By John Pendall
What would happen if I just stopped?
What would happen if I gave up everything except being and breathing? I could do it, you know? I could just wander into a quiet room, sit down, and stop doing everything. What would happen if I did that?
#1 Well, for starters, I’d die in a couple days from dehydration.
So I need to get up every now and then and drink some water. After a few weeks, I would starve to death, so I’d also need to eat a little food. I’d start to develop sores and muscle cramps from sitting too long, so I’d have to get up and go for walks. I’d need to bathe, too, so that I don’t get sick and smell terrible.
#2 I would also lose my job.
If I lost my job, I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills so I’d lose my car and my house. I would also become estranged from friends and family because I wouldn’t be nourishing those relationships anymore. I have to keep working if I don’t want to be homeless. If I want to have loved ones, I have to keep communicating with them and loving them.
#1 is essential for life, #2 is essential for well-being. #2 isn’t the same for everyone, some people have no desire for home, family and friends. So #1 is essential for all, #2 is essential for most. These are the things that would be jeopardized if I stopped doing everything right now. Everything else that fell away would be all that extra stuff I don’t need for survival or well-being.
I don’t need a fancy car or a regal house. I don’t need a fantastic job or lofty goals. I don’t need to be famous or have the most up-to-date technology. Most of all, I don’t need to worry or wonder what people think of me. So much of my depression and distress through life has revolved around non-essential things. I worry so much about issues that don’t matter, that I have no energy to calmly deal with issues that do.
Let’s say I buy some concert tickets for the Black Sabbath show in September. Two weeks before the show, I’m notified that they’ve canceled the rest of the tour; I’m furious and disappointed. “I’ve been waiting five months for this! This is Sabbath’s last tour! Why, oh why, Universe are you so utterly cruel?!”
This would be an example of me getting stressed out about something non-essential. Sure, it would be nice to see Sabbath in concert, but is it really that important in the long run? No, not really—life goes on. The cancellation also freed me from having to drive in Chicago traffic, which is a bit like being in the Thunder Dome.
There are a lot of non-essentials in my life. Some of them I can do away with altogether. Some non-essentials are nice to have around as long as I keep them in perspective. Stuff breaks. Everything I have will be broken someday, so I try to travel light.
It’s natural for things to fall apart.
If I can let that fact settle into my marrow, then I can deal with important disasters and barely even register unimportant ones.
It’s as if everything that I am and everything that I claim are melting ice sculptures in the rain. The formless contracts into form then expands again into formlessness. This is natural and unavoidable.
Knowing this, why should I get too wound up about non-essential things?
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”