26 May 2011

The End Is Nothing

Willa Cather is one of my favorite novelists, mostly because of the caring that she shows for all of her characters.  She said once, “The end is nothing; the road is all,” words that make me stop and think every time I hear them.  After all, they seem to go contrary to what most of us believe in life–that we’re here to reach some sort of destination, to make it to some sort of final goal on this planet in our lifetimes.  But really, nothing could be further from the truth, we can see if we think about it for a while.

Every life always is a work in progress, and it should be until the day we die.  After all, when have we finished learning?  When do we ever stop growing and changing?  When has a person ever finished everything they ever wanted to accomplish on the day that they died?  It simply doesn’t happen–there’s always still something that we could be adding to the world and to our lives at any given moment, and we also could die at any given moment.

If we spend all of our time and effort focused on the end of a journey, then just what do we give to the journey itself?  If we’re always looking ahead in anticipation, then when are we looking around in appreciation and wonder?  If we’re always thinking about how things are going to be, just when can we love the way things are?

In Zen and Buddhist teachings, there’s a strong focus on going with the flow, and of letting that flow carry us where it will.  In many other cultures, people focus on determining where they want to go or be, and then forcing the flow to bend to their will and take them where they think they want to be.  This latter perspective shows little trust in life or God or whatever we perceive to be an ultimate source of power, and it assumes that the human brain is capable of figuring out just what will be the best for each person on the planet.  Most of us, though, if we think about how often we’ve been wrong in life, would realize that our brains simply don’t have the ability to know what’s best.  They’re extremely amazing tools, obviously, but they’re parts of our bodies that we’re only using temporarily, so they do have many limitations.

I want to keep my focus on the journey.  I want to look around and love and appreciate and do my best to take good care of myself all the time.  I want to give my all to the journey not in an effort to make it to an end, but in an effort to make the journeys of other people a little more pleasant or a little easier, and effort to make the most of the gifts that I’ve been given every day of my life, rather than focusing on the possible rewards of an uncertain future.

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