I was walking down the high street in The Town this morning and passed the estate agent through which I bought my apartment. There it was in the window, with a big proud ‘SOLD’ stamped across it diagonally in red. I bought it 7 months ago so though I’m not complaining, I think he must be short of business. I looked at the asking price and raised my chin a little as a shaft of smug self-satisfaction seeped into my smile. Through judicious buying and artful renovation it is now worth £xxx and I’ve made a whopping gain of £y.
Of course, people are doing it pretty much all over the country, aren’t they? If you were born at the right time to ride a rising market and managed to persuade a profit hungry lender to advance you more than you sensibly should have borrowed, you too could have become obsessed with the pernicious fiction that lies in the financial value of residential accommodation. You too would have all you needed to feel egoistically superior to the rest of the human race. You too could drive Mercedes Benz to make amends to all your friends who drive Porches, as the song goes. Never mind the kids whose only option is renting at stratospherical rental rates. Never mind that the average age of first time buyers has now reached 35. Never mind the distraught grandparents who feel obliged to take out equity release mortgages to give their grandchildren a chance to get on to the house ladder to the stars. Never mind those who can’t; who offspring will never have a prayer of owning their own home.
Am I being harsh? If so, it is with me, not with you. As I was nearing the end of my apartment renovation I did consider seriously continuing on to another in order to make money on it. And then there might have been another. And another. Yes, I could once again have become rich beyond the dreams of avaricious folly. But as Matt and I took our morning walk around the recreation ground, I found myself asking why I would do that. To accumulate wealth? To boost my ego? To try to replicate the past in a doomed bid to outrun my own aging? Because I can?
It was then I got to asking myself, ‘What exactly is the most precious resource I have right now? And the answer that came back wasn’t money. In saying this I do not mean to be dismissive of the many, many people who simply do not have enough to put a proper meal on the table or glue a decent life together. But the answer I got back was ‘time.’ And so I asked myself how I wanted to expend that inestimably valuable and oh so rapidly diminishing resource.
It was then in my mind’s eye that I saw a picture of my Guides leaning nonchalantly against the wall whistling. When I looked at them enquiringly they said, ‘Sure! Of course you can go do that again, if you want to; if you really need to. You can repeat the egocentric pattern as many times over as many lifetimes as you like. But it’s not what you came here for. It’s not in your life plan. It’s not in your contract.’ I looked back over the cycles of this lifetime, at the motivators that have driven me to expend my time in the way I have chosen, for I have always had a choice. And I found them to be far more concerned with bolstering my ego, and with gaining what I believed to be the admiration and esteem of others (God only knows who these ‘others’ were and whether they ever did esteem me).
So this time I chose different.
Counterintuitive? You bet! For in my history I have been habitual in seeing profit potential; in spying a chance to attract financial energy towards me and I think it’s fair to say that I am good at it. Regrettably, I have not been as good at assessing the opportunity cost of the time expended in taking those opportunities; the stress of the emotional incongruence I have imposed upon myself in so doing. And I can only speculate on where I might now be on this rocky road to enlightenment that we all tread, knowingly or not, if I had made other choices.
Thus, as I approach 60 years of age (a watershed birthday, I am told), I am addressing the question of what I shall do with my elder days. What a temptation there is to ignore the passing of the years, to fool myself into believing that this lifetime is not finite. Such a belief would incline me to perpetuate my wealth building – to tear down my barns and build greater, as my friend Jesus put it in a parable.
The ostensibly opposite temptation is to live for memory in an ‘Ah, those were the days’ style. I could relive my moments of greatness. If there truly were any, that is. Were there? Were there really? Or were there simply days in the self-promoted limelight, where egos jostle for positon and avaricious eyes envy a moment’s passing notoriety? I do value my experiences and would not change any of them. But I do not plan to live for the memory of them. Memory is the journey I have already lived; the learning that is gained and integrated. Guided exploration of the unknown is the journey yet to come; the learning yet to be derived.
And perhaps in so journeying I shall share a little learning along the way; not so seek ivy accolades but simply as my friend Rj (www.sweepingsounds.com ) put it to me, ‘because gifts should be shared.’
‘Him that hath ears, let him hear.’
So, though my barns have been torn down (and how that came about is a subject we might explore another day) I do not think I shall build greater merely to fill my days with stress and incongruence. My friend Jesus was assuredly right when he spoke of the rich fool’s soul being required of him. The man was not to know he would have to account for himself that very night.
I do not know when I shall have to give an account for the life I have lived, but I know I am nearly 60 years closer to the accounting reference date than I was when I started this journey. To whom shall I be accounting? Well, there are many different views on that question, but account I know shall – and perhaps account particularly for the open-eyed choices I make in these latter days of quieter thought and deeper exploration. When I give that account, I do not want to find myself saying, ‘Well, yes, I did come to see the waste of time that resource accumulation is, but it gave me such an ego boost I carried on.’ I don’t know if I will have a tail then, but if I do, it would assuredly have to be placed well between my legs.
The Buddha is reputed to have said that in the end only three things will matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how graciously you gave up the things that were not meant for you. Instead of resource building I am thinking to prioritise mediation, learning and growth; and perhaps also a little gift sharing. For Rj is so right. Gifts should be shared.