A Bucket List is Not Mindfulness

A Bucket List is Not Mindfulness

1024 683 Richard Russeth

A Bucket List is Not Mindfulness


It seems a fad to have a Bucket List. You know. That list of things you want to do, indeed, must do, before you die.

There are books called “100 Things To Do Before You Die”, “1000 Place To See Before You Die” (apparently different from the book “1000 Places to See In the USA and Canada Before You Die”). The most recent one I’ve seen is “1001 Books You Must Read before You Die”. Seriously? I’m 59, if I live to be 99, I would need to read about 25 books a year to get it done. Not that I’m not going to read a thousand books between now and then, just not going to read someone else’s list.

For me, life is not a “to do list.” I don’t have a bucket list. Collecting experiences like trophies does so very little for me. I am not an “experiential materialist.” I cannot measure my life in terms of items checked off. I do not believe that my life will be better if I have accomplished one hundred things on a list. A t-shirt I used to own said it best: “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” Substitute “experiences” for “toys” and you’ve got my viewpoint.

To me, what I understand and learn from the books I’ve read, how I use that learning, is far more important than how many books I’ve read. Reading War and Peace slowly, and but once, and getting it beats a hundred books any day. I’ve read the Tao te Ching fifty times if I’ve read it once and I’m still working it out. Would I have been better off to read one hundred different books or just that one?

How I see, how deeply, how much I enjoy, how much I understand any one thing is more important to me than the sheer number of things I’ve seen or experienced. I live on one acre of Colorado mountainside. I think I could spend a lifetime seeing this one acre anew each day, discovering something about it each day. To me it is not how much you experience, but how deeply.

Chasing after experiences will ultimately leave you unsatisfied. There is always another experience that you haven’t experienced. Always. And if you complete your Bucket List, then what? Will you be satisfied or will you start another list? I’m betting on the second list.

Do you really see the sky where you live? Do you really see your children around your feet? Do you really see the suffering/joy in the world? Do you really taste the food you eat? The wine you drink? The wind you breathe? Or is it all a blur? One big “to do” list? Is that you want you want your life to be – a big “to do” list?

Perhaps the best story of truly seeing is the Flower Story. The story goes that Buddha had his disciples gather by a pond. Normally he would start to lecture or give what’s called a dharma talk, but he did not. He just stood silently. For a long time. Then he either pulled a lotus flower out of the pond or someone gave it to him as a gift but in any case, he held it aloft so that all of his disciples could physically see it. They all looked at it. They all saw the flower and sat passively. “What could the Buddha mean by this,” they all, no doubt, thought.

But out of that sea of faces, one face cracked in a little smile and then perhaps a gentle laugh. It was Buddha’s disciple, Mahakashyapa. Buddha held the flower higher and spoke: “What can be said I have said, what cannot be said, has been seen by Mahakashyapa.” From then on, Mahakashyapa was known as the Buddha’s successor.

So which is it for you? Do you look at your life or do you see it?

Choose wisely.


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