Philosopher Eric Hoffer said,
“The greatest challenge to a mature person is to learn how to be five years old again.”
Really? Our greatest challenge?
Is learning how to be five years old again a childish, soft-headed prescription for living in the “real world”? Or is it the one thing that can help save us?
I know a friend who keeps a picture of himself as a five-year-old on his desk. In the picture, he looks bright-eyed, exuberant, curious, ready to take on the world.
When I asked him why he keeps that picture on his desk, he said, “Every day, I’m just trying to get back to that.”
Not a bad goal, is it?
Suppose we could bottle up the energy and enthusiasm of a five-year-old and let everyone at work sip from that bottle every day as they faced challenges and problems. What would that be worth?
I’m betting the quality of work would come up and the stress level would go down. Someone has said, if you bring a spirit of playfulness to your work, you won’t have to work so hard at your play.
What if we could drink from that same bottle every day at home? Do you think it would help? Maybe even make us more fun to be with?
The truth is, we do have that five-year-old mindset bottled up…inside.
Maybe it’s time to let that five-year-old out to play!
There are days when it’s hard to read the headlines without weeping or becoming angry.
There are days when our souls seem starved for brightness, when the colors we see range from boring beige to depressing gray to frightening black.
But the world is paradoxical. It is tragic, but at the same time it is also heart-breakingly beautiful.
And Anne Frank, of all people, reminds us that even in dark days—maybe especially in dark days—we should take time to feed our souls with at least the minimum daily requirement of beauty.
During the dark days of World War II, she wrote in her diary:
“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains…My advice is: Go outside, to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God. Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!”
There’s a story about a famous sermon the Buddha delivered. All the monks were gathered, awaiting his words. But the Buddha said nothing. He only held up a flower. That was his sermon.
One of the monks looked at that flower…and achieved enlightenment.
It’s true. There is a kind of enlightenment that comes from seeing and appreciating and “taking in” the beauty around us and even in us.
Seeing the beauty doesn’t take away the pain and the tears, of course. It doesn’t eliminate the stress and difficulties and disappointments.
But having beauty in our diet can help assure that the pain and stress will flow through us in a creative and constructive way, rather than in a bitter and destructive way.
As John Keats wrote in his poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/ ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
It may be that one of our greatest enemies is the phrase “One of these days.”
As in…one of these days when I get through school, or get the job, or find that special someone, or get the promotion, or retire…then the real living will begin.
One of these days…I’ll have time to pay attention to the things that matter.
One of these days…the joy will start.
But what if “one of these days” never comes?
When he was in his 90s, George Burns reminded us not to postpone living:
“They say life starts at 40. That’s ridiculous. Life starts every morning when you wake up.”
Remember the children’s game of hide and seek? Every morning, life says: “Ready or not, here I come!”
The question is: am I hiding from life? Or seeking life?
The film-maker Mel Brooks reminds us that the time to seek life is now:
“Let’s have a merry journey, and shout about how light is good and dark is not. What we should do is not future ourselves so much. We should now ourselves more. “Now thyself” is more important than “Know thyself.” Reason is what tells us to ignore the present and live in the future. So all we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be green pastures. It’s crazy…Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful.”
Or, as the Roman philosopher Seneca summed it up almost two thousand years ago:
“Begin at once to live.”
“What do I want from life?” is a good question.
Like fairy tales that involve the granting of wishes, life seems to ask us: What do you wish for? What is worth desiring? What are you going to go for?
That’s worth thinking about because in life, as in fairy tales, wishing wisely is rewarded and wishing foolishly, well, we have a pretty good idea where that can lead.
But in those stories, as the hero faces challenge after challenge, another, deeper question often emerges:
“What does life want from me?”
This question goes to uniqueness. It may involve the choice of a faith or philosophy of life. But it also goes to relationships. What do the people in your life need from you?
Now this can get a little sticky, because relationships are difficult. Sometimes, we can find ourselves saying, “What do you want from me?” out of sheer frustration! Relationships that can bring such joy, can also bring a lot of pain.
But there’s another way to look at that question.
“What do I want from life?” is a question that has to do with motivation.
“What does life want from me?” is a question that has to do with meaning…with what our leaves mean to others.
Mostly, of course, people just need a you that is present and genuine and fun to be with. But Francis Maitland Balfour’s words help us reflect further on this question:
“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.”
Balfour’s words may sound a bit quaint today, but it’s about pausing to ask that question, “What does life want from me?”
It’s a question that says: You are needed in this world. You have a place to fill that no one else can fill. You have gifts to give that no one else can give.
And the bigger the problem, the more you’re needed.