During a recent dream (no longer the nightmares of yesteryear, thank goodness), I found myself walking along a mountain trail, arms-over-shoulders with a man my age and height. After some silence, I turned to him with a question, “How do you want to live your life?”
Not what would you like to do before you die (as in “climb Mount Fuji” or “dance like Fred Astaire”) but what does your heart need to thrive and blossom? What qualities would this life embody, free from expectations and accomplishments? Not a bucket filled with wishful checklists, but that deeply felt longing . . . with texture . . . and depth . . . and meaning? A life which, when reflecting on your deathbed, you’d be utterly content with?
By now, the dream-question has turned into a “koan” (Japanese for maddening puzzlers for which there’s no logical answer, only more questions until words no longer serve). Zen masters have been tossing koans their students’ way for millennia: There, chew on that! Let it fill and empty you, pierce your complacency, question your borrowed wisdom, disturb your cherished notions!
Let it bother you, as if your life depended on it!
This is how the poet Rilke put it in his Letters to a young poet (1929):
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
And you, “How do you want to live your one life?”