|How many times have you found yourself? For those of us who have had to find ourselves
more than once some might ask, "How do you keep getting lost?" Good question but
it is really pretty easy.
The first time I found myself was the traditional time, my late teens and early twenties. During that period I remember some late-night talks with friends sitting on a bridge over a brook. It was the beginning of thinking and exchanging ideas on the meaning of life.
Then, out of school, I started reading for my own pleasure and interest rather than to complete a school assignment. Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell struck particular chords with me. I was in Boston at this time serving my military time on a Coast Guard ship. When the ship was in port I would frequently spend time in Boston Common listening to debaters. Then challenging the debaters and sometimes getting a swelled head when the crowd would change alliance to me.
I would like to think that everyone goes through this phase in their lives. However, I was living on a ship with 100 men my age and there were perhaps a dozen who seemed to be thinking at all. I remembered that experience in a poem a few years later when I was in college.
A ship at sea is a whole community,
A hundred men and the moon.
"I think, therefore I am," Descartes.
A hundred men and the moon.
I think I am alone.
The second time I had to find myself was about ten years later. At age 32 I was successful in my chosen career, I owned a house on 100 acres in Maine, I was in my first year of marriage and I was unhappy. How could that be? I had everything I had ever felt I wanted.
First, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to recognize that I was unhappy. Second, I have known many people who have lived their whole lives not knowing that they even had the option to pursue happiness.
Why was I unhappy? That is a really difficult question to answer. In fact, I didn't answer it at the time. I think I can now but it has taken a bunch more years of thinking and the benefit of living very differently to reach an understanding of my feeling at that time. I enjoyed the people I was working with, I enjoyed the job I was doing, I enjoyed recognition for my work, I enjoyed having money and I enjoyed the company of the woman I loved. The unhappiness was deeper.
Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth (a wonderful book) says: "The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you rally are happy--not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call 'following your bliss.'"
One of the things I focused on at the time was taxes. Why should I work one third of the year to pay taxes? It was a negative rather than a positive but still it helped me find myself. Two years later I was working less than a month to pay taxes. I had given up my New York apartment and we were living in Maine with an income below the poverty level. Our income the year our son was born, 1974, was under $5,000. We paid the doctor with a cord of wood. Those were blissful years, truly. I suspect that few people can understand that.
The third time I found myself is happening right now. Why do I need finding again? I could say that the effort to save Laudholm Farm pulled me off track. It was a project that compelled me to make a change in my life but having children was also a compelling change. I have been doing things that were not what I most wanted to do but the rewards have been great. I have no regrets about that.
The reinvestigation and the realization that I was off track happened within the past year, after I gave notice that I was leaving Laudholm Trust. I found myself thinking about saving money, about retirement and other money kinds of things. I don't want to get into this too far because I know that most of you will think that I'm totally nuts. For me, I know that money is a great impediment to following my bliss. It may be that as a consultant or even as a writer or as something that I haven't even imagined yet I will find great sums of money coming my way. I have resolved to give it away should that happen. I am not going to work for money. That's not to say I don't want to get paid for what I do that is of value to others. It is to say that I will be working for my bliss. I will give away any money that comes along that I don't need and my needs are small.
My motive is not altruistic. I just know that I will be much happier not working for money and not saving money and not worrying about what happens to money. I should turn that around and put it in positive terms. I will be much happier working for myself and those I love. I will be happier saving time for myself. I will be happier worrying about real needs and dealing directly with them in the present.
There is a joke: Money may not buy you happiness but it sure puts you in a marvelous bargaining position. I believe that is a cruel joke for anyone who believes it.
I came out of the store carrying a pizza and a big grin. My daughter asked what I was laughing about. I told her I was just happy. "Buying a pizza?" "Yeah." It doesn't take much when you are on track.
ŠJuly 28, 1995
Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.
Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. Mortmather@cybertours.com
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