On the Circularity of Life


I’ve been reading a lot the last several days; reading, resting, quietly (and occasionally noisily) reflecting.

The last time I remember being this at peace with whiling away the hours on “leisure” activities was more than five years ago, after I’d left the corporate world. For about five months, I spent my days reading, writing, daydreaming and ruminating. That was a happy time, with security on all fronts. I had money, I had time; the past was great, the future was assured.

It was also during this same year that I discovered yoga, meditation, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. It was also the year I studied advanced reflexive metaphysics (I had literally one weekend to acquaint myself with Thomistic metaphysics), medieval philosophy, contemporary philosophy and the works of Martin Heidegger, Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas.

It was a simple life, filled with quiet routines and pedestrian pleasures (i.e., having a cinnamon walnut foccaccia in the bakery down the corner, walking with the sunlight filtering through the trees on the university’s campus, spending long moments in the Marian chapel in the church around the block).

It was also a subsidized life: subsidized in the sense that I did have money and I did have time—resources abundantly denied in one form or the other to most people I knew.

Now, a little more than half a decade later, all my money and all my time have gone into a studio that’s the embodiment and expression of the insights and values gained from the five years. My freedom is curtailed in the most obvious ways: I don’t get paid a salary and I don’t have days off. There have been times (many times) when I’ve wondered: where is the peace in all this, where is the serenity? Where, in between paying bills, people and taxes; teaching classes; managing teachers; cleaning mats?

For weeks (many weeks), there was no peace, and there was no serenity. But now, ever so slowly and ever so gradually, there’s more and more space. Space, not just as a result of work done outside in the world (i.e., putting down systems, gaining experience, learning from mistakes), but also as a result of work done quietly on the insideof making the marvelous and accidental discovery that so little is actually needed to be happy.

(I say marvelous and accidental, because sometimes, or perhaps many times, life has to force us to this realization: it’s only when we’ve been deprived of many of the supports of our identity that we discover how little we need them—and how much of our energy they actually drain away. I also say work, because it takes effort to accept this realization—and commitment to not fall into the same trap again.)

So now I feel I’ve come full circle: returned to the same point where I was five years ago when I read extensively, wrote extensively, reflected extensively. Only this time, I’m paying the full price. I’m making these choices without the safety nets of time and money. I’m “whiling away” the hours knowing fully that I could be engaging in more productive pursuits, leveraging the past to secure the future.

And, the strange thing is: it’s worth paying the full price.

It really is.

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