Starting with the End

I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to skip ahead to the last few pages of any book to find out what happens in the end. THEN, I can read the book because to some degree, I know what to expect. That’s not how I write, though. Well, to be honest, I don’t really have any plan at all when I write. I usually just start with an idea and write and write and write and hope that it begins to take shape. If I were a clay or ceramic artist, I’d probably end up with the funkiest plates and bowls and cups ever.

But when it comes to my life vision, I realize that having a better understanding of how I want to shape my future is the best way to shape my present. It gives me a road map to follow, knowing that things will get adjusted as time goes on and I discover more and more about myself.

Deep down, I am what people might call “free-spirited.” Without a personal vision, I will take life one minute at a time and pick whatever feels the most comfortable to me in the moment. Because I lack having built a deep sense of self early on in my life, without a solid vision in my life, I often find myself so far away from the lifestyle that I would like to build. I find that sitting down to document the lifestyle I want is healthy; it helps me to have something to check in with, to decide if I am currently on track or getting off… and it allows for re-adjustment. Or, perhaps the whole vision plan needs to be re-addressed. And that’s what this is about. Me.

I assume that I will die of a ripe old age, of complications with old age, because that is part of my generally purposefully naive free spirit. So with that assumption, I am able to figure out what kinds of things I want to be said of me at my funeral and the party afterward… what will people remember the most about me? Will that happen? I don’t know, but it’s what I’d like to have happen.

What legacy do I want to leave behind…the talk of the town after I die? As I think of that, I remember my grandmother’s funeral. She had 16 children, and they all loved her. As many of them that could attend her funeral, did attend. Everyone talked about the valuable lessons they learned from her and there seemed to be a single common thread: care. Granny was the most caring person any of us had ever met. She cared, deeply, about any and everyone and any and every situation. I’d never known her to cut off communication with any of her children, no matter how much they fought her or disagreed with her. She would always be there, caring, even if only in her own head. So when I think about that experience, I realize that the word I’d like to think people would associate with me is love. How much I loved. Who I loved. How I loved. How many people my love affected. How many people loved more because I loved.

Photo © Tabitha Chapman

Photo © Tabitha Chapman

I believe that love is an eternal well…it never depletes. I believe that every human harbors his or her own eternal well. It springs from them and flows in abundance with no concept of depletion.

What is love, anyway?

So what, exactly, is love? And, also, importantly, what isn’t it?

I view love, to put it simply, as self-love + joy + altruism (as in, the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others, not to be confused with philanthropy). I know, I used the word in the definition. Let me explain. As I said in the paragraphs above, there is an eternal well that starts with me (and you) and it comes from me (and you). The only way to truly love, in my opinion, is to love everything about you, even the things you don’t like. I love every aspect of my life. Of course, that wasn’t always the case but, as I get older, I am able to look back on my life and my experiences and think, “Man, without those experiences, I would not be here today and I would not be the same person I am now and, good golly, I can love like no other. I like me. I love me.” The effect of this is that the decisions I make in life are, ultimately, decisions that will drive my goals and my plans for my own life. They are choices between living fully for my own future paths and trading myself for instant gratification that will never be fulfilling enough as long as I believe that external resources cause happiness. As I make decisions, if they are out of love, I will be able to self-correct them with care and gentleness.

I used to be the kind of person who punished herself with every “mistake,” which, incidentally, was me letting myself off the hook and not taking responsibility for my participation. “I am a victim of that, oops, didn’t really mean to do it. Don’t hold me responsible.” Now, I don’t view my life as a mistake. I look back and think, “Oh, that’s why I made that decision. Okay, time to correct.” It’s fascinating when you shift your perspective. Of course, there’s still some things I don’t want to claim responsibility for and I just haven’t brought them to my consciousness yet, but, when I do, I’ll correct it.

Back to my definition of love. It’s a “state of being” that encompasses the entire world like paint dripping over a ball. It starts with me and just oozes over everything as I think about how everything is interconnected. It’s a sense of mindfulness, with deep concern for how everything affects everything. It’s joy, even when there’s pain. It’s joy because of the pain. It’s recognizing that pain is good and necessary, and that it shapes you and everyone around you, providing a sense of humanness, of boundaries and limitations…and reality. Love is seeing all of that and feeling even more and even deeper for humanity, including self.

So where does the altruism part come in? Can one love enough with self-love, alone? Is love the same when alone as it is with other humans or objects or whatever sparks that connection? I believe that extending this concept of self-love onto people or objects or concepts drives the human experience to love deeper, longer, and better. I think it all reflects back to your own sense of self-love, and yet it deepens your sense of love for all other things. It’s like two mirrors that reflect, infinitely. Even if I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was the only human in existence on this earth, I don’t think this sense of love would stay contained within me. It’s like a vibration that bounces off other things, real or imagined, in order to grow. Think of pizza dough. The more stimulation it gets the larger the dough grows…from a tiny little ball into a big round disk with just a little time and effort. That’s how it is for me. With joy alone, I feel that you can walk through your world, feeling joyful, and, while it may have an effect on other people, that’s not necessarily the intention. The intention is to feel joy! To see the world through joyful eyes! With love, I think there is an element of “other” whether it is a person or an inanimate object. With that understanding comes great responsibility and care.

What is not love?

There are so many forms of expression that I think people often confuse expression with love. For instance, love is not “giving.” While I think there can be an element of giving that is important when it comes to relating to other humans—not necessarily in the sense of giving money to the poor or giving to some charitable event, but expressing more from yourself for the betterment of the world as a whole, whatever that is for you. Giving a part of you where you can interdependently give, and that can be part of this experience of love. But, ultimately, love is not the same as giving. I think this is an area where I have had confusion in my life in the past, where my relationships failed because I gave to the point where I completely disabled people’s ability to provide for themselves in certain areas. I called that “love” but, is it?

It’s not “being loved” or requiring anything in return from other humans. It is, however, trusting that when you have your own experience and you put love into the world, you will get both love and, for lack of a better word, “unlove” back, and that is just how the world is—the yin and yang that keeps the universe in balance. The best way to resolve that for myself is to love more, to seek out the love and the unlove, and love anyway.

Back to my list of nots. Love is not “being agreeable”. It is not “being friends with EVERYONE”. And… it is not “sex” or “babies”.

Ultimately, there’s a whole lot of ways that I think our current understanding of “love” is confused and the goal is to love because of that. It’s like watching a child attempt to put together a puzzle…and struggling. There’s nothing better to do than sit, watch, and love as s/he has that experience of figuring it out—maybe providing some guidance but understanding that the best way for that child to learn is to struggle.

This is how I want to shape my life, and these are the things I want discussed at my funeral, and forever after, when people think of me. And I am committed to steering my life in this direction.

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