Learning that all things are significant, but nothing is important is key to figuring out what to focus on
All things are significant, but nothing is important
These words emerged from the lips of a client the other day, as she summarized what she was learning through our process, Open Palm Solutions. She said she didn’t know where they came from — whether she’d made them up, heard them from me (I don’t think so… ) or read them somewhere.
The cosmos has a way of using what we declare to be important — typically by taking it away. Or, by giving us so much of it, we choke on it.
In Buddhism, this is stated: things we declare to be important become attachments (wanting more of what we like, wanting less of what we dislike) – freeing ourselves means freedom from attachments.
Often, the things we declare to be important are those things which our society values, like having a job, or having a partner / spouse. Having money. Having degrees or prestige. They are marks of identification through what we have, as opposed to “who we be.”
Declaring something to be important leads to comparison – judgments about relative importance. Is my need more important than your need? Is my career more important than yours, and therefore does it determine where or how we live? Is my need for acknowledgment so great that I live only as a role — I character concoct for myself – I refuse to be myself – I live my life as I think I “should,” (according to the cultural standard?)
The things we declare are important, if we notice, lose their importance rapidly when we are under threat. When the perfect, showy house we slave to pay for is burning,1 all we want is out.
We tend to re-examine what is important when illness or death intrude. I got an e‑mail with a long story about such a realization – the death of a sister led a woman to re-think her priorities. Here are a couple of lines, the first a quote from her brother-in-law:
“Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”
I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where my sister’s family lives. I thought about all the things that she hadn’t seen or heard or done. I thought about the things that she had done without realizing that they were special.
I’m still thinking about his words, and they’ve changed my life. I’m reading more and dusting less. I’m sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time in committee meetings. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt.”
We are, in a sense, what we give importance to.
If I live my life caring what others think, I give prime importance to others, and minimize myself. If I live my life “in role” – somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, I am, by definition, identifying with that role. And believe me, the role will shift, or change, or end, and because I never found me, I will be cast adrift.
If, on the other hand, I let go of “the non-important stuff I pretend is important” by remembering to be present — in the moment — with the people I choose to relate to, without pretense, – open, vulnerable, not hiding – I have the chance, the chance, of being – not important – but real.
So, if nothing is important, why bother? Because everything is significant.
That’s sort of the point of the quote from the e‑mail. If we get so locked into role that we miss the beauty of living life fully in the here and now, we create nothing – but empty values. What if we took another tack altogether?
What if we began to believe that we are here for one reason only – to get to know ourselves? If this is so, then everything — everything – is significant.
I long ago stopped counting the “seeming coincidences” that occur in my life each day. I recognize that the people who show up and become my friends are essential for my walk. Some hang around forever, (Hi Darbella!) — others sign on for the near or long term. Each of them is significant.
But, if you’re following this, you see the point — none of them are important — while at the same time being totally significant.
Each of them, each meeting, each blip of information, each relationship, is there for me to learn more about myself. And each of them is there because they created, for themselves, the need to meet me, because what I say to them (to you?) is significant. Right now. On your walk. But important? Nope.
With the creation of Open Palm Solutions, new people have come into my life, with skill sets that will be helpful, and with personalities and walks parallel to mine. They learn about themselves in contact with me, and vice versa. It is highly significant that they are here, now.
And then, when you get this one, when you drop importance and seek significance, you attune yourself with the nature of the cosmos, and you find out about synchronicity. You see the cosmos providing you with non-important significances all the time.
Two examples: I am in dialog with a new found friend who was talking about finding depth in herself. I was just getting ready to write her, and I got a blog post with this quote:
“The gentle spring rain permeates the soil of my soul. A seed that has lain deeply in the earth for many years just smiles.”
(From Thich Nhat Hanh, “Cuckoo Telephone,” in Call Me By My True Names.)
Interesting coincidence? Nah.
Or this one, which is so odd as to be a cosmic joke. I was talking to Dar about wanting to go to Montreal for a conference one of these years, and mentioned maybe I could just go for a day or so and connect with friends and also eat some Montreal Smoked Meat (as the Canadians smile). I said, “I know where the restaurant is in relationship to the train station, but I can’t remember the name.” At that precise moment, a truck went by. On the side, I read, “Dunn’s Heating and Cooling.” Guess what the name of the restaurant is? Right. Dunn’s.
Interesting coincidence? Nah.
As the cosmos laughs.
Is this important? Nope. But surely it’s significant.