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Turning “tension” into “attention”


Some have called our time the Age of Anxiety. An age of heightened tensions. And I think we all feel it at times.

There’s past tense—the tension of living “If only” as in…

If only this had happened…or if only that hadn’t happened…then I could have been something.”

There’s future tense–the tense of living “Someday when” as in…

Someday when I get the education…or get the big promotion…or find the right partner…or find the right situation…then I can really start to live.”

But, of course, life only happens in the present.

James Thurber put it like this:

“Let us not look backward in regret or forward in fear but around us in awareness.”

Thurber is talking about turning “tension” into “attention”—paying closer attention to the people and situations and incredible life going on around us right here, right now.

He is talking about slowing down, quieting down, and investing a little time each day in what really matters—to do the little things that make today human, meaningful. To truly listen to someone. To take the time to care. To start building a bridge.

He is talking about the magical possibilities of me becoming a more aware person—not someday, but today.

In the Middle Ages, some people believed in alchemy: the dream of turning ordinary elements into gold. That dream, of course, was an illusion.

But the dream of turning “tension” into “attention” is very real. It can help us turn ordinary days into something extraordinary and precious.



To be nobody-but-yourself


The poet e. e. cummings wrote:

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

If e. e. is at least close to being right, it raises a question: How do we get hold of this? How can we fight this battle?

Suppose, for example, there is someone in your life who is just a little too frustrating. You can respond to that person like everybody else would. Or you can get creative: find a way to respond like the one-of-a-kind human being you are.

Or, think of all the things we experience in a day: the routine, the problems at work, problems at home, successes and failures, dreams and frustrations, busyness and loneliness, and more.

We can handle these just like everybody else. Or we can seek to bring a sense of our whole, unique self to these experiences—which makes the day feel more purposeful.

I believe life calls us to that.

Life calls you to take your stand in the world-as-it-is—with your eyes and heart wide open—and affirm your life. It calls you to be alive where you are and be the person only you can be and fill the place that only you can fill in the way only you can fill it.

Really, that may be our only job. And it’s a good question for our quiet times.

Because I don’t think we want our epitaph to be: He/she was just like everybody else.


The genius, power and magic…of boldness


Here is a word for this week: boldness.

The poet Goethe says this word can enhance your efforts—whatever they are, small or great—with a kind of genius, power and magic:

What you can do or dream you can…begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Of course, he’s not talking about acting carelessly or foolishly or thoughtlessly. There is always the need to seek wisdom.

But Goethe is saying that no matter how great the challenge or how many difficulties may be involved, boldness itself can help tilt the odds in your favor.

“But what if I fail?”

“But what will others think?”


Boldness says: kick your “buts” and live!

There are always reasons to hold back, to proceed too cautiously, to live half-heartedly, to give just enough, to plod along.

But to be bold is to plunge into life with fear at a minimum and courage and joy at a maximum, knowing that boldness itself may be the magic bullet that helps make good things happen.

As Basil King said:

Be bold and mighty powers will come to your aid.



Push the “play” button


How often we say that the days are flying by, the years are flying by and sometimes you wish you could push a “pause” button on life—or even “rewind”.

But of course, we can’t, as Jose Ortega y Gasset reminds us:

“We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, ‘here and now’ without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank.”

“We cannot put off living until we are ready. ”That’s actually good news!

It means I don’t have to wait for better circumstances. I can always choose to live right now.

In other words…

We can’t push “pause” or “rewind.” But we can always push the “play” button.

You can bring a spirit of playfulness and humor and joy to work, to dinner time, to ordinary moments, even to the tense moments. Especially the tense moments.

It’s like the beggar in Fiddler on the Roof who asked Tevye for a little change. Tevye said, “Sorry, it’s been a bad week.”

The beggar said, “So, just because you’ve had a bad week, why should I suffer?”

Abraham Maslow said,

Play is exulting in the possible.”

Pushing the “play” button helps to keep us from missing the joy that is possible today—no matter how much is on our plate, no matter what happens, even in spite of our moods.

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