27 May 2002

  "Would you tell me, please dear 
Cheshire Puss, which way I ought to go from here?'" 

  "That depends a good deal on where you want to 
get to," said the Cat.

  "I don't much care where," said Alice.

  "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," 
said the Cat.
     - Lewis Carroll

Today is my birthday. I'm moving into my second half-century, and I'm sitting here wondering what it's all been about. My life, I mean.

I've had my share of successes, and I often think I've had more than my share of failures -- but that's not what's driving the thought process for me. No, indeed. Today I have bigger philosophical fish to fry. I want to understand what the driving force in my life is, and I want to know the destination toward which I've been heading all these years.

I feel like I've been asleep at the wheel for a long time. I've cruised for a lot of years down a high-speed back road on autopilot as I passed exits, roadside attractions, other vehicles, and hulking signs warning me of hazards ahead. Buddhism teachings emphasize that we must be at all times responsible for how we drive -- the "Mahayana" actually translates as the "Great Vehicle." We're expected to keep our vehicles clean and functioning, and always under our direct control. We're supposed to be alert, and mindful of how we drive. And now, it appears I'm waking up just in time to see the oncoming headlights of what looks like a Mack truck--a "mahayana" not of my own making.

The problem is, my vehicle seems to have been driving itself for such a long time, the autopilot switch is frozen in the "on" position. My vehicle--my own life--feels sluggish and unresponsive, and I'm worried I won't be able to regain control in time left to avoid a disastrous meeting between me and the truck.

It feels to me that my vehicle accelerated when I should have been applying brakes. I cut corners too sharply, and didn't keep an eye out for falling rocks. I frequently forgot to signal when turning, and more than one crack-up occurred as a result. Still, I didn't bother to keep my eyes open and on the road. I even made a wrong turn or two at points and now I have lost my way totally.

My map disappeared a long time ago, and I never bothered to stop and ask anyone for directions, which is how I got to this godforsaken place where I am currently stalled. I didn't refuel often, and when I did, I never bothered to check that there was air in the tires, or water in the radiator. I frequently paid more than the fueling was actually worth.

My only guideposts right now are the stars and the wise people whose taillights I am trying to follow, and I'm focusing hard on them. Maybe I'll find my way back to the main road.

Excuse me. I need to check that my license and registration haven't already expired.


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