Boy, life just keeps coming, doesn’t it? It’s relentless!
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 a “rewind” button.
But Jose Ortega y Gasset reminds us that we can’t:
“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.”
It’s true. Your life had a starting point and it will have an ending point and it’s proceeding along that line at a steady pace, no stopping, no going back.
And it’s true that there will never be another day like today. When it’s over, it’s over. There’s no “pause” or “rewind” button.
So what can you do about that?
You can 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 of the day. Especially to 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.
Some say that the times we live in could be called the Age of Distraction or the Age of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
And it’s true. It’s hard to stay focused on anything when there are a hundred other things competing for your attention. We can find ourselves listening to that not-so-quiet voice that says, “If I focus on A, I’ll miss out on B and C and D and…”
Real achievements—whether winning a gold medal or helping a struggling student or selling a client on a good idea or dealing well with a relationship problem—require real, sustained focus.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it like this:
“If you want to hit a bird on the wing you must have all your will in focus, you must not be thinking about yourself…you must be living in your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing.”
There are two considerable benefits of being focused. In the first place, focus gives us a kind of psychic reward or litmus test.
Imagine a day where you’ve spent the entire day completely focused on one project, doing it to the best of your ability. Now imagine a day where you’ve allowed yourself to be constantly distracted, pulled in a dozen directions.
Which day feels better? Which feels like it has been lived more fully?
It’s paradoxical. When we try to do everything (afraid that we might miss out on something) we often feel like we accomplished nothing. Focus helps us avoid that.
In the second place, focus can help us compensate for other lacks. Even if you’re not the most talented, most intelligent, or most lucky, you can still achieve excellent things through being relentlessly focused.
Consider the lowly laser beam. It’s actually a very weak source of energy, only a few watts. But because it is intensely focused, the laser can be used to bounce a message off a satellite, cut a diamond, or perform cancer surgery.
What is the fuel of your life? What drives you? What keeps you going?
For Irina Lazar, that fuel is, in a word, “appreciation.”
In an excerpt from Living Life as a Thank You by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons, Lazar tells about a life-changing moment she had when she was 15 years old, standing in her closet trying to find something to wear. She says:
“’I had a difficult childhood, not because of abuse or neglect, just a hopelessness that followed me around like a little dark cloud…I couldn’t tell you the source of that sadness. But as I was standing my closet, I had a moment when I suddenly felt the veil of sadness lift off of me. I felt that I could do and be anything I wanted. I felt empowered, confident, and most of all, happy…My life opened up, I felt alive and ready to take on any opportunity.”
Seventeen years later, when Irina was in her thirties, she reflected on how that moment, that realization had come to affect her life.
“’I feel appreciation in my cells every minute of every day. It is the fuel that pulsates through me, driving me to enjoy everything in life, even mundane things like washing dishes, paying bills, and running errands.’”
So here’s an exercise for this week:
…to appreciate each breath when there might not have been a breath…and each moment when there might not have been a moment.
…to accept and appreciate each experience as it comes.
Perhaps an exercise like this can deepen our appreciation for the power and importance of appreciation!
And in those times when we feel like we’re “running on empty,” we might even discover that we can refill our tanks with “appreciation.”
“I hate to change my mind. I just feel it’s important to be consistent.”
So you’ve decided you can learn nothing new? Make no new discoveries? Make no great changes in yourself?
As Bernard Berenson said,
“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”
And Emerson said,
“False consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Trying to take on a job, a relationship, a challenge, an election, or a life with a rigidly consistent attitude is like trying to play a football game with only one play.
Yes, you’ll be consistent. But you might get hammered!
The best quarterbacks know how to read the flow of the game and stay flexible—ready to adapt and change their actions to best meet each new situation.
Life is complicated, difficult, perplexing, challenging, mysterious, unpredictable and ever-changing.
And one of the great things about being a human being is our ability to change, to stay open, adaptable, always learning, always growing.
It’s not a weakness but a strength to be able to say…
“I was wrong.”
“Something has happened to change my thinking.”
“I know I said that, but now I see it differently.”
“I know we’ve always done it that way, but now I think we should try something new.”
“I’m a different person than I was X years ago.”
It may simply mean that you’ve seen past the myth of consistency.
You are either a divine spark or an unbelievable accident.
Those seem to be about the only two explanations we’ve ever been given for explaining who we are and how we got here.
Option A: Some say you’re a spark of the divine fire, a piece of the universal Soul, the visible image of the Divine, a child of God.
Option B: Others say you are the end result of a mind-stunning series of multi-million-year accidents that led to this particular universe, this particular solar system, this particular planet, this particular place and moment…and this particular you.
Either way, you have to admit…your very existence is pretty miraculous, pretty marvelous.
The word “miracle” and the word “marvel” both come from the same root word which means “that which signifies a smile.”
So perhaps Option A people and Option B people can at least agree that it’s pretty miraculous, pretty marvelous that you’re here at all!
In other words, perhaps you’re here to signify a smile…to find and create joy in your work and relationships and in the days of your life…in spite of the brief, troubled and tragic nature of life in this world (or rather, because of those facts).
As Mark Twain said,
“Live so that even the undertaker will be sorry to see you go.”