The three magic words aren’t what you might think

I am 40 tomorrow and reaching record levels of simultaneous panic and introspection.

I am, of course, not who I thought I’d be. Taigen Dan Leighton, Zen priest and author of Visions of Awakening Space and Time, asked wisely “did anything ever turn out the way you thought it would?”

We yearn for predictability because it gives us an illusion of comfort, but in reality it isn’t what we want. I know no-one who is unequivocally happy as a result of achieving what they imagined they wanted. There is temporary satisfaction, yes; but also always a hidden twist in the landscape, that can’t be seen until we’re right in front of it.

The good news is that this releases us from trying to control the future. You can only do your best, and your best is enough.

I figured that once I’d attained enlightenment, I could doss around and enjoy the rest of my life in bliss – in the same way that some people view retirement – however this myth was quashed when I asked my teacher, a Zen master, “are you still learning?” and he replied “yes of course.”

So there is no end to self-improvement. That’s good, right? Nobody likes endings. Did I even want a happy ending? Or how about eternity? Vampires, holders of eternal life, don’t look too satisfied either.

In truth there is nowhere to go, emotionally, but to accept what I’ve been given. Which for now is a little disappointment, that I am not Secretary General of the UN or editor of the NYT; a little fear, that this means I’ll be branded a loser; and a worry, that I’m going to develop an irrational craving to cover it all up with a red sportscar.

On the other hand the worries that media and busybodies say I should have, i.e. that I’m unmarried and CHILDLESS, don’t bother me at all. “It’s a shame”, I’ve been told. Shame that what? That I don’t fit into their personal picture of how everyone should be?

The idea is, “Oh no. If I don’t have a family and a job, then I have nothing.” This ideal is then projected into “well-meaning” (read: patronising and interfering) judgments on others.

The reality is that you can be fulfilled; but the contents of that fulfilment are usually beyond what most of us can imagine. I would tell you mine, but each person’s love is different.

So dream, for God’s sake. Dream for all you’re worth, do your best, and then wait in wonder.

One of the most beautiful book titles I ever came across is Only Don’t Know. The sooner you can embrace those three words, the sooner you’ll be fulfilled.


Other links that will change your life:

Roomba Cat


26th February 2013

Comments (13)

  1. I really love your throw away self deprecating style.
    Happy birthday. You are young and life begins now.

    • Thank you Michael :-) I love your work too! Hope to study painting with you sometime. I was going to say “before I’m 40″, but…

  2. 40 is just another whole number like 28 or 51 and by the way 40 is good age to be, young enough to go in any direction you chose and maybe just old enough to know you limitations.

    On the other hand I have my theory of relative perceived time, in that when you are a young child, an afternoon seems like forever, a summer holiday like eternity, when a teenager committing oneself to another 3-4 years study or training seems like signing away your life; then somehow we get immersed in life and the years just seem to roll by faster and faster until it appears that the momentum will zip your remaining years away in a flash. So, on the relative perceived time scale you may be more like 63! On the plus side we also learn not to get so immersed in fears about the future or worries about the past, so we don’t lose the present moment in all things.

    Happy 63 tomorrow!!

  3. After enlightenment, the washing :)

    Happy Birthday

  4. Happy Birthday for Wednesday – looking cool for 40! Very cool!

  5. Atta girl! Don’t mind the busybodies. If they were happy with themselves, they’d be happy for you. But since they have time to watch you and criticize…they probably need the distraction….

    The reason why there are more stars in the sky than there are people on earth–of course, we can’t really double check that, can we?–is that only those who chose to make the world a better place than they found it shine. (That’s from Gift of Acabar.)

    So shine, Ms purrty forty. Write, write, write. Write a book. Write more books. You’ll be a beacon for many. Happy birthday, cuz!

  6. I turned 40 a few weeks ago. I had a full year preparing for it!
    Someone said to me in June, José you need to ask yourself what you already achieved… not what is missing to achieve.
    It was great to pause and see around me. Realize that I’m not the 20 years old guy anymore. It was interesting and surprising to redefine myself and I made a huge change.
    Today I feel free, and as some one else commented, looks like life starts now!

  7. A good article and published on my birthday!!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, it’s given me lots of stuff to think about.


  8. I can definitely vouch for the illusory nature of the “retirement” concept. Having done that for the last four years I realise that it is as “mythical” as i always suspected. You, Mia, are obviously far too young for Susan Moon’s “this is getting old” but I recommend you keep it in mind to read in 20 or 25 years’ time and enjoy her website in the meantime…

  9. Happy Birthday Mia!
    Your words always fill my day with sunshine!
    Maybe a painting weekend before you are 50


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