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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

on (not) wasting time

I awoke at about 3:45 this morning and lay awake.

Without going into detail, there are things bothering me. It happens especially at night. While I might have some qualms about my life situation and decisions during the day, the habitual flow of activity distracts the mind and I'm not troubled. Ah, but at night...

If I look closely at what is bothersome about certain kinds of thoughts, I think it boils down to this: fear of wasting time.

This is not a concern about efficiency. Rather, when I was pressed once to come up with my idea of wisdom, I said this: "A wise person does not waste his time."

What did I mean?

One image that stays pressed in my mind is from watching an interview on CBC television. Evan Solomon was interviewing a former hit-man for the American mob, now living under an assumed identity in an undisclosed location. The hit-man, possibly in his 60s, was matter-of-fact and not shy about talking about his life of crime. He described a few of the murders he had committed--things like shooting someone in the back of the head from the back seat of a car. Once, when shooting someone on his doorstep, he also shot a woman who lived in the same house and who turned out to be a nun.

"Do you regret that one?" said Evan.

"Oh yeah. That's the only one I regret."

By that he meant that all the other victims were also mobsters: guys on the inside who had assumed the risk of getting whacked if they stepped out of line in certain ways. But it turned out he also had regrets over all. Toward the end of the interview, Evan asked him how he would sum up his career.

"A wasted life," the man said.

He said it in the same matter-of-fact way, but I sensed his pain and regret. With those three words he had passed the most damning judgment possible on himself.

I'm not a hit-man, not a mobster. I've done bad things, and from time to time continue to do bad things. But I think the issue of wasting life is not purely a matter of ethics. It arises from a sense that life matters, and that how we spend it matters. Ethics is part of that, but it's not the whole issue. Our mission is not simply to keep our souls pure, but to engage with life in a way that makes full use of our faculties and our uniqueness. Time slips by, and every moment counts. Somehow, it's the very unforced nature of our decisions that puts a heavy responsibility on us.

When I was a temporary monk at Gampo Abbey in 2002, I slept the deep, peaceful, restful sleep of one who had no second thoughts about what he was doing with his life. I knew I was not wasting my time; I was using it to the max.

Now I'm not sure. I'm not plugged in to a structure that has already been given meaning by someone else, so to speak. I'm completely responsible for the meaning of my own life now, and sometimes, well, it keeps me up at night.


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1 Comments:

  • Important questions you're raising.
    "But it turned out he also had regrets over all."
    "He said it in the same matter-of-fact way, but I sensed his pain and regret. With those three words he had passed the most damning judgment possible on himself."
    -- That's good that he does regret. That's good when a person can see the good things about other people, too.
    But the problem here, to my mind, is -- not to go into despair, this is very important. Only crying is not good (efficient) use of one's penitence. (Though the inward crying in itself is a worthy and meaningful action, too) The right use is in trying and wanting to change for the better (and it may work well: the person really does something out of his regrets) and in the hope. There is hope.

    "It arises from a sense that life matters, and that how we spend it matters. Ethics is part of that, but it's not the whole issue. Our mission is not simply to keep our souls pure, but to engage with life in a way that makes full use of our faculties and our uniqueness." - Exactly! I agree with this. Corresponding with the Christian attitude, I think.

    I am familiar, to some extent, with the problem of thoughts not letting sleep. -- I just wish you to find the balance. You are seen to be a good-hearted thinking person. The good things and happiness to you!

    P. S. Sorry for my language or being possibly unclear.

    By Blogger Liza, at April 17, 2008 2:11 AM  

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