Birthdays are naturally a time for stock-taking, for sizing up the events and progress (or regress) over the previous year, and all the previous years combined.
And, for better or for worse, they’re a time for comparing oneself to where we’re “supposed” to be based on all sorts of metrics: what our parents had accomplished by this age, what our friends have accomplished by this age, what everyone on Instagram has accomplished ever, our own internal hopes/dreams/expectations of where we thought we’d be by this age…
At milestone birthdays, this stock-taking is particularly acute. And, of all the milestone birthdays, the big 4-0 seems to be fraught with the most cultural baggage.
When I was a kid, 40 was old. Over the hill and the beginning of the inevitable slow slide toward retirement, infirmity, death.
Fortunately, times have changed and 40 isn’t the grim prognosis that it used to be. But it’s still a pretty big step.
At 40, one is undeniably and unavoidably an ADULT.
There’s no getting around it anymore.
But I’m ok with that — I’m getting pretty good at being an adult most of the time, and I certainly don’t feel old. In fact, I feel more vibrant and alive than ever. Which I absolutely attribute to my twice-daily meditation practice.
And stock-taking is OK…it’s good to have hopes and ambitions and goals, and to measure our progress toward achieving them.
The trouble comes about when we create suffering by focusing on where and what we aren’t, rather than appreciating with wonder where and what we are.
Look how far you’ve come… How much you’ve grown, how much life you’ve lived, how many lessons you’ve learned, how many sorrows you’ve survived, how many joys you’ve cherished, how many lives you’ve touched.
Life is a long, convoluted, unpredictable adventure.
And so, in honor of the beginning of my 41st trip around our nearest star, I’m sharing one of my favorite passages from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road, and recommitting to it as my personal motto for the next 40 years:
“From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women, You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.”