Once upon a time in early adulthood, I was driving down the road with two friends during summer. It was a brief reprieve from full-throttle partying… a transitory moment between day festivities and night festivities. We were riding in silence, windows down, enjoying the golden hour breeze. My friend who was riding shotgun suddenly announced to the car:
“There are two parts to me”
These words immediately captured us. We couldn’t know what was coming, but we knew it would be an attempt to summarize his entire life, in two parts – no simple feat. He piqued our curiosity followed by a long pause … the same way Steve Jobs might allude to a product before showing it. We listened intently, anticipation at full climax, for his revelation.
“There are two parts to me …
The first part, and the second part.”
Ten seconds later, when I was sure that was the end of his thought, I burst out laughing. Pretty sure I said, are you ****’ing kidding me? That line killed me because it was so pithy and underwhelming. Like seeing someone square up for a basketball shot, then hurl it six feet wide of the backboard. He wasn’t trying to be funny, or wise, or profound… it was simply him, caught in a moment of realization, unleashing a stream of consciousness. A moment of deep reflection in the eye of a debaucherous hurricane.
But you know, I’ve never forgotten that quote. The more time that goes on, the more I appreciate its truth, reflecting on it like a zen koan… exploring its empty space.
Fifteen Years Later
Indeed, it seems there are two parts to him, to me, to all of us. The first part, and the second part.
There is a part of me that took decades to appreciate. One who is fully satisfied, needs nothing, wants nothing, is unbelievably happy and grateful to be here, experiencing. This part of me takes infinite comfort in the knowledge that this moment, right now, is as amazing as any other moment I can possibly experience. What a relief! There is literally nothing to do. Whatever time I have left in life, I need not worry about using that time to fulfill or accomplish or satisfy anything, or anyone. No necessity to experience this or that. Life is always complete.
There is a second part of me who exists out in the world. Interacts with all the people, all the things, all the desires, emotions, struggles, challenges, expressions. This part fully feels the highs and lows, the appetites, the satisfaction of novelty and exploration – of becoming, accomplishing, striving, doing. The story of my life.
Which part of me is here, sharing this? Both.
Both parts are ever-present. The one part of me, the part who knows everything is OK, is the sky. The experiencing part of me, who feels the full spectrum of moment to moment existence, who is fully zoomed-in or contracted around the intricacies and richness of each moment, are the clouds.
A dilemma in life is feeling immersed in the clouds while almost totally missing the sky. The emotions and feelings and cacophony of infinite stimulation can take us on wild rides. We fixate urgently on the future or regrets. We obsess with our story and the difference between how we see it today vs. how we wish it to be tomorrow. We grab at (or flee from) various experiences and states of mind, implicitly hungry for some ultimate experience. We are enchanted by one particular cloud or another, forgetting that we are also the sky, and remembering that all clouds, good or bad, are simply passing by. There is no “story” we need to force in one direction or another. No ultimate experience we need to conjure. Everything is fine already – always has been.
Perhaps then, the greatest achievement in a person’s life, both for their sake and the rest of the world’s, is to notice this. To step back, be the sky, and smile at the futility of incessant yearning. There forward, life can be engaged with lightness. One can see everything and everyone with great compassion, because they know how confounding this human condition can be. They can offer what they have to others, and need minimally if anything in return. Always feeling the joy of this special epiphany, holding it as the greatest treasure in life. And sure, they can continue to indulge and strive and yearn as much as they please… but can do so with comfort in knowing it isn’t vital. They are already fulfilled.
So please consider, there are two parts to you, the first part, and the second part. Sky and clouds. Beware of seeing only one and missing the other.
(Dedicated to my reflective friend, Jerome).
“Our minds are a vast space, containing everything. We focus on where there is movement. Some pattern. Eventually we grow tired of the pattern and feel, ‘enough’. We can return to a frame that is instead very wide — the infinite container and not the particulars, the patterns, the movements. The world is *always* big, even when it feels small.”James Low