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This past year I have not written much at all, to which I will chalk up to life. At last I can take a breath, and begin to write again about the things that matter to me, the values which I am working on now with a particular focus. I am thinking of the idea that what we do with our lives is our ultimate work of art, that one can live in a way that’s creative and artistic and expressive of those deepest values. One of my favorite expressions of this is (appropriately) from Mary Oliver‘s poem, ‘The Summer Day:’

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

If we are to do something worthwhile with this life—the only one we know for certain that we have—then the driving impuse must be toward finding what it is to live with authenticity and ways to express our authenticity in how we conduct our lives.

Over the years we may adopt various touchstone questions to reflect on at the beginning or the end of the day—at least when we slow down enough to allow such a salubriary and reflective practice. One of mine—How can I honor my Craft?—speaks to the work of the artist. I have written before about the centrality of honoring one’s Craft. A deeper, more fundamental question—What does it mean for me to live with authenticity? It is fundamental to most notions of the Good Life to search for one’s authenticity and to discover how to live and express that. Understanding our authenticity allows us to stand upright, look ourselves in the mirror and look other people in the eye. Perhaps that urge toward authenticity grows stronger as we get older; as we become more self-aware, we are better able to connect with that understanding of our authenticity. What is our life all about, and how do we live that in our professional and our personal spheres? Being able to retreat periodically (during the summer, or the end of the calendar year) and ask ourselves that is essential to staying on track in life. Building that opportunity into the rhythm of our lives is among the very best practices we can have. Thoreau put it thus in the second chapter of Walden:

 I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear…

I am inspired by the examples of so many others—most recently by singers and visionaries Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, whom I had the pleasure of working with in the Juilliard Opera Theater. Camille and Monica founded the nonprofit Sing for Hope, an organization which among other things coordinates the 88 pianos that are transformed into works of art, as well as being instruments for musical expression, and distributed around New York City for people to play publicly. Their work has been recognized at a symposium Arianna Huffington recently held on The Third Metric—articulating new ways of thinking about and measuring personal success. Camille and Monica attended the Aspen Ideas Festival this past week, where they gave a wonderful interview. Camille’s Third Metric is in fact authenticity, and she speaks eloquently to that in the interview as her guiding value. For me, it is an artist’s or any person’s authenticity that draws us to them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the only book I have managed to finish in the past year is Thoreau’s Walden. His mantra is now mine: Simplify, simplify! To me it seems that simplicity is in fact the path toward authenticity. Thoreau says as much in the same chapter as previously:

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?

For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it… I never received more than one or two letters in my life…that were worth the postage.

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation…determined to make a day of it.

Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

In contemporary life simplicity seems perversely daunting, if not impossible, to attain! Yet is the spirit of simplicity really so difficult to live by? As an essential part of the path to our authentic selves, I continually return to Thoreau’s admonition, Simplify—most certainly also a fundamental Zen value.

For some, the overturning of the heinous Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 will enable them to live with greater authenticity and honesty, reduce the dissonance between their inner truth and their outer lives. In any case, it is always a good time to ask yourself what you are all about, and what are the implications for how you live your life? What is your path to authenticity?

 

 

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