ironically it is through helping others satisfy their needs that we come to our own greatest sense of personal fulfillment.
What is even sadder is that should we achieve what we are taught is worthy of the fruits of our labor — status, wealth, sexual access, and success of all those particular varieties — we find, at the end of it all, a still-lingering emptiness born from the failure to flower into our true humanity, something that can only be accomplished by giving a damn about whether everyone else is feeling like they’re having a good time too.
And so, I do feel like a visitor here, which makes me think a lot about how I want to spend the remainder of my days.
Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!
— Yoda to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Call it the Spirit, Consciousness, the Soul, or just a Random Collection of Interacting Organic Molecules, this process called “My Life” is experienced as a deep sense of being along for the ride, and that, if there is any goal at all, it is to assist others in feeling like their ride is worth it, too.
That’s hard to do if we remain in the grip of fear — only ever thinking that our life won’t be worth it unless we achieve what only appears to be worthy of achievement.
Would we be concerned about the digital readouts regarding our bank accounts? How many assets are in our name? What the stock market will look like next quarter?
I find that dubious, to say the least.
I don’t know what to make of it, but I do know that I would rather slip across that threshold knowing that I was of some use to other Earth-travelers during my time here.
That I did my best to uplift others rather than put them down.
Maybe if we’re confronted with a balance sheet by which we are judged after death, it’s a record of how we made people feel while we were alive, not how much profit we accrued.
Put another way, maybe all we take with us when we die is a summation of the experiences we contributed to during our visit to Earth.
That’s a nice thought, but of course, I won’t make any absolute claims about what happens when we perish.
I suppose that’s a part of the mystery — or the surprise.
For now, I’m content to feel a little bit more like a tourist each day. I’ll enjoy my travels here on Earth while they last, but I won’t fret over what happens after.
It’s a big cosmos, and I don’t think we understand even a tiny fraction of it just yet.