Dust in the Wind

Yesterday’s blogging prompt from WordPress was titled, “Dust in the Wind.” Here’s the prompt itself:

“Have you made your bucket list? Now’s the time – write about the things you want to do and see before you become dust in the wind.”

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I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve tried to make them for travel before (here, for instance) – but my problem is always that what appeals to me changes so often (it’s so mood-dependent!), any lists I record are almost instantly out of date!

But something about the wording of the prompt seems to have caught at me a little bit: “The things I want to do and see before I become dust in the wind.” I keep thinking about that phrase. It’s stuck in my head.

I think what’s happened is that it’s gotten me thinking about the end of my life…and how it would feel to look back.

And I realized, thinking about it, that my life aspirations don’t come down to lists for me – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have discernible, even quantifiable, things I want to accomplish.

It’s just that for me, it’s more about FEELINGS.

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So just now I was weeding out some things I’d bookmarked on my computer, and I came again upon this (encountered a week or two ago on Twitter, via the always interesting @brainpicker.)

And I realized something: this article is actually a guidebook to getting to this “feelings” place that I want to get to before I’m “dust in the wind.”

I’m not sure it’s a place at all really – which might be why the idea of listmaking life goals is so unappealing to me. I perceive my life as more of a journey – each step building on the one before, yes. But each step being full of things to see and do and experience on its own.

What preoccupies me isn’t getting to some destination. It’s about how well I’ll conduct the journey. It’s about how well I step, how mindfully I move, how many wrong turns I take – and understanding if they’re really wrong turns (because a rocky path might teach you some really necessary lessons.) It’s about liberating myself from a dependency on roadmaps and well-trod paths and continuing to cultivate (I’ve just gotten started in the last few years) a reliance on my own ability to pick my way along.

What I ultimately want? I want to be able to look back on my life and feel that I explored the world to the very best of my abilities.

I want to be an explorer of the world.

(I wouldn’t necessarily have termed it like that if I hadn’t read that article…but it really fits how I feel! I need to read the book…)

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Being an “explorer of the world” certainly means traveling – to all sorts of places. I’d like to visit anything on this list, for example. So too any of the places I put on the quick list I tucked into my last blog post [midway through the post, under “Places I’d Travel To…”]. There are so many amazing places to experience in this world…to visit and touch, take pictures of and just breathe the air.

But it’s not just about traveling. Exploring, really exploring, requires more.

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I included this quote in a previous post, discussing how photography is helping me to live my life more deeply than I ever have before:

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”

––Marc Riboud (quoted in The Tao of Photography, pg. 54)

This touches on what I’m trying to say: It’s not about travel per se. It’s not about what I do with myself – not entirely.

It’s about how I do it. You can be the most well-traveled person in the world and that might give you a broader worldview and a certain level of experience. But it doesn’t guarantee wisdom or insight or compassion – or any sort of comprehension of the layers of life.

A broad view of the surface of things is usually better than a narrow one – but it’s the levels below the surface that I’m most interested in.

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I want to live my life as deeply and intensely as I’m capable of living it.

This demands living in a way that is true…honest…authentic. And I’ve learned that you find authenticity by committing to openness – of mind, and of LIFE. You have to not shut doors on yourself. And you have to honor your own curiosity.

I’m pretty good at this anymore, I think – though I still feel quite conflicted at times. It’s hard to operate against expectations – your own as well as others.

Paying attention helps a lot – cultivating awareness, of what’s around you as well as of what you’re feeling inside. Of course, this requires daily practice. It’s so easy to go on auto-pilot…or just REACT to things. And that’s how you miss out. And you don’t want to miss out on the things that are happening around you – or on how they make you feel. There’s beauty in the smallest things – and understanding how even small things affect you is so empowering.

Photography is helping me greatly with remembering all of this. I’m really committed now to taking photography as far as I’m able to take it because I’ve realized it’s not just a pleasurable creative outlet for me. I’m feeling, more and more as time passes and I immerse to greater levels in it, that it’s a kind of personal calling.

Not that I think I’ll become some sort of renowned photographer or something! It’s not about that – and I don’t know that I have that kind of skill anyway. No…it’s more that photography, I recognize now, is an extremely powerful and potent tool for me for digging into the layers of life in the way I want to dig. Photography allows me to experience things on completely different (deeper and more nuanced) levels than I ever have before. It’s addictive! And it’s very, very fulfilling.

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There’s also the deceptively simple act of remembering to breathe – and, through that, remembering that I can control my own self and my own reactions. Because when you forget that, you forfeit your own ability to pay attention – and (to put it simply) you miss stuff. I don’t want that. I don’t want to miss interesting things or beautiful things or make wrong decisions or formulate misguided opinions because I’ve allowed myself to get swept up in some sort of tide. Remembering to calm myself and center myself and just BREATHE is everything.

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And there’s the importance – the vital importance – of honoring my own creativity. And not just that, but supporting creative expression in others. How can your own life flow freely if you’re inhibiting yourself from using your voice (whether you’re actually speaking, or speaking through art)? And blocking other people is just as inhibitive. It’s all connected.

[Here’s an anthem in support of creativity, if you want the inspiration!]:

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So much of all of this comes down to living the MUSTs of life and discarding the SHOULDs (which is much easier said than done…but so critically important.) There’s nothing more soul-killing than putting aside what you really want to do in favor of what you think you ought to do – or what others tell you is the right thing to do.

I’m not in any way advocating selfishness. I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make – equating martyrdom of self with some kind of honor. There’s no honor in martyring yourself – in sacrificing what you could be and achieve, to please other people or to avoid rocking boats. Your needs are just as valid as those of the people you care about – even your kids’.

Maybe especially your kids – because you teach by your actions. And what greater lesson can you teach your children but that they should honor themselves? Not at the expense of other people who depend on them…no. But there’s a balance that can be cultivated. Sometimes it just takes creative thinking and an openness to irregular solutions.

It comes down to the fact that you can’t inhibit yourself from being who you are and living your own authentic truth. If you do, you’ll slam doors in your own face. You won’t become everything you were capable of becoming. And what a shame that is!

And if you try to inhibit others? Perhaps to justify your own inability to advocate for yourself? Or your own weakness in the face of others’ disapproval?

That’s even worse.

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I want to live a life of exploration. I want to peel back layers…probe depths. And I want to be free to speak to what I uncover and discover – with my voice, with my art, with the way I live.

I want to travel…so much it aches sometimes. But the reason it appeals to me is because it’s action in service of that (peeling layers, etc). Same thing with photography – and writing for that matter (and that includes blogging.) Same with relationships – my present ones, and any future ones I might develop – romantic or friendship-oriented.

For me to feel that I’m living successfully, what I do needs to be in service to that ideal of exploration. I’ve learned the hard way that when it’s not, I’m frustrated – at best. I feel stifled. I’m just not happy. And at worst I feel deeply anxious – caged, suffocated. Depressed. Not good.

We have to be who we are…right? Or else we’ll feel it.

I’ve learned to respect that.

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Life (my life, anyway) needs to revolve around art and creativity – informed by empathy and compassion. I can’t create the way I want and need to create without a certain degree of compassion – and especially empathy (empathy might be the one absolute necessity.)

It’s about LOVE, I guess. Pursuing love.

But not as that’s usually understood – like, finding someone to bind to me (and bind myself to.) I don’t care about that. I don’t myself want to be bound. I don’t like “have to.”

I mean love as connection. The pursuit of love as a pursuit of understanding – of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. Deep, authentic intimacy between two people is part of that… and that is a part that appeals to me. But it’s only one part.

It’s about self-knowledge ultimately, I think. Because when you really understand who you are and what you have to offer – and I mean on the deepest levels – then you can bring the best of yourself to the world…and through that maybe leave the world a better place than you found it.

And that’s what I want. That’s my aspiration.

By the time I’m “dust in the wind,” I want to have achieved something of that.

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