Around eight years ago, having retired from a six-figure-salary job and asking myself, “What’s next?” I decided to run an experiment. I was 57 years old and wanted to see how bad things could get. I wanted to have a sense of it before I was too old to do something about it.
So I rented a room in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, what in former centuries we might have called Skid Row. Those around me were shocked and tried to change my mind. But I needed to know what would come of it.
Such a designation as “Skid Row” is misleading. In fact there are trees here, parks, clean streets, roads in good condition. Yes, I’m awakened at 4 in the morning by someone standing outside my window saying, “Naked sex. You know who this is,” etc. Well, that’s the mentionable part.
But I’ve never been harmed here or even challenged (except, perhaps, once). In fact I’ve quite enjoyed my time in this part of town and see it altogether differently than I did before.
Two days ago, I was sitting on a park bench and watching my neighbors. I wanted to fix a word to the behavior I was observing in one particular chap who looked like he was picking a fight. I said to myself: “Impulsive. Carousing. Selfish.”
I began to reflect on my projections of what I was seeing when all of a sudden I had a flash of insight. What I saw in that instant was so special to me that I began to shake.
If I were to say to God, “God, what do you want me to do?” what I saw was an answer to that. It was like a code or formula, an assignment or task I was to complete.
I’ve played with it ever since and the way I’d put it now seems to me the best encapsulation of it:
- Prefer tranquility to impulsiveness.
- Prefer the higher to the lower.
- Prefer selflessness to selfishness.
But it isn’t just the three of them alone that packed such a wallop. Taken together they have a strange complementarity that combines like spices in a cake to make the overall flavor appealing.
When one is tranquil, one awakens to reality. Tranquility allows me to see things as they are, as far as I can ever see. It maximizes discernment. Of course being tranquil with someone into drama will earn you a brick or two.
When one prefers the highest, one transcends the issue. One flies over top of it. Such a course of action saves me by guaranteeing that any choice I make will leave me in a better position than I was in before.
When one is selfless, one shrinks the major obstacle – the ego. Selflessness has to be appropriate. It would be inappropriate to allow someone to deal grossly unfairly with me. It would be inappropriate to starve myself to death … unless necessary.
I saw this as a prescription for a higher life:
The patient Beckow must be:
Take constantly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, forever. – Dr. God.
Somehow this prescription so fit with me, so resonated that it left me shivering. It carried so much promise, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the last two days, going over each part of it again and again.
Before I consider how to make the outer world work, I need to look at how to make my inner world work. (“Be the change you wish to see.”)
I have no idea whether this way of being, writ large, will make the world work, but I have the most distinct impression that it, if observed, would make my life work. It’s like a special-delivery letter with the formula for a life that works for me.
The rest is me being with it, getting each part of it and then experiencing its complementarity. Every time I even look at it, I find myself taking a deep breath and savoring it.