Life is short
March 5, 2020 9:26 PM   Subscribe

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Life has been feeling somewhat automatic, tedious, blah. Worrying about career and burnout, massive student loans, too much technology and screens, and all the fun stuff that comes with getting older. I find myself realizing that time is quickly passing me by with the feeling that a lot of it just kind of happened, almost semi-consciously. I try to live with gratitude for what I have, enjoy being present in nature as much as possible, stay curious...but still I recently looked up and thought What!? it's March 2020!?!? What have I been doing???

I was recently inspired by a couple of youtube videos (this and this) with the message that we will all die one day, which sounds rather morbid, but the intent being to think about what is truly important to us and to live accordingly. One of the videos also introduced to me that amazing Mary Oliver quote.

This is broad, but I'm looking for more inspiration that would help answer Mary Oliver's question - what the heck do I do with this wild and precious life? - books (fiction and non), videos, movies, personal anecdotes, etc, etc, etc. Maybe not so much meditation or anything too woo-woo, unless it is just too amazing not to share! Thank you.
posted by sweetpotato to Human Relations (36 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'd read the rest of Mary Oliver for a start. She got it right.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:42 PM on March 5, 2020 [18 favorites]

At 34 I sold the house, the car, and everything else that wouldn’t fit in a backpack and then I just wandered around for a year.

Being completely removed from your native habitat is an adventure in itself, but more importantly it clears your head to try answer these questions without prejudice. Too much of what we think is important is actually just habit, and it’s worthwhile to get away from that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:58 PM on March 5, 2020 [19 favorites]

I’m going to try to help people.
posted by kerf at 10:31 PM on March 5, 2020 [18 favorites]

I like to keep reminding myself how overrated achievement is.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 PM on March 5, 2020 [44 favorites]

assuming you don't mind just being a consumer of stuff ...

a few things that I think everybody should see before they die. If I was God, there would be a quiz.

The Prisoner (link is to episode one but you want the whole series)

O Lucky Man

Yellow Submarine .. you want the whole movie

The Mirror ... again, you want the whole movie
posted by philip-random at 11:33 PM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

The best part of my life is the sense of purpose I feel now that I have identified something in the world that I feel passionately could be made better, and am chipping away at it in my own way. Not single handedly fixing the world but feeling like my actions are driven by my values makes my life feel not like a complete waste of time, even though my life still contains suffering and disappointment like everyone else's.
posted by Chrysalis at 11:40 PM on March 5, 2020 [19 favorites]

As a side note to the above, I've had some cool experiences and met some of my favourite people through my pursuit of trying to make this one small thing better, which has again made my life feel richer.
posted by Chrysalis at 11:45 PM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have been writing things down more. Every day I try to find a little something to say about what happened. It reminds me that no matter what it feels like I am existing every second and doing stuff and making decisions. I think sometimes we just forget and need the reminder. It definitely cuts down on that "what have I been doing!" feeling. I realize that this might not be the kind of thing you're looking for but the act of forcing yourself to write just any little thing every day helps you figure out the other stuff too.
posted by bleep at 12:01 AM on March 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Fight evil. There is an awful lot of it venturing into the daylight these days.
posted by benzenedream at 12:03 AM on March 6, 2020 [11 favorites]

Phrases that jumped out at me recently:
"family wellbeing"
"forge identity and build meaning"

The first is from a book by Rolf Dobelli, and the second is from a TED talk by Andrew Solomon.

My kids might not support this contention, but I believe the second one helps me to focus on the first, and the first one is what's most important to me.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 12:15 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

For whatever reason I’m drawn to restoring, not renovating, old houses. I’m in my third while having worked full time as a scientist at a university. I am obsessed with the quality of wood floors, heavy doors, beautiful door knobs, radiators, chunky iron bathtubs. So many old houses are still being torn down and replaced with shiny new cardboard and plastic houses. I love old houses.
posted by waving at 1:17 AM on March 6, 2020 [18 favorites]

Fight entropy.

If we leave it alone, stuff will tend towards a more disordered state. It'll only get into a more ordered state if we make it so.

So - re-order some dis-ordered things. Find broken things & fix them. Make patterns & then enjoy them.
posted by rd45 at 2:04 AM on March 6, 2020 [19 favorites]

I've rediscovered the truly restorative power of losing yourself in art. I hadn't realised how much I missed it, till I took a day out from all my everyday responsibilities and spent it on the sofa reading. It felt like I'd been reborn. I realise that sounds like hyperbole but that is genuinely how it felt. Like I'd just had a shot of adrenaline or vitality. Losing myself in a good book (it was Philip Pullman's The Secret Commonwealth) was just the purest feeling of happiness and emotional/mental wellbeing I'd had in a long time.

I am trying to increase the space in my life to enjoy art - reading, movies, art exhibitions, theatre etc - even if it means I have to sacrifice other things.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:23 AM on March 6, 2020 [19 favorites]

1. Volunteer
2. Get a dog
posted by phunniemee at 4:21 AM on March 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

The film "Tree of Life" gave me one answer to this question, and then I acted on it and it was awesome.
posted by johngoren at 4:38 AM on March 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm just kind of acknowledging that I'm a tiny tiny tiny part of the universe and that is what it is, so I'm trying to be fiercely good to me and mine, which is still a tiny part of the universe but it's something. I don't always succeed but I try.
posted by joycehealy at 5:04 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Where I am on this is trying to make every day count. See people I love, do things that matter, engage in the day. Still working on it.
posted by bunderful at 5:28 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about some people living macro lives and others living micro lives. What I mean is macro people want to travel the world, have adventures and seek novelty, live in various big cities. they want to see or experience it all! they zoom out.

Micro people seek to experience quite a lot, but instead they zoom in. They want to be involved deeply with their one community, or their art, and domestic life. they have just as much meaning as the macro people, but by a different means.

this is how I end up in arguments with my sister where she says "get out of our home state, there is so much going on in the world! there is nothing there" and I say "what are you talking about there is so much going on here! look around!" but we're both right. she's backpacking through thailand and I'm reading in a park; we both love nature so she climbs mountains and I learned to identify all the native birds in my area.

hopefully the question of which describes you helps you go freely in whichever direction is more fulfilling for your one life.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 6:59 AM on March 6, 2020 [55 favorites]

I like to keep reminding myself how overrated achievement is.

I took the opposite lesson. But I achieve for myself and those I love. I don't mean just getting a better job title or more money just cause, but I'm learning what I love, helping people and mastering skills for me.

So what I achieve is what I want to achieve to lead a life full of meaning. To me achievement is fulfilling my inner purpose. Maybe the word has a capitalist connotation these days...

this is how I end up in arguments with my sister where she says "get out of our home state, there is so much going on in the world! there is nothing there" and I say "what are you talking about there is so much going on here! look around!"

Oh yeah, I'm in the second group. Life is endlessly fascinating and varied that I'm surprised when people seem to not notice any of it right in front of them.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:20 AM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

My interpretation of that Mary Oliver poem leads me in the opposite direction than most seem to take away from it. I see it as advocating hedonism and curiosity, with no particular aims in mind other than pleasure, and that's what I've been moving towards.
posted by metasarah at 8:25 AM on March 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

I am prescribing you one screening of the Kurosawa film Ikiru.

"What do you do with your life" is the whole dang point of it; and Kurosawa hits you with that right bang up front, with the film opening on a projection of the main character's x-ray, showing the tumor growing in his stomach. The narration says that our main character will definitely die within a year - and says that the rest of the film is an examination of how he handles that fact. He's kind of been sleepwalking through life up to this point; he's a middle-aged bureaucrat in a boring, paper-pushy government office. His cancer diagnosis really shakes him up. He decides to champion one last cause in an effort to Do Something before he dies.

Now, there are a lot of films that have done that kind of plot, where someone has a terminal illness and decides that they're going to Do Something so that their life will have had meaning. But Kurosawa does something really interesting - instead of the last act being a chronicle of our main character's Quixotic struggle, it's a story told in flashback, as his family and work colleagues are at his wake and discussing how weird he was acting about this park that he was so obsessed with trying to get built. He hadn't told anyone else he had cancer - they didn't know that that's how he died, even. He'd been found dead in the park just after it opened, sitting on a swing, and people thought he'd frozen to death or something. Over the course of the wake they put it all together, though, and a lot of them drunkenly resolve to Live Better and Sieze The Day - only to all revert back to form the next day at work.

The reason why this hit me is because you realize that the main character probably knew that's how things were going to shake down. He probably knew that someone else would take the credit for his efforts, and no one would know, or even care, how the park got built in the first place. But - he will know, at the last, that the park is there, and that it is there because of his efforts. There's an iconic scene showing what he was doing right before he died - he was sitting in one of the park swings and swinging in it, singing a song about the brevity of life, and looking absolutely, radiantly satisfied, because he had done something, something that was within his power to do. Most likely no one would know or care that it was him who did it, but that didn't matter. He knows.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on March 6, 2020 [11 favorites]

I really found it helpful and positive to really sit down and work this question out for myself - to think it through thoroughly enough that it didn't have to be revisited or second-guessed later on. So that now I know my conception of a successful life, and I'm stuck with it as the best answer I have.

(I doubt my answer will be yours - it's "to live a life interesting to myself" - but I'm big, big fan of doing the thinking once.)
posted by wattle at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm on team "achievement can fuck itself." Achievement almost always means competition and there's the whole problem.

The only thing I'm certain brings consolation and has no downsides is being nice to cats. And making music. I'm here to be nice to cats and play the harpsichord. And I'm all out of harpsichords. (Well, no. I'm not.) I'd add being with friends but I live very far from most of mine so it's not how I'm spending my wild and precious life. Likewise, my job is futile and unfulfilling. So yep. Cats. Music.
posted by less of course at 8:54 AM on March 6, 2020 [12 favorites]

Micro people seek to experience quite a lot, but instead they zoom in. They want to be involved deeply with their one community, or their art, and domestic life. they have just as much meaning as the macro people, but by a different means.

Yes, thanks for this. I barely travel both because I hate the means of getting places (trains are nice but they're not very workable in the US, long distance) and because I feel like I'd rather cultivate connections with what's around me than go on collect-'em-all bucket list jaunts. I realize this is a heavily weighted framing, but most of the world does the opposite so I'm fine with it.
posted by less of course at 9:03 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

I get the most meaning out of just belonging with other people. Find some friends outside any ambition you have. Join a poker group or something and get to know people who you have nothing in common with. You'll be amazed how quickly you can develop a sense of community when you find the other people like you that are also looking for that connection and belonging.
posted by deathpanels at 9:52 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

As the years pass, the answer seems to be, increasingly, I want to live and do exactly as Mr. Rogers lived and did. Service to my fellow human beings in whatever way I am best equipped to serve them, doing so with joy and kindness above all else. A lofty ideal but one I feel is truly worth striving for.
posted by MiraK at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

What an excellent Ask. Define your values. Make refining and living your values your mission.

You have to brush your teeth, pee, sweep the kitchen, all the time, all your life. I knew some Quakers at the college I attended who got pretty good at giving even quotidian tasks meaning, but I have never gotten there. However, I do try to live a life that at least aligns with my values, and sometimes expresses them.

At 50+, I had some time and money, so I bought a used minivan, stowed my camping gear and the dog, and I took some Road Trips; pretty excellent - the US is a huge, diverse, amazing country with National Parks. Aaa++, will Road Trip again, this time in a Prius.
Overall, I try not to support things that make the world worse with my work or my spending, but it's complicated.
I try to do my bit to make the world a little less worse where I can, not sure about my success.
Read Miss Rumphius; this is the book I give to all children, in hardcover, along with Polar Express.

The most important bit, and it isn't easy or trivial, is to do your best, and to be kind.
posted by theora55 at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Have you heard of the concept of Ikigai?

And regardless of who actually said it, I've always found this quote both comforting and inspiring:

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

It's not all about chalking up the wins.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:18 AM on March 6, 2020 [12 favorites]

Also: keep a journal by your bed, and every night write down three good things that happened that day. Sometimes it's a bit of stretch ("It was sunny"), but once it becomes a habit it's kind of wonderful, by putting you in the mindset of being aware of those moments as they happen.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:24 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was going to post a link to the Nadine Stair quote and suddenly I found out that the quote is really by by Don Herold or it is Jorge Luis Borges?

For me that is the point. Micro or Macro, I let myself be surprised by the way life shows up. I let life live me, as much as I can. Oh, and let's not forget Zorba the Greek.
posted by Xurando at 11:15 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Do as little harm as possible. Leave no trace.
posted by 10ch at 12:14 PM on March 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

"We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." - Mark Vonnegut, as quoted by his father Kurt.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:47 PM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh, meditation and guided trip psychedelics. I can’t die without having made any effort to know my true ground of being.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:15 PM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm on team "achievement can fuck itself."

Repping for Team Achieve here! But in its own small way. I'm grappling with a weird health issue that is probably nothing but is taking a while to wrap up and so I've been thinking about this topic a lot. And to be honest, since I've been sick, it's been giving more meaning to the small things I do, especially in and for my community. And even though I don't feel well, I've been busy doing a lot of things. And part of this is doing a lot by doing less. Like instead of getting on planes and going to do high(er) status things in other places, I stay in my hometown and do more things that benefit people locally, especially volunteering my time to do some things I am good at: help people understand technology, get their census and taxes done, use technology to solve their problems.

I take the same walk in town and notice new things each time. When I am not doing volunteer or paid work and am loafing I HURL myself into it and don't feel bad about not doing more. Loafing is important. And most important, I gave myself permission to not give a shit about huge swaths of things that were kind of a distraction (holidays, most politics, 24 hour news cycle, neighbor drama, worrying what people think about me). I've always been a pleaser and stepping outside of that a little bit, because I felt like maybe I needed a change, has been relaxing in a way that surprised me. I read so much.

I'm solidly middle aged, so some of this is easier because I've already DONE a lot of the things that would be on a me-type bucket list, but I also thought more about what would be on a me-now bucket list and it was mostly getting more roots and more depth in the places I'd already been and am. YMMV, certainly, but that worked out well for me.
posted by jessamyn at 8:31 PM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I can’t die without having made any effort to know my true ground of being.

Might be able to save you a bit of time there. Finding out whether or not you already know your true ground of being is essentially a matter of playing definitional games.

There are states of consciousness you can train up for where you entirely stop playing definitional games, and these are certainly worthwhile experiences in and of themselves; it's my considered opinion that doing a certain amount of that makes a solid contribution to robust mental health. But as soon as the definitional games start up again you're no longer in any of those states (by definition!) and believing that thinking about time spent in them can reveal anything truly profound about the nature of reality as a whole to you or anybody else is a fundamental error.

After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, give them head skritchies.
posted by flabdablet at 9:52 PM on March 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Kurt Vonnegut weighs in on what we're supposed to be doing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:43 PM on March 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

« Older Covid/corona virus: info on potential Euro...   |   Old home, majorly deteriorated peeling paint... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.