There is a word that is not mentioned in the piece but all over it - equanimity. The author is able to see so much not because she is all tangled up with life, but because she has taken a step back, decided to be equanimous. From the stillness of equanimity, one can sense freedom and choice.
I remembered Leo Tolstoy's famous story, Three Questions. The story expands on the question. One becomes three.
What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all times?
And the answer to each, from the lovely story, is:
The most important time is now
The most important person is the person with you
The most important thing to do is to do good to the person with you
Nicole's question can be asked in two different ways and a personal experience comes to mind. Just before I left for my 10-day meditation retreat, someone close to me challenged my wisdom of going for this. This person said, "Why are you doing something that is best left for people above the age of 60? What a criminal waste of time. You will find that the world has moved on by 10 days, and you have lost 10 precious days of your life. So much work is to be done and you are escaping from the world." These words were said with so much force that I was confused. I consulted my wife, "Do you think I am doing the right thing? Should I go?". She looked straight at me and said, "Do you really need someone else to tell you the value of meditation?" Immediately, I remembered. I found myself thanking her and off I went. Of course, all these doubts vanished after the 10-day, but Nicole's question remained.
The difference was in the person who was asking the question. Before, it was one whose mind felt like a slave of time. After, it was one whose mind felt like a master of time. Going from a slave-mind to a master-mind is possible. Without practice, I know that the slave-mind will be back. But knowing that there is something beyond the mind, to which the mind can be a friend or a foe is a very empowering and freeing idea. I am amazed at how much I've managed to get done after coming back, and at the absence of fear of being overwhelmed.
It is not as though everyone has to go for a 10-day meditation retreat to free their mind. The point of this story is equanimity. Everyone has a different way of reaching it. The 10-day retreat is one tool, but there are many other good tools.
Nipun raised a good question - what did we plan when we were 20? Funnily enough, I wrote down my plan, laminated it and carried it in my wallet. I have looked every time I change my wallet (which is once in so many years). This was at a workshop where the instructor told us to write down an immediate-term goal, a medium-term goal and a long-term goal. I looked at the worn out laminated card again and found that I've met the immediate and medium-term goals, and one of my two long-term goals. The second one will also be met in the coming years. It is surprising that in a world of constant change, there is something that can remain constant. Standing where I am right now, I still agree with the goals I'd written down. Perhaps this is why we often get encouraged to write down what we want to do - for we have just manifested our desire in a very concrete form. And I suppose that when we are younger, with lesser garbage in our heads, we can see ourselves a lot better.
I loved Pancho's poem. I hope someone posts it here. Also loved all the other reflections, from the spiritual vibes of Mt. Shasta, to a conversation with a manager about the plan to be happy no-matter-what, to how plans at 20 are no where close to what happens after two decades, to sharing a lovely sunrise with an 80-year old couple.