Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on December 30, 2014

The title of this blog is not what you might think. It's not about taking on more duties or whatever passes for the meaning of "responsibility" these days. Instead it hearkens to the actually meaning of the word responsibility, the "ability to respond," that and how it improves with age.

Every change in life has its bell-curve attributes, a before and an after and, if we are attached to one side of the curve or the other, we may find ourselves labeling one as "good" and the other as "bad," at least in our opinion. Equanimity is hard to come by. In other words, the various life-passages may look good or bad depending not only on which side of the passage we are on, but also on how we look at it.

No matter how we cling, sooner or later, we all accept the inevitable. We acquiesce and perhaps even have to surrender, if nothing else, our own lives and bodies. Conservatism can only go so far. We all seek to be free or, at least, are in fact freed (or rendered) with time. I am not going to drag all of these obvious life facts out and ponder them. No, here I am just going to look at what I consider an interesting side-effect of age, increased responsibility.

Responsibility" is so important, so key, not only in mind training and Buddhism, but in life itself. It encapsulates in a single word much of what the process of enlightenment (as I understand it) is all about. Another word might be "awareness," but responsibility suggests an interactivity that points out to me, well, my responsibility, that I will respond (automatically, if not "voluntarily"), and am not simply a victim of the circumstances of my life.

As I get older, it is increasing clear that I am a co-creator in the life process, not just an innocent (or not so innocent) bystander, as in: there is no place to step outside of life and watch. No matter how I dice it, I am involved, ready or not. And it seems that I am seldom all that ready. Yet one thing is clear.

And that is that more and more of the time I find myself in response to life rather than an instigator of much of anything. As mentioned earlier, there are at least two ways to look at this and to take it. The scary one is that I have no choice (which I don't) and am at the beck and call of events and people, which I am. I find myself responding to the actions and needs of others more and more of the time. Perhaps this is a "Grade B" movie on compassion.

I remember an old line "My being is in leaving," but I don't believe it is a quote from anyone else other than me. It just points out how close I adhere to the process of physical aging. When aging gets old, part of me gets old too and responds differently to events than I used to. It probably is because I am less of an initiator later in life than I was earlier on. And here is the point of all this verbal rambling here.

I find myself increasing empty until I am filled. And I am filled by every person and event that appears, moment by moment, in my life. That "emptiness" is so, for lack of a better word, "empty," that it can contain anything and everything. And unless it is filled, in a very real sense I am not occupied by anything in particular. Nothing is happening except in response to something. When it gets to this point, the mere words I am using here speak, at least to me, volumes.

It is like half of my life I question and the other half I answer, I respond. Forget about getting a witness. Who would that be? Over time we play both parts. We ARE the answer to our own question. And here is the thing:

Being empty, open, and by myself it is like there is no sign whatsoever of who I am or where I am at. I only know I am there (or here) when I respond to someone or something. And in response, I am totally there, able to conceive almost anything, a true midwife of anything passing through life. It is effortless and, what is more interesting, it is skillful beyond means because it is a pure response. What could be more efficient than that?

This particular kind of emptiness would be a little scary if it were not so totally involving. Like a mirror, I reflect perfectly, well, as perfectly as I can. But just as a mirror is nothing in itself, neither am I. How mindboggling is that! It seems that I am at the service of whatever arises. Otherwise I am, for lack of better words, "at the ready," waiting for anything. And this reminds me of something my very first dharma teacher Andrew Gunn McIver was all about, which are palindromes, words that read the same forward and backward, like the old quote about Napoleon "Able was I ere I saw Elba." Now I see what he was all about with that.

To get very abstract, it seems that life reads forward and backward, a perfect inversion, like turning a glove inside out. Or it reminds me of my father, who was a very fine magician, who could hold a card in his hands and show you the front and the back of his hand, but you never really saw the card. Then it appeared. That's life.

I have spent decades trying to point out that what I am describing here, or trying to, is the symbol of the Sun.