Got a lot of tension?
Who doesn’t these days; we live in tense times. Some have called it the Age of Anxiety.
But here’s another way to think about this: maybe tension is an “early warning signal,” alerting us to the fact that we’re living in the wrong tense.
We might be living in the future tense, running so fast and so far ahead of ourselves that we never seem to really be where we are.
The future tense is the tense of “Someday when” as in…
“Someday when I get the education…or get the big promotion…or find the right partner…then I can really start to live and enjoy life. But not today.”
Or we might be living in the past tense, the tense of “If only,” as in…
“If only this had happened or if only that hadn’t happened…then I could have been a contender.”
But as we know, life only happens in the present tense. It is only given one moment at a time. And it can only truly be lived in the present.
This is what James Thurber was thinking about when he wrote:
“Let us not look backward in regret or forward in fear but around us in awareness.”
Thurber is talking about slowing down, taking a quiet breath, looking around, and becoming a more aware person—even in tense, busy times. Especially in tense, busy times.
He’s talking about turning “tension” into “attention”—paying closer attention to the people and situations and incredible life going on around us here and now.
In the Middle Ages, people dreamed of finding a way to turn ordinary elements into gold. That dream, of course, was a myth, an illusion.
But the dream of turning “tension” into “attention” is very real. It can help us turn ordinary moments into something extraordinary and precious…by paying attention to what matters.
Here’s a thought to take with you through the week, and it comes from Shakespeare (as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death this year).
From Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2:
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable!
Just a simple reminder from across the centuries: what an amazing, incredible thing you are…just because you are a human being.
Do you sense the spirit of wonder in this? The idea that maybe we shouldn’t take our humanity for granted quite so much?
Maybe we should all wake up every morning thinking, “Unbelievable! I get to be a human being today…with the ability to think, feel, achieve, fail, laugh, weep, change, grow and create!”
Or if you think that sounds a little too naïve or silly, you can think of this fact as a counterpoint to some of life’s so-called downers:
“Things haven’t worked out the way I hoped!”
But you’re still a human being!
“I’m too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too something.”
Okay, but have you noticed that you are a HUMAN BEING?
“But I don’t have the brains or talent that so-and-so has.”
Who cares? You’re a one-of-a-kind human being!
And according to one of the sharpest human beings to come along, that means you are something noble and admirable.
“Just be yourself.”
How often have we heard or given that advice?
And it always sounds good. But the poet e. e. cummings believes that if we take these words seriously, we might end up with a fight on our hands.
As he put it:
“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.”
What do you think? Is it worth the struggle?
Is it worth the fight to be the person that only you can be…to fill the place that only you can fill…to make the contribution only you can make?
Does the world need more one-of-a-kind human beings? Or does it simply need more of “everybody else”?
“There is something important I really want to do—need to do—or should do–but I can’t seem to get started.”
The Roman writer Horace said that when we postpone beginning something important, it’s like waiting for the river to run out before you try to cross it.
Maybe we fear failure. Or fear we’re not good enough or smart enough. Maybe we suffer from the ”paralysis of analysis”—analyzing everything to death instead of taking action.
O maybe we think, “Someday, when the circumstances are right I’ll dive in.” But of course, circumstances are never ideal.
Goethe says there’s a word we need in times like these—a word that can bless your efforts with a kind of genius, power and magic.
The word is: Boldness. Goethe wrote…
“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 thoughtlessly.
But he is saying that no matter how great the challenge or how many difficulties may be involved, boldness can help tilt the odds in your favor and make success more likely.
It’s like the little boy standing on the diving board, paralyzed, afraid to dive in… dying on the inside.
Finally he gathers his courage and dives…and discovers that the water he feared actually holds him up!
Now, instead of dying on the inside, he is buoyed up by the spirit of exhilaration.
As Basil King said:
“Be bold and mighty powers will come to your aid.”