What's the old saying? Root, hog, or die? Every discipline has its variant. My own generally sticks to "publish or perish", accurate if uninspiring. I have recently had occasion to think about this in relation to my own life, and it's been eye-opening. Transitioning from an academic to a workplace setting has been jarring. I wonder if I'm losing track of what makes me, me, in the hustle to make deadlines and put out fires. Moving at a pace as fast as I've moved in the last month seems a path that will lead to me waking up in twenty years asking what I've done with my life.
Lucre is not the be-all, end-all in life. Perhaps it's merely because I don't have money right now, but I can't see the tradeoff being worth it. A fat bank account can't buy me more time when it's my turn to leave this life and prepare for the next. I've already had something of this experience. Older relatives are beginning to ail, and several probably won't make out the year. Can I truly say I've lived well if I've been so focused on my own problems that I did not make time for them while they were here?
Many spiritual paths warn us of the danger inherent in putting too much of ourselves into the material world. It can corrode the spirit and dull the appreciation of deity that we are all born with. The Buddha taught that desire was the root of all suffering, and proposed eliminating desire as the cure. I'm not a buddha or a bodhisattva, eliminating desire is not within my ability. But I think there's another way. Changing your desires from the material to the spiritual, to helping others and furthering knowledge, and doing my small part to make this existence better for the people around me? By doing that, I can make my own existence all the sweeter. We can find support for this in the Christian scriptures too, were we so inclined, in many places. One of my favorites is Matthew 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
This lesson shows up in many branches of Wiccan and Pagan thought as well, where materialism is seen as weakening our connection to deity and the Earth which is the representation thereof. In this system, living simply and with an ecological mindset is not merely a good idea, it's almost an imperative if we wish to truly live a Wiccan life. Of course, like most non-hierarchical faiths, Wiccans are not unanimous on anything, but if there's anything other than the Rede which unites the majority, it's the knowledge that humankind's destructive activities towards the Earth are not right.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Laudato Si, made an impassioned case for just such an ecological vision, situating humans in a system which has no beginning and no end. Moving away from a theological vision rooted in some interpretations of Genesis that had Earth here for humans to dominate, His Holiness recognizes that human beings are part of an ecological system which were are wreaking havoc upon, the consequences of which fall upon the poorest and least able to respond. This is a tragedy for both humans and our fellow members of creation (if you wish to follow that far). Many faiths, many teachers, one vision: that our singleminded pursuit of material gain has had and continues to have deleterious effects on our spiritual and physical selves, our fellow man, our fellow creatures, and our planet itself.
I hope I can live my life with feet in both worlds. It's a hard balance to strike, as writers across the ages have recognized and wrestled with, and like most things in life comes down to the individual and her or his dedication to a path, whatever that path may be.