“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.” – Carlos Castaneda, Journey To Ixtlan
If the measure of a life is our contribution to the larger world around us, should we work harder, or focus on what moves the world through us? Shouldn’t we rejoice in the wonder of waking up this morning, feel the vibration of the world around us (such that it is), and make the most of this one more day? Moving the world through us takes imagination, vigor and commitment to our calling.
It feels easier to just grind it out, making the most of the path we choose, than to step off that path and try another. It feels easier to just turn on the television and immerse ourselves in something outside ourselves. To meet expectations and be a part of the way things are. Instead of moving the world through us we move through the world as everyone else does.
And there’s the trap. When we surrender to the world we lose our essence – we lose our autonomy. And, I hate to do it, but I’m going to use the same quote that Jeff Bezos used in his final letter to Amazon shareholders because it hasn’t left me since I read it:
“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself — and that is what it is when it dies — the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. If you measure some quantity such as the temperature, the acidity, the water content or the electrical potential in a living body, you will typically find that it is markedly different from the corresponding measure in the surroundings. Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die the work stops, the temperature differential starts to disappear, and we end up the same temperature as our surroundings… More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.” – Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker
Which reminds me of the most famous episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation:
“We are the Borg. Existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.” – The Borg, from Star Trek, The Next Generation
You and I, we aren’t ready to merge into our surroundings, are we? We aren’t ready to be assimilated. No, death hasn’t touched us yet, not today. And so we must remain autonomous. We must hear the call of our own heartbeat and somehow resist the temptation to just go with the flow. We must learn to move the world through us. To be unique.
None of this is easy. I struggle with autonomy, influenced as heavily as you might be by family and friends, quarterly numbers that demand attention and the occasional soundbite or affront to humanity making the rounds on social media. It’s hard to remember sometimes that all that is outside of us. All that wants us to merge with it and amplify the chorus with our voice. It takes courage to turn away, see a different path and start down it.
Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch.
Ignore the urge to merge. Move through this world in your own way. Down your own path. While there’s still time.