By Robert Butler
A few days ago, I apparently needed a brutal reminder.
The day had started out beautifully. For the first time in months, I awoke to brilliant sunshine. The outdoors beckoned me to forgo my normal morning rituals and saturate my retinas with vitamin D. After a leisurely breakfast at my favorite spot, I cruised with the top down up to the local popular surf break.
The scene was glorious with a deep aquamarine white-capped ocean framed by a crystal blue sky. The gentle breeze wafting off the ocean was simultaneously warm and cool and carried the scent of the thousands of wildflowers blooming on the cliffside.
My to do list was even bigger than it was the day before, yet I felt compelled to revel a while longer in this beauty that overwhelmed my senses, breathing in what I was convinced had to have been the best air in the world!
A stop at the local produce stand yielded some beautiful flowers for my altar. I was loving how this day was unfolding. I still needed to get my car to the shop and handled that easily. Once at work, I began the difficult task of undoing the mistakes of the myriad institutions that had caused havoc with my business.
Hours on the phone with seemingly powerless representatives of monolithic corporations yielded miniscule results. In no time, my patience had worn thin. My frustration level continued to grow steadily over the hours until finally, it was time to go pick up the car.
Fortunately, the Lyft driver was an extremely affable fellow who seemed to be more than a little beyond retirement age. We had a nice exchange and he dropped me at the car dealership ten minutes before they closed. Finding that the service department no longer washes the cars they service, and that the techs had left garbage, water bottles and the interior of the car in disarray was yet another annoying reminder that getting high quality service from a large company has become an increasingly rare event.
Instead of getting into freeway traffic, I chose to recharge by detouring to a local beach for a walk along the blufftop, and then make my weekly sojourn to Trader Joe’s.
As I was preparing to go back to my car, I felt my pocket and realized I did not have my phone. I frequently forget it in the car, so I was hopeful I would find it in the passenger seat where I usually leave it. When it was not there, a feeling of intense dread slowly came over me as I realized that I had left it in the Lyft!
Anyone who knows me has heard me complain about this very glitchy phone and all the frustration it causes me—and indeed it has been more than a little disobedient over the years.
A few days earlier I had damaged the screen when the phone slipped out of my hand. But gone? This was a different story! I realized that virtually every contact I had in the entire world, and everything I needed to conduct my business was in that phone! I could not even figure out how to contact my assistant who was still working that day!
I tried contacting Lyft but of course there was no option to speak with someone, only filling out a form online and waiting. Of course, all my Lyft information was in that phone as well. In a panic, I faxed an urgent note to my warehouse manager asking him to call me on my landline! Fortunately, he responded quickly and simply said, “Call your phone right now!” Duh!
Again, the angels were smiling upon me as the driver picked up the phone promptly.
He had just arrived home, 35 miles away and was about to sit down to dinner but assured me he would return the phone to me later that night. A huge sense of relief washed over me. Indeed, no matter how frustrated I got trying to operate that phone, I never imagined how I would feel if it were completely gone!
When I finally received it at 9:30 that night, there were 15 text messages, three missed calls, and several other notifications waiting for me. I lovingly cradled it in my hand, and looking at its cracked screen, profusely apologized to it, vowing never to speak harshly about it ever again!
One notification was a message from a very dear friend who left a cryptic message regarding the value of friends. A little prying on my part revealed that a close friend of hers had died unexpectedly that day. She was too upset to talk in person, but a long chat session revealed many harsh reminders as to the fragility of life, and our need to keep things in perspective. Indeed, my forgotten cellphone was inconsequential compared to this ultimate expression of Letting Go.
A few years ago, just at the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote an article called The Angel of Death Stops by for a Visit. In it, I revealed how all my plans had gone completely sideways one day and how ultimately letting go of all of these seemingly important things will be necessary when I am finally called home.
In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of surviving in these especially hectic times, this profound life lesson is easily forgotten. It is a lesson I have been reminded of repeatedly since the first powerful experiences of death being my greatest teacher was deeply embedded into my consciousness over 25 years ago. And if I don’t re-prioritize my thinking, I will likely have a big to do list on the day I finally leave this body.
Several years ago, I participated in an exercise called 7-7-7-7. We were instructed to contemplate that there will come a day when we have but only seven years left to live – and that that day may have already passed. We journaled what was important that we felt we needed to accomplish in those last seven years. Then we repeated the exercise with months, weeks, days, etc. The fact remains, that we do not even know if we are going to leave this room alive. We only have this moment – to direct our consciousness to what really matters.
Let us not waste it on what doesn’t.
Even as a child, Robert Butler was fascinated with the nature of consciousness. A practitioner of Bhakti Yoga and committed vegetarian since the age of 17, he embarked on a lifelong journey to help himself and others uncover the mysteries of life. After living in an ashram in his late teens through his mid 20s, he traveled extensively, and delved deeply into personal growth and healing work. For the past twenty-five years, he has run a San Diego based nonprofit that supports three Bhakti Yoga ashrams and sustainable farm communities: Audarya Ashram in Philo, California, Sarahgrahi near Asheville, North Carolina, and Madhuvan in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He is an author, spiritual counselor and senior staffer with the ManKind Project, as well as a mentor with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network. He lives in Encinitas, California.