Knowing What Matters

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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It was during one of the first mentoring sessions with a new client that the following exchange occurred:

  • Me: Life is much like that path of a bird through the sky. It leaves no trace. There is only the bird and flight.
  • Client: So you are saying that your life and mine are like that.
  • Me: Yes, in a very important way. Living in the present makes all questions about such things meaningless.
  • Client: But that sounds like such a dark view. I would like to think that my life will leave a trace; that people will know that I was here and who I was.
  • Me: That is leaving the living of your life and tending to an artificial reality. You convince yourself that such a thing is so important that you abandon the chance to live.
  • Client: But it seems like such a waste. The bird leaves no trace in its flight. That is such a hollow way to look at it.
  • Me: Maybe for you, but how about for the bird?

That question seemed to be one that he had never considered.

  • Me: What do you think the bird is experiencing? Living in the moment, with its intention to go from one place to another and doing just that. Do you think it worries about whether its flight leaves a trace? In the joy of flight and with the feeling of its wings providing lift do you think that such things matter much to the bird? The lesson here is that the bird is much better at being a bird than you are at being a human. The bird lives the exact moment it is living while you worry about moments past.

Some hours later I was sitting in a park on a sunny afternoon. A mockingbird flew out of the trees and across the meadow. I watched the bird’s flight and wondered at its immediate experience of living. Clearly nothing mattered but the process of flying. Its intention was to do exactly that. About half way across the meadow it dipped down and soared up. I took it as a sign of the joy it felt at being just there in just that time.

The mockingbird knew what mattered and spent no time wondering about what did not. Of all its flights that had left no paths through the sky, there was the wonder of being able to fly through this one at this time. The bird was alive to the moment it was living.

Then there was another thought. I remembered how another bird in another sky and time had first taught me that same lesson. We humans can go far astray chasing things that simply do not matter. In doing so, we give up the chance to live in the moment and the wonderful experience that comes with simply being fully alive and present in the moment.

My client may have had the first glimpse of that insight. That mockingbird reminded me that even such a lesson is a trap and a diversion. We give up the immediate experience of living for such silly things as posterity. We lose track of what really matters. The bird’s experience is his own. I spent the walk back to the office reveling in mine; and did not worry about not leaving tracks.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II


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