No Other Life

This week I headed south to visit friends. It was a good weekend immersed in art, springtime, leisurely southern accents, and Starbucks. One of our conversation threads was hypothetical lives — who and where would we be if certain formative circumstances had been different: family dysfunctions, geographic and chronological influences, distracting personal dramas?

I confessed to a longtime habit of comparing my actual self and life with an idea of both, which I was supposed to manifest. I often worried about getting off track. Now I wonder what track I was thinking of, and where it came from. To own any of the events of your life, I think, you have to own them all. Because if one thing were different, then everything would be, and yours wouldn’t be the life you know. A human life has this fundamental integrity; it’s interwoven.

Integrity derives from a root meaning “whole”. In talking about zen, I often say that ours is a whole world in a way that transcends what we think of it. It’s a whole world because it encompasses everything, and because each thing is connected with everything else, whether or not those ties are visible to the naked eye. In the physical realm, this is a matter of fact: the continual recirculation of elements, the interdependence of earth and sky. In the non-material realm, it may be more a matter of faith.

I’ve mostly broken my habit of comparing my real life to a hypothetical one (usually to the detriment of the former — when we theorize, why do we so often choose hypotheses that hurt?). At a painful and pivotal juncture, a teacher at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center said to me, “There isn’t some other life out there that you should be living. The only life is the one you’re in.”

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