A buried life is a form of confinement within a pattern of living that is unfulfilling. Underneath the weight of a buried life, we are haunted by intuitions of a true course in life that has been abandoned. These mercurial sensations are often masked by the relentless busyness, exhausting routines, and frantic patterns that characterize the competitive struggle to survive in modern society. Pinned down by the existential strain of a buried life, we inevitably encounter the frightening realization that the life we have been living is not our own. We long for authenticity, a genuine sense of purpose, and a way to reclaim our true path in life.
Our True Path in Life
The idea of buried life presumes that every human life is imbued with a true path, an authentic course, a call to adventure, and a genuine sense of vocation.
When we stray from this natural path, the feeling of life becomes agitated and uncomfortable. To live under the existential duress of a buried life is to be plagued by a liminal state that summons our attention to something vital that has been abandoned.
The “unspeakable desire” is our vocation in life. A vocation is a mysterious calling toward that which is authentic, genuine, and meaningful in life. To feel the presence of our vocation is to be summoned to return to our true path in life.
In a positive sense, a buried life inspires the desire to seek liberation from that which binds. The denial of our vocation can become a significant source of suffering. The “knowledge of our buried life” is the painful recognition that the life we are living is not our own.
For some people, the idea of a true path in life may be the product of an overworked imagination. For other people, however, the loss of our vocation immerse us inside a “nameless sadness” that refuses to leave us alone.
Our Buried Life
Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby [humankind] would be–
By what distractions [they] would be possessed,
How [they] would pour [themselves] in every strife,
And well-nigh change [their] own identity
Humankind has entered into a liminal state of existence. The increase of conflict, discord, inequity in the world today has reached epidemic proportions. Despite our material innovations, we have great difficulty finding a way to live with one another peacefully. Our presence here is causing significant damage to the planet, which is the source of life. To a significant extent, we are all buried underneath the toxic inertia of collective lifestyle that is unsustainable, undesirable, and unfair.
The competitive world of modern work is a “crowded street of exhaustion.” Our economic obsessions resemble a “din of strife” driven by an outrageous sense of entitlement. Our ideas about wealth, power, and success have been reduced the patho-adolescent whine of consumption, greed, and want. As a species, we are infected by a malignant narcissism.
Living a life that is not our own
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of [humankind], and alien to themselves–and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!
To be “trick’d in disguises” is to live a life that is not our own. Our education conditions us to wear masks, create various personas, and submit ourselves to an approved role within the imposed social script. We are taught to pursue forms of success that have little substance.
Moreover, we are tacitly conditioned to believe that our life is not ours to live.
In his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” Erving Goffman showed that society could be understood as a form of theater in which we hide ourselves behind masks, manufacture transient identities, act in inauthentic ways, and reduce our purpose in life to an imposed social expectation.
And yet, even in the midst of great material success, we do not seem to be happy.
A buried life symbolizes a loss of authenticity. Severed from our individuality, we become strangers to ourselves and “alien to the rest.” Ultimately, we suffer inside the painful condition of living a life that is not our own.
Conversations with a Nameless Sadness
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
A buried life conjures a “nameless sadness.” An important aspect of self-renewal is the ability to name and develop a relationship with, rather than deny or avoid, our sources of discomfort.
The idea of a nameless sadness is frightening; we are haunted by a longing that does not fully reveal itself. This mysterious visitation conjures anxiety, despair, and depression that have the potential to cause significant harm.
A nameless sadness becomes a source of irredeemable regret later in life if we fail to attend it. Counterintuitively, naming the sources of our despair is an act of self-compassion. To make our sadness visible and to give it a name is the first vital action of self-renewal.
Although sadness is a natural, healthy, and necessary emotion, it is also uncomfortable. No one wants to feel sad, and yet, embracing grief as a faculty for understanding is often the only way forward.
Reclaiming Our True Path in Life
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
The experience of aging in the second half of life changes the feeling of being alive in remarkable ways. During midlife, we recognize for the first time that our future has become smaller than our past. A “fire and restless force” awakens our desire to track “our true, original course.” As we move through the second half of life, we know that we no longer have time to waste.
For some of us, the larger questions of life refuse to leave us alone. They motivate us to broaden our perspective about what living a good life means. Some people are driven by “a longing to inquire into the mystery of this heart which beats so wild.” We possess an innate desire to creatively expand our consciousness of what can be known, felt, and lived.
In “Let Your Life Speak,” Parker Palmer reminds us that, “Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die.”
Becoming older means, in a certain sense, that our tolerance of that which no longer serves weakens. Felt deeply enough, the risk and danger of leaving the comfort of familiar routines, regardless of how successful we have become by external standards, is often the only reasonable course of action.
To dig ourselves out from underneath a buried life is to reclaim our authentic nature. To be on our true path in life is know with absolute certainty that we are living a life we can call our own.
Our primary task is to apprentice ourselves to our feelings of despair, not to deny or avoid them. The purpose of the existential pain we feel is not to destroy us; it is to inspire each one of us to liberate our life from that which no longer serves. Ultimately, a buried life is not as much a source of confinement as it is a threshold leading toward new possibility and potential. The release from a buried life is a return to the life that has been waiting for us all along.
In the end, the only thing we can genuinely possess is a life that we can call our own.