In my soon-to-be-published book about the Greek philosopher Plotinus, I quote Marsilio Ficino, a fifteenth-century devotee of Plato—who wrote about the folly of men who seek to find rest through motion:
“Because of their ceaseless longing for what is to come, they do not enjoy what is present. Although movement has to be stilled for there to be rest; yet those men are forever beginning new and different movements, in order that they may one day come to rest.”
All too true. The older I get, the more I realize how much time I’ve wasted in circuitous efforts to be happy. I can’t believe how much anxious effort I’ve expended in trying to become peaceful Take investing, for example. Today I sent off a quarterly asset management check to Steven Evanson, a great guy who enables us to invest in DFA index funds. (Dimensional Fund Advisors is a financial geek’s dream, run by a bunch of highly sophisticated folks who meld academic research about what works in investing with practical index-based money management).
I’ve become a whole-hearted believer in index investing. It’s the way to go if you want to (1) keep up with the markets, both nationally and internationally, and (2) be able to sleep peacefully at nights while doing so. For a long time I was an active investor, meaning I activated my anxiety circuits on an almost daily basis. “Should I buy this fund? Should I sell this fund? Should I change my asset allocation mix? Should I subscribe to this financial newsletter?” And so on.
Money is supposed to help make us happy. If making money makes us more anxious than happy, then something is wrong. When the means is at cross-purposes to the end you’re seeking, this is a sign to look for another means. Which, for me, led to index investing, the humble Way to Financial Enlightenment. You don’t try to be better than the next guy, just equal. If the markets as a whole rise, our investments rise. If they fall, we fall. Indexing means peacefully flowing with the grand river of Economy, not desperately trying to find a special short cut down some side channels that you think no one else can follow except you.
We hardly ever do anything different with our investments now. We let them ride. We don’t worry about them (well, hardly ever). Enduring a lot of anxiety to make some money that will enable us to eventually buy some things that we hope will make us happy is just too circuitous a road to well-being. I’m too old to take lengthy loops. I want to have fun getting to the place where I expect to have fun.
Which is why I, once again, stayed home tonight instead of going to a meeting of Sustainable Fairview Associates. I sent my fellow members a couple of emails that described my brilliant assessment of where the Sustainable Fairview property development project has gone wrong, and what needs to be done to get it back on track. Per usual, my unexcelled perceptions, recommendations, and observations probably will be given the attention they usually get from management—a quick glance before being chucked into the Gadfly Discard Bin.
So I decided that the most direct commitment to sustainability would be working on our sprinkler system, which we use to sustain our garden, which sustains our spirits. As I was pulling up the sprinkler heads, unscrewing the nozzles, extracting the hard-water/iron encrusted filter pieces, and cleaning them off with a toothbrush before reassembling the sprinkler, I thought: “This is so real. So satisfying. So literally down-to-earth. I’m so glad I’m here outside in the sunshine getting my hands dirty right now with nature, rather than sitting in a meeting talking about how to make a natural development happen sometime in the future.”
It isn’t always possible to make our philosophy of life identical with our life. But it is something to shoot for. Otherwise, we always are expecting to meet up with what we believe will fulfill us around the next corner. I’m finding that the more corners I’ve turned, the less I believe that what I don’t have now will be found then. Running isn’t going to make me motionless, I’m increasingly sure of that.