26 September 2010

No Bucket List for Me

It seems a fad to have a Bucket List.  You know. That list of things you want to do, indeed, must do, before you die. 

There are books called 100 Things To Do Before You Die, “1000 Place To See Before You Die” (apparently different from the book “1000 Places to See In the USA and Canada Before You Die”). The most recent one I’ve seen is 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Seriously? I’m 54, according to this website I could live to be 99 (not sure I believe this BTW).  So I  would need to read about 18 books a year to get it done. Not going to do it.

For me, life is not a “to do list.” Collecting experiences like trophies does so very little for me. I am not an “experiential materialist.” I cannot measure my life in terms of items crossed off a list.   I do not believe that my life will be better if I have accomplished one hundred things on a list.  A t-shirt I used to own said it best: “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.”

To me, what I understand and learn from the few books I’ve read,  how I use that learning, is far more important than how many books I’ve read.  Reading War and Peace slowly, and but once, and getting it beats a hundred books any day. I’ve read the Tao te Ching a hundred times and I’m still working out the understanding. Would I have been better off to read one hundred different books or just that one? 

Ditto for the New Testament.

How I see, how deeply, is more important to me than the sheer number of things I’ve seen. I live on one acre of mountainside. I think I could spend a lifetime seeing this one acre anew each day,  discovering something about it each day.

Do you really see the sky where you live? Do you really see your children around your feet? Do you really see the suffering/joy in the world?  Do you really taste the food you eat?  Or is it all in a hurry?  All one big "to do" list?

Perhaps the best story of truly seeing is the Flower Story.  The story goes that Buddha had his disciples gather by a pond. Normally he would start to lecture or give what’s called a dharma talk, but he did not. He just stood silently.  For a long time.  Then he either pulled a lotus flower out of the pond or someone gave it to him as a gift but in any case, he held it aloft so that all of his disciples could physically see it. They all looked at it. They all  saw the flower and sat passively. "What could the Buddha mean by this," they all, no doubt, thought. 

But out of that sea of faces, one face cracked in a little smile and then perhaps a gentle laugh. It was Buddha’s disciple, Mahakashyapa. 

Buddha held the flower higher and spoke:  “What can be said I have said, what cannot be said, has been seen by Mahakashyapa.” From then on, Mahakashyapa was known as the Buddha's successor.

So, which is it for you?  Do you look at your life or do you see it?

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth


  1. No list for me. Today I made sweet pickles using Grandma Coakley's recipe. The house smells like sweet vinegar. That makes this day wonderful in many ways.

  2. You present two ideas here, and I'm not sure they are altogether in conflict.

    The first idea is that your life shouldn't be a mathematical equation where you add up the places you've been and things you've done to have a sum that validates your life. This is certainly a valid point, but I don't think it is in conflict with your second idea of enjoying the moment or mindfulness or whatever you want to call it.

    One very memorable time of meditation for me was sitting on a rock outcrop from the Great Wall of China. I sat there for over an hour and just looked out across the skyline. It was a great moment- and it served two purposes for me, checked off an item from my list but also provided me with something far greater.

    I had a similar experience a few years earlier when I visited the Louvre in France. I spent about an hour with a painting by Jacque Louis David that I love. I was in the moment, but it helped to be experiencing it somewhere and with something special to me.

    Can't you have it both ways? (sorry for the LONG comment)