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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

enjoy your life

Here I was puttering through my morning, puzzling a little over how there seemed not much to do. Then I remembered my blog. Oh yeah--I'm supposed to do a blog-post!

I'm in semi-vacation mode (the mode I go into when Kimmie is in actual vacation mode). No alarm-clock, no fixed requirements on my day. To be sure, I'm lying awake in the night for long stretches, more than I usually do during regular "working" times. I put that down to particular circumstances in my life at the moment rather than anything to do specifically with being on "vacation". Jesus counseled us to be carefree--as have other spiritual teachers. At Gampo Abbey a quote from Suzuki Roshi was photocopied and hung on various walls to pop into one's view unexpectedly as one went about the day: "Enjoy your life."

Enjoy your life. Good idea--why not? For us monks and nuns, leading a disciplined, vegetarian, sex- and drug-free lifestyle, it was wonderful advice, and very accessible. Speaking for myself, I would have to say that my time at the Abbey was perhaps the most enjoyable of my life--in many ways. Certainly there were times when I experienced a greater depth of joy there than I have anywhere else.

Suzuki Roshi was pointing, I think, to the idea that enjoyment of one's life is more a matter of choice or attitude than of circumstance. Whatever's happening, why not enjoy it? What's the alternative? And why would you prefer that alternative? You can feel hard done by, ripped off, and cheated--and maybe in some sense you have been cheated. Well--what of it?

I think about Epictetus, the philosopher-slave of the 2nd century AD. How we respond to any situation is up to us: a tyrant can send me into exile, but he can't force me to be uncheerful about it.

Life might be a horror--but don't people pay to see horror movies? Our love of story proves that we recognize deep down that life is in some sense a problem--an unending series of problems. And yet I feel ripped off when I face problems in my own life, as though they shouldn't be there.

But do they have to be so hard?

Years ago on Saturday Night Live there was a sketch done in the form of a late-night movie, some low-budget Italian show about Hercules that had been dubbed poorly into English. A pot-bellied, cigarette-smoking, middle-aged Hercules was going about his labors. One of his labors was to lift a boulder. He strains at it briefly, then says, "That rock is too heavy. Perhaps I can lift a lighter one."

Yes, maybe I can lift a lighter rock. But somehow, this seems to be the one I've actually got in front of me.


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