I was having a conversation recently with an old friend who is deeply committed to a spiritual practice intended to release us from the vicious cycle of ego and our addiction to the material world. I was sharing about Serene Ambition and my commitment to do what I can to encourage our generation to ‘make a difference’ and leave the world in better shape than we found it—to leave a legacy of possibility to those who come behind us.
My friend pointed out that this is a terrific focus for service and expression of love for human beings and our world. However, she pointed out, take care that you aren’t trying to leave a legacy to satisfy some ego-centered ideal. This reminded me of all the times I would do the right thing for the wrong reasons and, in doing so, deny myself the kind of deep and profound satisfaction that comes when we do something from the ‘core’ of our Being and unconditional love.
Part of me says, it doesn’t matter what our motivation is if we are having a positive impact on the planet and those around us. Does it matter if someone is recycling whether they are doing so to impress the neighbors? Does it matter why we want to feed the hungry, overcome corruption or promote social justice? Does it matter why we want to leave a legacy to the next generations as long as we leave one?
I think the answer is “Yes”—it does matter. It matters because where we are coming from has more to do with ‘reality’ than what we are doing. This is a difficult idea to grasp. Our actions are always a function of how we observe our world—how the world ‘occurs’ for us. If we observe the world to be a problem, we will try to ‘solve’ it by one means or another, but in doing so will reinforce the underlying structures of interpretation (the paradigm) that has it be a problem. In effect, we get what we resist and reduce our well-intentioned efforts to leave a legacy to being a ‘gesture’—it doesn’t make a difference.
Eldering is about sharing our experience and ourselves with younger generations so that they can find their own wisdom and be empowered to deal with whatever they are facing in the coming decades. Legacy isn’t about leaving ‘our’ mark. It is about leaving a mark. Perhaps no one will ever know what that mark is or remember who made the contribution, but it will make a difference if it is an expression of selfless commitment and service to others. As with any legacy, we will not be around to know what happened. If we are too focused on leaving a legacy before we die, then that is just ego holding onto our very temporary identity.
The good news is that a lot of people (of all ages) are already contributing from this place—with awareness and a willingness to not let ego drive their actions. They contribute knowing that everything and everyone makes a difference, and they do not need to be recognized as the originator of an idea, the leader of an institution, or the creator of a new technology before they die. They simply give of themselves as an expression of who they are. They are unconcerned whether the difference they make ‘leaves a mark’ or not. And they leave the people they share ‘the best of themselves’ with to freely choose whether, when and how to use what they have been given.
The future is a story not yet written, and we all contribute to it—each in our way. Perhaps the one legacy we can all leave is a willingness to let go of our ego and simply love one another and ourselves as we are—for we have no control over whatever else may be ‘left behind’ after we’re gone.