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The Myth of Enlightened Retirement
Learning to embrace the path without end
Hello & welcome to another edition of Beyond Self Improvement!
Last Wednesday, I wrote Your Inner Peace Is Not For Sale.
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Summary in Three Sentences
The wisdom of Dōgen and Lao Tzu invite us to embrace each day as a sacred journey towards awakening, teaching us to find joy in the path itself. True wakefulness is not a final state but a moment-to-moment practice involving letting go of our fixed beliefs and embracing the present. While spiritual tools can guide us, the real key lies in how fully we live, love, and let go, even amidst the mundane tasks of everyday life.
The teachings of Dogen and Lao Tzu remind us to embrace every day as an opportunity for awakening and to cherish the path as much as the destination.
“The life of a single day can bring immense joy. Even if it is only for one day, if you can awaken to its beauty, that one day is far more valuable than an eternal life of slumber," wrote Dogen. Lao Tzu once said, "A wise traveler does not cling to fixed plans and is not solely focused on reaching their destination."
We hear words like "nirvana," "enlightenment," and “samadhi" and feel their pull as if they are a heavenly paradise awaiting our arrival. But what do we know about such words? Many believe we can achieve lasting happiness by finding the right job or partner or earning enough money. Our consumer-driven society often convinces us that once we reach a certain status, we will live joyfully ever after. It's easy to see why we would assume that enlightenment is similar—a place of pure pleasure without pain. But is this true?
If you have tried meditation, you may have wished, even if only slightly, that it would help you reach a mystical state. After all, why would we wake up early in the morning, sit quietly on a cushion, and focus on the breath? Don't we expect to gain something from our efforts?
Even though moments of wakefulness exist, wise teachers caution that there is no “enlightened retirement.” Blissful moments come and go. Life continues with its usual chores and challenges, even after a period of wakefulness. As the Zen saying reminds us, "After the ecstasy, the laundry."
The path towards awakening is not about becoming a new person or altering our personality. Instead, it demands surrendering our opinions, false beliefs, and extensive checklists of what we believe is necessary for enduring happiness. It is not about gaining or getting rid of anything. Wakefulness is not outside of you. It cannot be found in a cave, and no guru or mala beads hold the key to it.
We often wonder what to do in life. The answer is simple: practice. We must make a conscious effort to show up each day, whether we are meditating or not, and choose to live from the wisdom of our hearts instead of the narrow definitions of our minds. We become wanderers with no set itinerary, open to learning from every experience. We understand that this moment is all we need, and in its fullness, we glimpse the true freedom that words can only hint at but never fully convey.
If you seek to awaken, you may have tried various methods such as reading books, attending talks, or even keeping a zen garden on your work desk. While these can be helpful, remember they are only tools, not solutions. According to Jack Kornfield, the key to living wakefully is in the present moment—how well you live, how deeply you love, and how capable you are at letting go of attachments.
Life is an ongoing path without end. Once you think you've arrived at your destination is often when you realize you’ve lost whatever it you were trying to attain. Take each step, each breath, and each moment one at a time without hurrying. Appreciate every moment of clarity and peace without clinging to them.
Even after awakening, you'll still need to handle mundane tasks like laundry, cooking meals, and tending to relationships. But if you perform these simple acts with a whole heart, you can discover a deep sense of peace, joy, and contentment that surpasses even the wildest ideas about nirvana.
The only path worth traveling is the one of living wakefully, yet there are no means to guaranteeing safe and easy travels. The spiritual path includes twists, turns, bumps, and breathtaking views. But no special beads, gurus, or exotic rituals are necessary. You just need a willingness to be attentive and fully awake, moment to moment, in your daily life. Even one day lived with such a way is far more valuable than a century lived asleep.
Oh, and whenever you’re ready, I can help you transform chronic stress and worry into ongoing calm. Making you feel in control in 90 days. Schedule a free, 30-minute discovery call today.