THE BEST SEAT
IN THE HOUSE
“Nor does it matter in what part of
the universe you stand: wherever a
man takes his place it stretches
away boundless, infinite.”
I think you could have rested quite comfortably upon a log, or a big rock, or on the sand, or a seat at the college library, or a park bench. This is because you sought your rest only when you needed it. And were glad of whatever device or setting might accommodate your body without too much discomfort. You simply desired to rest.
There was a time in my own life when I had seemingly everything. I was just beyond the end of youth and making ready for middle-age, and I didn't have much idea about what it meant to live well, and so I employed my seeming abundance towards making a good show of living well. I made my life into a theater. And I produced a display to communicate to myself and others that I was a successful actor.
My first performance was the purchase of a nice home, which I began to furnish nicely. Then, I started inviting people over to see what I had done. That was easy... And it felt pretty good—as long as I kept busy—as long as I didn't have time to think.
The production of this show of my life was a good way to stay distracted; a good way to not hear the little voice that was trying to speak to me of other things. I was so busy for more than a year that I could barely hear the little voice asking me what I was doing? But eventually I ran out of space to prepare and decorate. I had put things everywhere. In particular, I had a lot of chairs...
Many places to sit
Nowhere to rest
My show-house had an enormous yard, over an acre of land. And we had a pool. And lovely landscaping all around the pool with fruit trees of many sort. Each day, on my way home from work, I stopped at a big nursery to look at and buy plants for the yard. I also bought chairs—a lot of chairs. I purchased patio chairs, garden chairs, benches and all sorts of antique garden seating which I could place all over the yard. I put these items around the pool, and out in the garden, and next to a big tree and around an especially nice spot at the edge of a hill overlooking a picturesque valley view. The centerpiece for all of this was a quite expensive collection of wrought-iron patio furniture just outside the back door, which I had arranged below a redwood arbor I'd had built. So many places to sit. Just nowhere to rest.
I only remember forcing myself to ever sit in any of those chairs. I'd tell myself to sit down and try a seat out when I first moved it into the yard, though I'd never sit in it again once I had in place and adjusted just so, and had the view from the seat just right, and the position next to the little table to place one's coffee was perfectly set. Done! I was done with that setting and seat. And I would move on to the next showpiece place of rest.
The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius was satisfied with "a plank bed and skin" and wrote that "it is possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and such-like show" which speaks to not only a simple life, but a life of spartan outward wants; a life in which the satisfaction of living comes less from external display or comforts and more from some inner fulfillment. This was the point I was missing with my show-house of many chairs. For, I had created a personal palace displaying the outward trappings of rest and peace before first cultivating an inner-man of such character. I had no place to sit as I was then incapable of rest.
Eventually, I gave up my seats, and my possessions, and my home, and that life. But I kept my family. But I kept my values—as confused and unidentified as they were at that age. And I kept my movement and inability to sit and rest. And I took that restless show on the road, on a Great Life Adventure with my wife and daughter. And I stopped trying to quiet the little man speaking to me from within. I began to listen then to what he was trying to say.
It is a neat trick to neither lament nor attempt to remember the lives we did not live. For we all walk strange roads in our minds sometimes when our current path becomes rough or confused. It is tempting to reflect on the ways we could have gone instead of becoming now so seemingly lost. But what mastery to reflect little or not at all on imagined lives, no more than to be remembered as a cautionary tale to inform reason ahead of our future way.
I would walk always today just where I am now. And walk tomorrow from where today's journey takes me. Never wanting to be someone else, or someplace else, or to be doing other than what I must or should or what necessity or the pursuit of virtue demands; all the while remembering my still better self and adjusting my aim towards that more worthy mark. And so, I will live truly from day through day. I will live well in the life that I have yet to live. There will be no pining for past lives never lived, or a current now only imagined like a dream, or some tomorrow which truly could never be. There's always room for a true tomorrow. There is always a place for a better next sunrise. Though only if we arrive at that place via the contented journey starting with now.
The work I do before the work I must do
“All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in morning atmosphere.”
-Henry David Thoreau
There is a season in the day when so much seems possible. At dawn, I know my life is renewed—if not with vitality, then at least with opportunity—for I have survived the night yet again, and am refreshed and prepared to make another try. I go to the open window of my room and look out at the failing darkness. The sounds from outside are so clear; as the void of the yet sleeping world's attentions remains distracted with silent dreams. My fellows slumber on—even the dogs are not yet up--and I have the pre-dawn to myself; hearing vague outside sounds of crickets, and some far off machinery of my apartment building, and the early traffic on the distant freeway, and a nighttime airplane passing far overhead. The day is coming. Everyone will be rising soon. I should get to work with the tasks I do which capitalize on this early living. The work I do before the work I must do.
The best seat in the house
I have long dreamed of a nice, personal room where I can work. A little office at home where I can set up a desk and chair and my stuff, a retreat where I can go and close the door and work on the things that matter to me. But now, I do not need that place—as nowhere is satisfactory for my work. My work can now be done no place better than here. And nothing is needed. My work requires no place and no thing, and no time even—as my work is now always being done wherever I am, and is always complete, whatever I do.
I once kept a small chair
Below a desert bridge,
A good place to sit
When I began my work—
I do not need that chair
My work being complete
Though I am ever working
And so, I'll go back now into the desert to the bridge where my work began. And I'll recover that folding chair kept stashed in the rafters. And I will open it, and place it on the sand where I do, and maybe sit in it again and look out fifty miles across the desert sands, and remember how this was once my place to work, my personal room, my little office in the deep shade below Route 66, the place where I came to begin my work, and where I now work always, wherever I am, whatever I am doing, and whoever I may become.
I never needed that chair, nor that bridge, nor that desert; just like I never needed a little personal room where I could work, or any office at home where I could set up a desk and chair and my stuff; no retreat where I could go and close the door and work on the things that matter to me.
My work is now begun and complete at once and always wherever I am.
Whatever I am doing.
And whoever I may become.