The Lives of Others

I spent last week at a meditation retreat. The theme of the retreat was aspirations. Through the course of the week we developed a very personal aspiration that could act as a sort of rudder in our daily lives. We could choose something from a text, like “May I benefit all beings” or we could develop our own personal aspiration. This practice, taught by Shastri Chuck Whetsell, is inspired by Lojong training, 59 slogans created by a Bengali meditation master named Atisha (982-1054 CE).

During the week we talked about different slogans that some participants had chosen. One of these slogans was “Don’t ponder others.” Although this was not my personal aspiration, I started to give some thought to this Four Rooms project in terms of my intentions. This slogan made me curious about why I wanted to do this project and what I hope to create as a result of doing it. Especially I wondered;

What use is it to explore someone else’s life?

As an actor, it makes sense, as this is information that can be used to inform the performance and that is one aspect of the project. Yet, I think there may be more to it than that.

The more I delve into this project, it’s clear that I am looking into Marilyn’s life in an attempt to understand something about me and maybe about you too. In a way, looking at the entirety of someone’s life gives me perspective that is impossible to have looking at my own. Birth to death. Dreams, love, failure, hopes, losses, triumphs…

Also, in my soul-searching I discovered that like so many others there is part of me that would like to save her. There is also a part that would like to have a piece of her wonderfulness. And lastly, there is part of me that would like to understand or resolve something that was left open, unresolved or broken.

As I mentioned before I have been reading Walt Whitman because “Leaves of Grass” was on Marilyn’s reading list. This week, I found the poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and it seems appropriate to this topic (I’ve only included a portion here). Oh beautiful, the last section!


What is it, then, between us? 
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us? 
Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not. 
I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it; 
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me, 
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me, 
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me. 
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution;
I too had receiv’d identity by my Body; 
That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I should be,
          I knew I should be of my body. 


It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, 
The dark threw patches down upon me also; 
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious;
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
          would not people laugh at me? 
It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil; 
I am he who knew what it was to be evil; 
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, 
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak, 
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant; 
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me, 
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting, 
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
Was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing, 
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat, 
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word, 
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress, 
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like, 
Or as small as we like, or both great and small. 

3 thoughts on “The Lives of Others

  1. I see my life as nothing, if it has not the fullness of awareness, spontaneously, in every minute and every second of every day. I see my life as nothing, if it is lived with fatigue, and laziness, and crankiness.

    That is not to say that I am sad, unduly self-critical, or pessimistic. I’m as busy as I can be in this “nothing” time of transformation helping people. I help my meditation clients understand their experiences and how to practice. I help a friend of a friend eat yogurt to help her Crohn’s Disease. I work with my lover to understand this state of marriage we are about to enter. I pay attention to my mind and body and help myself to open.

    Life comes with no handbook. We are all in the same boat. And life can always be lived better: after all, a penny saved is a penny earned.

    David Spector


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