When I was in college, I remember being so enthusiastic about graduating and getting on with my life. College was like a bi-polar nanny that was helping to accomplish my dreams while at the same time preventing me from starting on them. After graduation I thought the big world was going to easily open to the abundance of effort and output that I was giving it.
I quickly learned that no one took me seriously. I had no street credit. That’s ok, I would soon prove them all wrong as I doubled down as the general contractor over my big dreams. Late nights, long hours, extra curricular efforts; these were all the fruit of out-working everyone else to see my radical NEW ideas soon come into play. It wasn’t long before I realized that those in power remain in power by squashing the new.
I don’t deter easy. Like many of us in this phase of life, I didn’t give up. If doubling down on my efforts didn’t produce my dreams, then tripling down would likely get things going. All this effort is powered by “one-day” syndrome. One-day syndrome allows us to endure suffering and genuine hardship so long as we truly believe these are only temporary. One-day syndrome is faith by another name. My feverish climbing and striving pulled me out of my smaller holes, but revealed that I was located at the bottom of the mountain.
Humility is sobering. It hurts to admit I didn’t know what I thought I did. It pained me to think that I wasn’t original. The idea that I was standing at the bottom of the ant pile beneath the immeasurable weight of countless others who shared my same original dream. It was the weight of despair setting in. Once we realize that our biggest dreams are very far away, the immediate and short term realities take priority.
This is our first taste of settling.
Our soul shows its true colors in this moment of sobriety. A choice emerges before us once we recognize that we’re part of a larger moving cycle that has pre-existed us and will outlast us. Do we by-pass this process as if our dreams were somehow disconnected from all others? If so, our soul is sick, detached and fragmented. Or do we humbly begin serving right from our present reality, trusting more will come as we learn? If so, our soul, while immature, has grasped wisdom.
Before long, the patterns of movement begin to emerge. People resign from what you thought would be your “dream job.” Each time we accomplish something, its reality is not as we imagined it would be. Our relationships take effort and a toll on our energy supply. That “new” thing we once were so proud of, seems small and short sighted given our present perspective.
Slowly, we gain power, confidence and respect. Along the way we also collect a lot of baggage. We carry things and hold on to that which we shouldn’t. They weigh us down and drain us. We gain attachments to things we shouldn’t. These are little pets that stroke our ego and reassure us we are somehow ok. We compare our progress to others. These end up owning us in direct proportion to our value of them.
Further on we realize that this is how it has always been and how it will always be. The warp and woof of climbing the ant pile has given and taken away. We’ve been disappointed by success and now we question what is really at the top. If we give this the effort with which we started, we now know there will be nothing left of us by the time we are half way there. If we were to be among the few at the top, the cycle is not stopped. Our fate is ultimately that same as those at the bottom.
So what’s the point? Why work the system at all? Why not spend our energy on enjoying what we have? These types of questions are the domain of despair. Solomon was right, the increase in wisdom increases vexation. These point to a soul that has concluded that there is nothing new here to create. And without the vantage point of the higher levels, we will become stuck here until the day we die.
So what can we see just a bit higher up the pile? What is just beyond the horizon? What happens when the feedback loop returns on itself? Much of life boils down to time and money. When we are poor we have so much time and few resources to do anything with it. When we have money, so often the means of accumulation takes all of our time leaving us in the opposite ditch of despair.
Death is the only offramp from the repetitive cycle of effort and output, attainment and disappointment. Dream, strive, receive, start again or quit, until we all die. This sounds horribly stark and empty. So where do we derive meaning during our days doing laps around the sun?
Wisdom reveals that as long as there is today, then each of us is needed. The “new thing” that we so naively thought we would or could give to the world is still there, but it’s not “a thing” at all. The new that we bring to the world is ourself. Each dream, each effort, each obtainment, was never to be possessed. Instead, they shaped us into increasing conformity to that which inspired us so deeply in our youth.
Meaning is the byproduct of the soul and effort behind each endeavor, not the endeavor itself. While we were trying to make and shape the world, God was using the world to make and shape us. Those who miss this nuance struggle with despair, those who grasp it find the key to a peaceful, productive life.
We thought we were making something new. It turns out the new has been making us all along.