There is a documentary currently on Netflix called Walk with Me. It’s about a commune in Plum Village, France when Thich Nhat Hanh (author of Living Buddha, Living Christ) resided there. (Hanh has since moved back to his home country of Vietnam.)
The pace of the documentary is slow and deliberate. There is seldom any dialogue. Occasionally, there will be a scene depicting something in nature with a voice over from Benedict Cumberbatch. He is reading from Hanh’s collection of early journals, Fragrant Palm Leaves. I read somewhere that Cumberbatch took on this work as part of his preparation for the Dr. Strange movie he was cast in.
There is this scene late into the documentary, when a Buddist monk comes home to visit his parents. He is young, perhaps in his 30s. He has taken a vow of poverty, meaning he has no personal financial wealth or material possessions. His parents show him his early journal, where he wrote out a road map of sorts for his life. Below is a quote from this part of the documentary, as he reads his plan aloud.
Seven years old. Make friends, be cool. Join the drama club and be good at all sports.
13 years old. Apply to high schools. Be student class president, get accepted to all high schools.
In college, everyone everyone loves me. Good student, founder of 3 clubs, parents proud.
Accepted to Ivy League college with full scholarship.
20 years old. Buy $30,000 car.
21 years old. Get the perfect girlfriend.
24 years old. Graduate with an MBA. Get a $300,000 job.
26 years old. Get married, buy a million dollar home.
30 years old. Pop out a few children, parents super happy.
40+. Have everything, go directly as planned, become vice president of company. Everyone is happy and loving.
70 years old. Obtain enlightenment.”
When he reads the last sentenance aloud, his parents laugh lovingly and say, “You better get busy.” And he responds, “Well, everything always goes directly as planned.”
I think we can all say we’ve fallen into this sort of life-mapping before. Maybe not as elaborate, but perhaps it’s about the number of children we’ll have or the age we want to retire. It all seems to be an attempt to obtain some material milestone– and that’s the thing that will make us happy.
We know this isn’t true when we see it on paper, but we still do it.
It’s telling that his last item is “obtain enlightenment,” but looking at the brief glipse we get of his life, it appears as though he decided to make the bold move to forgo the unnecessary and skip to the end.
Don’t wait for the end of your supposed life-map to find your foundational happiness. You can start that work right now. Everything else has been leading up to this. You don’t know what the future will bring- it could be forboding or it could be a windfall, but nothing in life is guaranteed. The old joke goes, “How do you make God laugh? Tell God your plans.”
Walk with Me is itself a meditation. Skip your daily meditation- watch this doucmentary instead.