The Quality of Life

Near the end of her long life, I asked my grandmother if she could go back, would she change anything. 

“No,” she said, “I’ve had a wonderful life!”

I guess we can either chase what we want or want what we have. Grandma was clearly in the latter camp.

Still, it begs the question. What do we want from life? What defines a life well-lived?

A beauty pageant answer might be world peace. 

That’s not how we live. 

If one were to infer an answer through observation, it might be that a life well-lived is; preoccupied with thought, frantically busy, and obsessed with consumption.  

Seriously, if that doesn’t define our purpose, then why do we live that way?

Most of life is spent trying to shape outcomes to our desires. When things go our way, we consider ourselves successful. When they don’t, it’s bad luck. 

Ultimately we learn the really important things are beyond our control.  

Western cultures generally define a life well-lived by outward characteristics like virtue and accomplishment. Eastern cultures take the opposite approach, focusing on the inner qualities of “being” and awareness.

I used to be motivated by accomplishments. Now I place a higher value on inner experience. The transition was not smooth. It began the day I learned I wasn’t “driving the bus.” 

I like to observe people and have always wondered why some people are happy no matter what, while others are unhappy, no matter what. In fairness, life serves up plenty of reasons for unhappiness. It would be nice to know the secret sauce in joyful resilience!

Some people look to a higher power. Others, like my grandmother, appear to possess a happiness gene. 

I credit mindfulness with leading me to the happiness camp. I used to take awareness for granted. That was a mistake. Awareness may be innate, but it’s also trainable. This for me was new learning.

If you are curious about this area, a good place to start is Eckhart Tolle’s 1997 book, “The Power of Now.” The book has a very simple premise. Life happens in the present moment, and the quality of awareness at this very moment determines the quality of life. That sounds simple. It’s not!  

I read the book shortly after beginning mindfulness practice back in the early 2000s. The timing was perfect because my practice corroborated Tolle’s claims. 

I loved the book and ordered a copy for my father. He thought it was the most ridiculous book he ever read.

Dad was a planner and intensely goal orientated. He was flabbergasted that anyone would waste their time reading a book focused on the present moment. 

That view is consistent with how most of us live our lives, which brings me back to the issue of control vs. circumstance. 

When things were under control, I was firmly in Dad’s camp. However, when serious family health issues revealed the limits of my control, I was left to find another way. 

You may recall what Winston Churchill said about going through Hell,… “keep going!” That’s a good idea, but how?

Most of us live in our heads and are preoccupied with thoughts. But there is another way. I refer to it as “silent fitness.”

If interested, you can read about it here: https://tim-coats.com/digging-deeper/

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Follow me at http://tim-coats.com

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