Live Like Your Hair Is on Fire

Brook and I recently attended opening night of the new play, Buddha: A Fantastic Journey, directed by the actor John C. Reilly, written and performed by Evan Brenner. 100% of the dialogue is taken from the actual words of the Buddha (or at least a modern, English translation thereof). The play is a telling of the life story of Gautama Siddhartha from beginning to end.

It's well done, thought-provoking and inspiring. It was also fun to get to meet and speak with John who was very open and generous in making himself available to meet and talk with attendees both before and after. I asked him if he considered himself a practitioner and how long he had been interested in these teachings. He said that he considered himself a beginner and not specifically a Buddhist, in a "signed on the dotted line" fashion but obviously very interested in incorporating at least some of the insights and practices into his life.

What really stood out was some of the advice given by Buddha--which I've heard before, though to be honest, I think Evan might have slightly tweaked it from how I remember it being traditionally quoted--to his followers: "live like your hair is on fire."

It immediately stirred something in me, reminded me of some of my own similar thoughts and feelings.

First, though, let me say what it doesn't mean, because it can give a false impression if one isn't aware of the context and the overall teachings of the Buddha: it doesn't mean we should live in an excited, panicky, frenzy. If our hair was really on fire, few of us would be calm and serene about it. And that certainly doesn't sound like a great thing to experience!

Of course what he meant is more along the lines of carpe diem, "seize the day." But perhaps with a crucial twist as to how we normally interpret that phrase. When we think of seizing the day, often what springs to mind is something external: take a particular action or do something clear and specific with one's life--and do it right now.

To live like our hair is on fire is different. It might involve some specific outward course of action but it also might not. It's primarily internal. It's about living fully present and centered in this moment, with maximum awareness. As a corollary, it means that we ought to get busy practicing those positive things that help us to attain this state of heightened awareness, to stop dilly-dallying around with important things, those externalities and distractions that keep us from doing so.

Ultimately, the more we delay in so doing, the longer we suffer. That's the real reason to live like our hair is on fire: not to achieve some outward goal or cross some worldly finish line sooner or make the most of ourselves before we die but so that we can cease suffering right now and experience the pure, authentic, and eternal bliss within. A moment of bliss is like an eternity, it is to exit from the daily march of time and enter the realm of timelessness.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: we choose to suffer and we can unchoose it, too. Why suffer needlessly? We don't have to. All we have to do is to make the choice, right here and now in this moment, and begin our practice, one eternal moment at a time.