Sand Castles

By Jason E Mueller

20130725_185237I’ve had  a few things on my mind lately that have been weighing on me.  I’m noticing individuals facing some pretty serious situations, literally life and death.  I feel for them, shared that I would send thoughts and prayers their way as that’s all I could really do.  One of the people in my network (pretty close to my age) is dealing with their spouse being in hospice right now and trying to navigate their young child through the process.  How does one keep it together while facing something like that?  I have a family member who is facing health issues and will need surgery, I need to be there for that person on that date so I’ll take a day off of work for that.  But it’s a reminder to me that I’ll have to face those around me leaving this world at some point.  No one lives forever, things will change dramatically.  It’s all a matter of when.

Am I ready?  No.  I admit that right now.  If I were then the universe would be throwing me that one so I would have my turn experiencing and growing from end of life situations.  At least I have the awareness to know this so I can better prepare myself for when the time comes.  Here are some questions I’m asking myself right now:

“If someone close to me were about to pass, would I have any regrets?”

“If I didn’t have a chance to say good bye, what would hurt me most about that?”

“What would I want to do differently today if a close family member passed at the end of this year?”

“What great thing could I do right now or share right now that I think would benefit someone close to me that was going to pass?”

“What mundane things are distracting me from what is important right now?”

Back in my coffee shop days I had a customer come in by the name of Johnny.  He was a retired firefighter, cancer survivor, and seminary student.  Based on limitations from his struggle he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to being a minister, something he felt would be the best use of his future years.  He told me one day about the estate he was settling in his family, Johnny’s father had passed away six months prior.  I’ll remember this conversation vividly, he told me that he was working to put to rest all of the matters in the estate but there were some brothers that were fighting over money and inheritance.  Johnny was very disappointed to see family come to that point and that it would likely disappoint his father if he could see that going on.  He then told me that his father was a great saver.  He didn’t have much income but was great at budgeting.  Johnny’s father had always put money away for retirement so that when he was not able to work anymore, he would have a resource to draw from.  A very admirable trait.

But then Johnny stopped.  He said, “Jason I wish my father wouldn’t have done that.  He saved and saved but could have lived more in the moment.  For example he always admired Cadillacs, I wish he would have bought one and enjoyed it because all of that resource he put away is now dividing his family.  I wish I could have seen him enjoy things more when he had the chance.  And then there wouldn’t be a huge estate to fight over.”

Yes.  We should be conscious of how we are living in the moment.  Saving for retirement or emergency is in my opinion a good thing to do.  But like anything else, balance should be struck.  We can over compensate, put more away than we need to and rob today of the chances we have.  We can over allot our money, our time, and our attention to other things in hopes that we are building security.  My challenge to all of you reading this is to take note of happiness level related to how we go about this.  Does the amount of time we dedicate to our work add security while allowing us to enjoy the present?  Or do we punish ourselves by putting so much time into doing a “good job” that we don’t recognize the loved ones around us.  Or notice the impact we have on them.  Do we take advantage of the opportunities that we are provided or are we grinding away at our routine, blind to the answers we seek to make our lives better.

I have a very grounding, Zen exercise I like to do every summer which helps me to be able to slow down enough and be present.  Identify how many shades of green are on the leaves of trees while they blow in the wind.   Here’s a hint, it’ s more than one.  When you can identify that number, you’ve probably slowed down enough to notice things more effectively.  You may have to actually go up to the tree and take a closer look at one of the individual leaves (pull one off if you have to).  That’s fine, but the main point is to regain some of the awareness that meaningless routine tends to erode from our consciousness.

If you raise your awareness and go through your day in a conscious manner (rather than unconsciously doing the same thing over and over), you will be able to know more of how to interact with those around you and make things meaningful.  My hope is that decisions will be made in a more clear manner, interactions with loved ones will be enjoyed more, and those times where we find ourselves searching for something but just don’t know what…will decrease in number.  Time is short, life is limited.  Let’s do ourselves a favor and really live life and not get caught up in minutia.

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Sometimes we build castles in the sand, our structures being representations of the art we envision.  But they won’t last forever, eroded by waves and wind, there is a limited time we can enjoy the beauty of them while they stand.  This sculpture of impermanence is a perfect reminder of how short a lifespan our creations have before they are returned to the seascape from which they came.