POEM: A Full Life

Charlie’s life was full
Every available space laden to wrest
His productivity well suited
To his interests
Taxidermy and robotics

This short poem offers a challenge to what it means to have a full life in modern Western civilization, where increasing speed and productivity are worshiped as the means to a good life.  I am a big fan of rest and empty spaces as an essential way to fully round out one’s life.  Our culture’s addiction to productivity, fitting in (“well suited”), and a focus on narrow interests has most of us bamboozled.  In this poem, the inane and the productive meet in the metaphor of taxidermy and robotics, representing the deadening and dehumanizing effects of an overfull life.  This metaphor also juxtaposes vocation and avocation, where it is unclear what is a job and what is a hobby.  While this may be confusing, it hints at the underlying connection that a capitalistic culture makes.  Capitalism works best when we devote ourselves to both work/productivity AND inane consumerismCapitalism wants to own both vocation and avocation.  Of course, an endless array of inane avocations are offered, as long as they support the consumption of some product or service, hopefully in the service of distracting you from the emptiness of your “full” life and the avaricious nature of endless “growth.”

Emptiness can be revolutionary.  This is why capitalism works best when it crams every available space with inane crap.  Capitalism’s very life depends on it.  Surely, capitalism must provide abundant avenues to distract us from our emptiness.  However, emptiness is not empty!  If we sit with our emptiness, in the sense of lack of fulfillment, this will foment unrest poorly suited for capitalism.  Even further, in experiencing empty spaces and silence, we expand our perspective, the framework upon which we see things, allowing us to truly grow.  Buddhists and Taoists are particularly adept at exploring such realities.  Deists might frame this as silence being the language of God, that small, still voice.

After experiencing a period of relaxation, have you ever then experienced increased anxiety or dread when “going back to work” appears on the horizon?  In a life abundant in balance and wisdom, while work requires effort, it does not require dread.  Dread is a sign of imbalance.  Chronic dread signifies a shortage of wisdom.  Dread speaks to us.  One of the central concepts (the first of the Four Noble Truths) of Buddhism is often stated in English as “Life is suffering.”  I have heard this elaborated upon as realizing that life requires effort (work).  Work is not the enemy.  Work is an integral part of life — as is rest .  The issue becomes how to achieve balance and minimize suffering.  I like the image of breathing in and out as a metaphor for balanceQuestioning whether breathing in or out is better misses the point — as is often the case in Western convergent thinking.  If you do ask which is better, the only sensible response is “what did you do last?”  If work causes anxiety, then rest.  If rest causes anxiety, then work.  If everything causes you anxiety, then look to emptiness.  Of course, emptiness often looks like rest, but there is good work to be done there…

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