Leo writes, "Chuck, I was reading a book last night that said, 'In every old person is a young person wondering what happened.' Soon, I'll be 47 years old, which to me is like being two years older than God. As a quasi-atheist, when I look into the abyss, I become very angry. Yet, having a total and complete lack of insight, I am unsure why this feeling alights. Can you share your ideas on growing old?"
Did you ever see someone get upset over a misunderstanding? It happens all the time. Even if the perceived injustice is entirely imaginary, the anger one feels is real. But once one realizes that things were not as they were imagined to be, the anger subsides. You may FEEL like you don't have much longer to live, and get angry because so much more remains to be done, but what are the facts?
In 20 years, you'll be my age. You'll be 20 years OLDER, but not OLD (unless you allow your imagination to tell you that you are). One of the chief causes of human suffering is REVERSE VISION. That is, we tend to focus outward when we should be focusing inward, and we tend to look inward when we should be looking outward. Or we may be thinking about the past, when we should be thinking about the future, and vice versa. It seems, we're always facing the wrong direction.
Here's what I mean. You see a 23-year-old man and think he's half your age and has a long life ahead of him, so you envy him and are filled with sadness. Why are you miserable? Because you're facing the wrong way. If you turn around and face the other way, you'll see Gwen Beer, who wrote her first novel, a best-seller, at age 96 (as reported in the Toronto Star, December 6, 2004). Wow, and you're only 47? Rejoice and allow yourself to become filled with excitement. Just think of all you have yet to accomplish and savor in life.
A friend just called to explain that he's at his wits' end because his basement apartment got flooded. He's looking inward, at his own problems. No wonder he's frustrated and angry. Yet, just a few days ago, the lives of millions were thrown into complete chaos because they were the victims of raging tidal waves that swept across Southeast Asia and beyond. If my friend had looked outward at the problems facing the tsunami victims, he would be happy that his problems pale in comparison.
Can you see how changing the direction we face also changes our perspective? Being miserable is a state of mind, so move to a different state. It's easy when you realize that you're not growing old; you're just living a long life. Personally, I never felt that I was growing OLD, but always believed I was growing BETTER. Can't you say the same for yourself? When you do, you will discover life is glorious, not odious.
You talk about being a quasi-atheist, but that's like being quasi-pregnant. It's not possible. One is either pregnant or not and an atheist or not. What you mean to say is you're confused and in doubt. Many others share the same feelings. Especially those that were reared in religious environments and later grew disillusioned by the hypocrisy and untenable beliefs that were foisted on them. Such people find the word "God" conjures up bad memories. But don't confuse God with bad memories. Don't get hung up on a word. Change the word to something more meaningful, such as Creator, Intelligence, or anything else you feel comfortable with.
Again, it's a matter of facing and looking in the right direction. Instead of looking back at bad memories, take a walk in the park and look at what surrounds you in the present. A log cabin never was nor ever will be created by chance. But once intelligence (man) enters the picture, it's a simple matter to create one. As you look around the park and see butterflies, beetles, and frogs - all of which are infinitely more complex than a log cabin - isn't it obvious that Intelligence is at work? If you allow yourself to soak in the wonders of nature you will find belief in a Creator self-evident. Just because you don't have all the answers doesn't mean you can't believe in the obvious; mainly, an Intelligence or Creator that brought us into existence.
Not only is our world filled with creatures, but they are all cared for. Nature provides for their needs. Nature cares about its members. It cares about you. It has granted you the resources you need to thrive. As you are confused about life and your role in it, you naturally feel vulnerable. But vulnerability isn't a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It signals that you are facing your fears. What a wonderful position to be in! For at no other time is life so exciting, joyful, and bursting with energy than when we live it with courage. So, take heart. Don't be afraid, for you are not facing a tsunami that will sweep you away, but a rising tide that will lift you to new heights, if you allow it to.
I already mentioned a major cause of suffering is reverse vision. Another is denial. And by that I don't mean a river in Egypt (the Nile), but I'm referring to our tendency to blame others and circumstances for our unhappiness. Although growing OLDER is unavoidable, growing UP isn't. But growing up, that is, accepting responsibility, is necessary before we can lead fulfilling lives. When we accept responsibility for how we respond to the events in our lives, we gain control; we become masters of our fate.
There is a fine line between acting irresponsibly and responsibly. It is the difference between saying to yourself, "I feel miserable," and "I DON'T WANT TO feel miserable." There is a subtle but big difference between the two. For when you say, "I DON'T WANT TO feel miserable," you are implying you have a choice, which you do Responsibility, then, is all about making the right choices. It's about deciding to have the right thoughts.
For example, when responsible people begin to feel blue, their train of thought may be as follows, "Since I don't want to feel miserable, what am I going to do about it? Complaining, getting upset, or drowning in self-pity doesn't help, so what positive steps can I can take?" This line of reasoning is rational and solution oriented. MERELY LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS LEADS TO THEIR DISCOVERY. Isn't that what Christ meant when he told us that if we knocked, the door would be opened, and if we asked, we would receive?
Part of making responsible choices is choosing HOPE over DESPAIR and FAITH in yourself and the world over SELF-DOUBT and CYNICISM. Armed with these tools, we will be able to whittle down mountain-sized problems to the size of molehills. We will also have the courage to leap into the unknown. After all, the abyss you wrote about is frightening only if we don't have faith in a Loving Presence that will catch us before we splat into the bottom of the chasm.
How would you feel if your favorite composer, vocal artist, or comedian refused to perform? I know how I would feel. I would feel cheated because the world needs them. We need the pleasure of laughter and the joy of music. And, you know, Leo, the world is counting on you to do your part. Regardless of how you feel, the world is depending on you to spread joy to those you meet. Once you accept this challenge, a funny thing happens, all the joy you give away is multiplied many times over and returned to you. I guess what I am trying to say is the best way to end your suffering is to end the suffering of others.
Happy New Year, Leo, may all your dreams come true.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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