by Nick Andrea
My entire life has been an obsession with what I was going to do for a living. It began in childhood with paleontology, volcanology, and geology. Then I began to play baseball, and wanted to be a professional baseball player. Hockey followed, then aviation, drumming, and on and on and on, my incurable need to define myself by a vocation continuing to the present day.
Yet, I’ve never found it. I haven’t fully found what I am in anything that I do which caused me to look in a different place for this existential foundation. Then something dawned on me, transforming my inner climate from existential malaise to joyous play. Emerging for some time, the time was ripe for me to receive a text from my buddy, “Ya know, you don’t stick with anything because you’re afraid of being trapped. You keep mistaking the joy you get in activities from the source of that joy, which is beyond the activity.” Wow.
Duh. Yeah, you’ve probably heard it said the source of joy is within you, not in things outside yourself, and that you are the source of your own happiness, that it’s your attitude that makes the world bright or dark, and that you are the master of your own destiny. Ok, well that and $3.40 will get you a cup of coffee. But what does it really mean? How do we gain control of our inner light? How do we walk the walk?
I’ll tell you, but before that let me explain what led up to my blossoming moment. So, I’ve been meditating regularly and deeply lately. I won’t go into detail, but what’s important is that a question began to ask itself within me, “Who am I?” But, it wasn’t the kind of question one would ask in expectation of an answer. No, it felt more like the question was the answer. Like, it was a rhetorical question. Does that make sense? My inner “self” was saying, “Haha, who am I?” As if there’s a self….
What? There’s no self? Then who’s asking the question? Exactly. So, so there’s no “self,” that is, no separate ego that separates us from others. Who we really are is pure space, beyond time and space and form – no-thing, and if I’m no-thing then I can’t ever be fully identified with any-thing – any object, and-body (including “my” own), nor any-thing I do.
Ok so anyway, how does this apply to what my buddy said? I might be space, spirit, nothing, whatever, but how does that help me in the everyday world? How does it help me choose a living?
Here’s the rub: since I’m essentially no-thing, then only no-thing can bring me true happiness, while things cannot – including stuff, relationships, and jobs. It’s not that I can’t have joy in doing things, just that the joy is not in the things but in the one who does them.
You might think that it sucks that you as an ego, as a persona, as a face, voice, personality doesn’t exist permanently, but actually it’s quite liberating. Sine we are no-thing we can be any-thing. Life is a play and we are the actors and actresses. We choose what to do based on what role we want to play, and we can change it if we want.
Moreover, we have the freedom to choose how long we want to play roles. If you want to play a one-career-for-life guy then do it! And if you want to do different things then do that. Whatever it is remember that your true happiness lies in knowing who you really are, and that’s not being a being a paleontologist, it’s not being a baseball player, it’s not being a professional musician. It’s not even being a mother, a father, or a grandparent. It’s nothing you can point to, nothing you can name – “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”
Life is a big play, and everything we do is a temporary role. I was a spouse last night, I’m a brother for now, and I’ll be a web designer tomorrow, and the ability to switch roles like a well-oiled ball bearing, based on the situation right in front of me, is where success lies.
My conclusion therefore is not too focus too hard on what I want to be but to see what I do as a temporary and functional role. Instead, choose my path based on fun and passion – if it feels good, do it. If you makes you sad, don’t do it, and not to be attached to what I think I have to do, because that’s bullshit; I didn’t sign up for this play to go from have-to to have-to. And if you’re like me and afraid to be trapped by your commitments, just remember, “Who is there that can be trapped?”