A man comes into the gym where I work.
He’s trying to sell something. No manager’s are available, but I’ll give his card to someone who handles these types of activities.
Then we start talking.
His name is Gary. He’s a fifty year old guy from Colorado who moved to Maryland because his mother was having heart problems. He’s been in Maryland for two years, and he can not wait to move back out to Colorado in December.
Then we start talking about Colorado because the West intrigues me. He moved out there in his twenties and he loved it – smoking weed, partying in quirky outdoorsey towns, enjoying the bountiful landscape. He married some girl and then got divorced, smoked some more weed, and loved life.
And he had a great twenty or thirty years in Colorado. But he’s been in Maryland for the past two years and he’s miserable.
Now… I’ve been doing my best, but I’m still getting hung up on not being at college and not partying my ass off. I’m eighteen, dude. And when I see my girlfriend go to huge parties, it hurts.
But hearing this guy talk about how he had a great thirty years, and no doubt they were a great thirty years, but… They had no effect whatsoever on his happiness today. He’s miserable, by his own admission. Thirty years of partying, smoking weed, beautiful landscapes, different girls, and… And he’s miserable.
Then another experience was laid before me today. It drove home the idea of impermanence. Family, friends, parties, fleeting happiness.
There’s an old man named Joe who has Parkinson’s Disease. He comes in to get training for it, and usually he has good days. Today was a bad day. He walks in the door – I go, Hey Joe, how you doing? He smiles a little bit, though he doesn’t have a lot of verbal or facial control left. But you can tell he’s sweet. And he smiles, tries to walk forward to swipe his membership entry card. And he starts to crumble. He has this look of… He has a look of struggle on his face, and then he folds completely falling into the front of my desk.
A few trainers help him up, and walk him to the back where he can work out with one of our trainer’s that deals with patients who have Parkinson’s.
I’m disturbed. I feel horrible. Sad.
About an hour later, he’s walked back down the hallway. I get the door. The trainer who was helping him takes the door and asks if I can help walk him outside. I put my arm under his shoulder, and we walk him out nice and slow. Then I think, This guy probably can’t walk to his car. So I bring the car around. Apparently the guys fine to drive, it’s just that he can’t walk. Not anymore.
He’s a sweet old guy. Always smiles at me. But today was a day of intense struggle for him just to walk. A bad day.
And that will happen to everyone. Not to that extent maybe. Not to the extent of debilitation from Parkinson’s. But everyone will get old and die. Everyone will become old and decrepit.
It doesn’t matter how much partying you do in your youth. It doesn’t matter how many girls you fuck, drugs you consume, or adventures you partake in. You will become old, you will become decrepit, and eventually you will die.
And these two experiences drove home points from The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Dhammapada to me. That we get distracted by sense-pleasures while time passes, we get older, and then we look back at our lives and think, Was there anything that was permanent? Is there anything that’s not transient, that lasts forever?
And there is. The Buddha spoke of an essence you can exist in when you detach yourself from all desire. The Hindi speak of a Self that exists past all ego and surface emotions and sensations. A continual Self that is your essence.
Christian’s even speak of being absorbed into the love of God.
“‘Truth is one,’ says a hymn of the Rig Veda; ‘the wise call it by different names.'”
That’s something I can logically believe. Enough people have spoken of a Self; a Self that is past ego, suffering, bodily sensations, and mental emotions.
But do I believe it exists in my heart? Do I believe I’ll reach it in this lifetime?
I have no concept of what relief from suffering would be like. What attainment of Nirvana, what basking in the Self could even mean. But enough people over the years have said it’s possible to get there.
And… Talking with a man who had a great life, but is still miserable? Seeing a sweet guy who I rather like, being beaten down into embarrassment by the body that is betraying him?
There must be more than partying, there must be more than seeing great vistas, there’s got to be more than bedding a bunch of girls — and we get distracted by how great these things are. But these things? They will make you miserable. However great they are, they will torture you in equal measure when they’re gone.
And shit, I’m eighteen. And I’m going to be a hypocrite and party. And I’m going to stay up all night drinking and I’m going to smoke and I’m going to pursue dreams of mine. Dreams to travel the world.
But… There is more. And that has to be an unwavering addiction, an addiction to uncover the permanence that lies within myself.
I have to. And I probably won’t get there in this life, wherever the hell that is. But I have to go beyond suffering — and if that journey takes me several lifetimes?
Then it’ll take me several lifetimes. But I can’t live knowing everything is transient and nothing is permanent.
I need something deeper. Something other than the certainty of death and, and the decrepitude of old age.