There are many ways that a life can be full.
A traditional blessing is to wish someone a “full life”. But what does this mean?
We know what a long life is. We know what a prosperous life is. But what is a full life? Is a full life the same for all of us?
I am only an expert on one life but this life has given me a little insight into this question. As I look back over my nearly eight decades of being alive, I can see the different ways in which my own life has been very full. And when it hasn’t been.
Bend, Oregon bills itself as the place where “American comes to play”. This is no exaggeration. Most people in Bend devote their lives to outdoor recreation. If they are skiing, biking, hiking, running, swimming, boating, fishing, sail-boarding, they are happy. If they are not active, they become edgy. They want to be in motion outdoors. The whole town is devoted to this.
The idea of a full life is clear to see here: fullness is being in motion in the great outdoors.
To give you an idea of what this is like, let me tell you about pole/pedal/paddle. This is a race (Bend loves races). It starts up on the top of the sky slope with a downhill run, then switches to cross-country skiing which brings the contestant out to the road where s/he jumps on a bike and races downhill 9 miles into town. The contestant rides to the river edge, gets into a kayak and paddles downstream, gets out and runs xxx miles into town and the finish line. This is all one race and the only place you can do this is Bend, Oregon. This is a metaphor for the way of in Bend.
This orientation to life is foreign to me. I have never felt a desire to play anything. I have always said that my work is my play. I derived great satisfaction from my professional life. I enjoyed being married and raising a family. These and my “spiritual journey” provided me with all the fullness I needed. The idea of needing a vacation is not part of my thought process. The idea of going into the great outdoors was rarely part of my thought process—although I did it when my kids were young.
So, it is a little surprising that my wife and I found ourselves moving to Bend, OR in 2003.
Prior to moving to Bend we lived and worked in Silicon Valley near Palo Alto and Stanford University for twenty years. During this time Silicon Valley went through a huge shift. When we first got there, Silicon Valley bubbled with creativity. The silicon chip had opened up a world of possibilities. Could the massive mainframe computer be squeezed down to the point where it could sit on top of a desk? Could ordinary people communicate at a distance over a thing called the internet? The possibilities were endless and nobody knew exactly how it was going to work. All this was very exciting and the place crackled with creative energy. This was a fun place to live and work. Life here was very full for many of the people who lived here.
By 2003 Silicon Valley was a different place. What were only possibilities of 1984 was now a reality. The creative drive was gone. The motivation now was to become rich. The gold diggers had arrived and it was all about making money. Stanford graduates believed they had to become millionaires by the age of 30, otherwise they would be considered a failure. Our quaint neighborhood of 1950’s ranch houses was transformed into a crowded community of 2 story McMansions. It was all about the money. The outer life around us had changed. The inner life for most people seemed changed as well.
And then the high-tech recession of 2003 turned everything upside down. In most parts of the country this was a garden-variety recession. In Silicon Valley it was a full-blown recession. Freeways that had been bumper-to-bumper at 5 a.m. in the morning now moved along at the speed limit at 8 a.m. in the morning. Half of all the jobs disappeared. People were moving away in droves. My professional network was gone.
I was faced with a dilemma. I knew it would take years to rebuild my consulting practice. My wife had a stable job and we could easily live off her income. But it was a high-pressure job and she was unhappy with it. I had thought I would live out my life in our house, now I realized that would not be. To retire now we would have to sell our house and move away. But where would we go?
It seems strange that we felt called to move to Bend. We actually lived just outside of Bend on a twenty acre hay ranch. My wife and I were drawn to the place because of its historic charm, large legacy trees, picture postcard views and a duck pond just behind the house. It was a restoration project and we were drawn to the challenge of bringing the place up its full potential. While our friends spent most of their time exploring the scenic areas around us, we were focused on making our own place more scenic. We seldom left the ranch.
To others our life must have seemed very narrow. But we drew satisfaction from the various projects that brought out the latent charm of the property. It was very fulfilling to first picture how some aspect of the ranch could be improved and then bringing that improvement to life. We drew satisfaction and fulfillment from seeing our vision come to life. The contrast between what we found fulfilling, and how most people around us lived their lives, was striking.
There was no right or wrong about any of this. It was just clear how different folks find a different sense of fullness in their life.
We found the peace and quiet and solitariness of the land nourishing to us. We began a practice of Zen meditation shortly after we moved to Bend. We did monthly meditation retreats at a nearby Zen monastery. I discovered an inner kind of fullness I had not experienced before. I found an inner landscape that balanced that balanced the beauty of the outer landscape.
And all around us other people were living fully in their own kind of way.
Fullness and Awareness
My time in Bend gave me a heightened awareness of both my outer world around me and my inner world. It also gave me time to ponder the relationship between these two worlds. But it was not until we moved to Tucson that I realized the common link between these worlds. That link is consciousness.
In 2014 I attended the 20th annual International Consciousness Conference. I was struck by the surprisingly different ways that people approached the question of consciousness. Most of the conference dealt with Neuroscience and brain research. But there were also sessions on Tibetan Buddhism and universal consciousness. By Thursday I had a splitting headache and had to stay home. I was on overload.
I now realized that consciousness was central to the question of the fullness of life.
Two questions stood out for me:
- What is the range of our consciousness?
- Can consciousness expand the fullness of being alive?
These websites are the answer that these questions.