mouth cave.jpgWhose life am I living?

It’s a question worth considering when I’m able to disentangle myself from the assumption that I already know the answer. It’s an untamed wilderness, this question, and it must be approached with the reverence demanded by all wild things. In order to enter it, I have to understand that I might never come back, that I might get lost in there. I have to know that it will ask something of me once I enter it, take something of me, take all of me, maybe. In fact, if I am not prepared to die some kind of death, I shouldn’t even bother approaching this question. Better to give it a wide berth, content myself with the comfort of believing that the answer is self-evident.

Whose life am I living?

It’s quite apparent that there’s no path in this wilderness, once I’m in it. My path is my own. No one has walked it before me, and no one will ever walk it again. Deeper and deeper I go, and soon I cannot see the light from the outside anymore. The questions that so concerned me out there have vanished, and new questions have spawned in their stead. This question breeds and feeds, proliferates and destroys—a wilderness with a will of its own.

Whose life am I living?

I’m not in that wilderness now, mind you. I’m in Starbucks. I’m tiptoeing along the edge, peeking inside, reporting what I see. I don’t think you’d be able to hear me if I were deep inside this question. I don’t think anyone could, not even I, since the heart of the wilderness speaks only in silence. Every language is a foreign language in that quiet place, and if by grace I find myself there, it’s best to speak the native tongue, which is no language at all. But from Starbucks, here on the outside, I can wonder a bit about this wilderness.

Whose life am I living?

What is my life, anyway? If it has something to do with the thoughts I think and the actions inspired by those thoughts, then isn’t it important to ask: whose thoughts am I thinking in the first place? Are they really mine, or have I inherited them, or bought them, or been duped into buying them? Are these thoughts worth claiming? Are these thoughts worth living?

Just as I consider the source of my food, so should I consider the source of my thought, given how influential and devastating unexamined thought can be. Eat enough junk food and you’ll get cancer. Think enough junk thought and God knows what you’ll get.

So, I ask: Where is this thought coming from? Who planted it? How was it cultivated and harvested before it got to me? What will it cost me, to believe it? What will it cost others? Will the world be nourished by this thought, or will it be made ill by my belief?

This inquiry can be applied to every thought that arises within me. It is a path into the wilderness and through it. Whose life am I living? The answer cannot be “mine” unless I am intimately involved in the process of asking the question. How would my life change, if I were to make my life “mine” each day? What would it mean, to live by this inquiry?

It would mean attending to the question with patience and vigilance and kindness. It would mean getting lost. It would mean witnessing the death of who I thought I was over and over again. It would mean learning how to trust the unknown because there’s no other choice in the deep wilderness. And someday, perhaps, it would mean stumbling into the clearing of silence, that empty courtyard in the heart of the wild.

*“Mouth Cave” by SamDakota
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