Why I'll Never Compile A Bucket List

Okay, it looks like my previous post was not the final one of 2013 after all…

Happy New Year, everyone! Have you compiled your respective lists of New Year’s resolutions? Yeah, I know, not everyone is a fan of such endeavors. However, to the extent that they help us clarify and actualize the purest of our intentions, then I think they can be a good thing. A bucket list, on the other hand, is something that I’ll never compile. Why not? I am so glad you asked that question! Let me begin with what I find appealing about resolutions.

Resolutions tend to act as guideposts in the back of our minds, subconsciously or unconsciously shaping our outward behavior: toward eating or living more healthfully, for instance, toward acting with greater patience or mindfulness, perhaps, toward spending more time with friends and family or engaged in spiritual practice, etc. Sure, they can veer towards end goals from time to time, such as when we vow to lose ten pounds, or quit smoking, or find a new job. For the most part, though, resolutions seem to me to be about intentionality.

Resolutions also encompass an appropriate time frame – one trip around the sun – a long enough period in which to affect real change, or at least dutifully attempt to do so, but not so long a time that the resolved intention becomes robbed of its immediacy. One year on also serves as an appropriate point of reevaluation. Did I really end up behaving in thus and such way last year? Was it right for me to resolve to do so? Should I renew that resolution and redouble my effort or should I just stop beating myself up over it?

Contrast these attributes of a list of New Year’s resolutions with those of the so-called bucket list. A bucket list is essentially a shopping list that applies to an entire lifespan. I want to do this. I want to accomplish that. I want to go here and see this and experience that. I want, I want, I want… Bucket lists are much more about product than process. But what’s wrong with that? Goals are good, aren’t they? They nudge us in desired directions just as those more process-oriented resolutions do, don’t they? Well…, maybe… But if you were to die before being able to check a single item off of your bucket list, would your life have ended in failure? By what standard?

By what standard? That is the $64,000 question. You see, the bucket list is created by the mind of today as if the mind of today is the same mind that will be present at the moment of “our” passing. The bucket list of today is created by the mind of today and is totally lacking the wisdom of tomorrow. We could spend hour upon hour thoughtfully composing some intricately detailed bucket list only to be diagnosed with a terminal illness the very next day, or to discover that our new-born child has a condition that will require of us every last measure of our energy, or to realize that all of our valuable ‘checking-off’ time is going to be taken up by a spouse or a parent who has been diagnosed with dementia. Perhaps the mind of today that creates the bucket list that rules the rest of our life is, in fact, a shallow, self-centered, and braggadocious mind – something that the mind of tomorrow will recognize if given half a chance. Ah, but still we have to live, don't we? And yet...

The mind of today doesn’t really know the true nature of that which it wishes for:
“Gosh, I always thought that I wanted to bungee jump... But if I’d known that I'd end up with a broken neck, I wouldn’t have risked it!”
True enough, life is risky and things happen. But if I were to end up paralyzed because of some bucket list activity, I would want it to be because the activity itself was what I found so compelling – not merely the idea of telling everybody about my engaging in said activity. Warning! Do not add any item to your bucket list unless you’ve discerned the difference between the two!  

Might it also be the case that the very knowledge that we are engaged in a bucket list experience ends up changing (for the worse) the very experience that we’ve always desired? Hmmm…
“You know, I always wanted to get married, and here I am at the altar. Check! And the honeymoon to Antarctica? Another fat check! Um..., what was that you said, Reverend?”

Similarly, might it be the case that our deluded belief that some bucket list item is what we truly desire actually keeps us from experiencing the reality that we seek right here and right now?
“I always thought that I needed to hang glide in order give myself up to the glorious vastness of the universe, but then I had the very same experience just walking down the bustling street!”
Indeed, we don’t really know what might nudge us toward having a peak experience.

Okay, and since you already know about my Buddhist point of view, I will even go so far as to opine that bucket lists are anathema to the practice of Buddhism itself. Now I’m really throwing down the gauntlet, aren't I? From a Buddhist perspective, though, there is no legitimate reason to differentiate this moment spent picking up trash from the alleyway from that moment spent standing atop Mount Everest. From a Buddhist perspective, the very act of saying that we must accomplish or achieve or experience this in order to be happy or contented or fulfilled is what keeps us forever unhappy and discontented and unfulfilled. From a Buddhist perspective, this "self" that so very much enjoys checking off interesting and exciting things from his or her bucket list is merely an aggregation of phenomena more or less conveniently referred to as “I”.

Yes, a bucket list  is essentially an extension of the "self" that we tend to become so attached to. Not only are "we" this and that and the other thing, but we want to be that and that and THAT. And by crafting our bucket list of desires we somehow have an even more substantial sense of this fragile aggregation that we delude ourselves into thinking has such solidity. Maybe I won't accomplish all of these things, after all, but the being that desires it to be so is my true self - the self that I truly am. Poppycock!

Happy New Year, everyone!

And have yourself one bucket list experience after another without ever even thinking them to be so!

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank


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