The poet e. e. cummings wrote:
“He who lives intensely really lives but a man who lives to be 120 may not live at all.”
He’s saying something about the quality of our moments and our days vs. the quantity of them, right?
Don’t we all, at times, sense a need for a little richer experience of life? But what does it mean to “live intensely?” And how do we get hold of that?
Does it mean going through life like the whirling Tasmanian devil of cartoon-fame, kicking up a dust storm everywhere you go?
I don’t think so. There’s a difference between “living intensely” and “living tensely.”
I also don’t think that living intensely necessarily means that we must make some grand escape from our daily routine—as if life could only be found in an escape from life. (Also known as “The Grass Is Greener Syndrome”.)
Maybe it’s more about being present in your days. When you listen, you really listen. When you see, you really see. When you work, you really work. When you play, you really play. When you enjoy, you really enjoy. When you’re alone, you’re really alone.
And when you’re with someone…for however long…you’re with them. You’re with them in a way that says you don’t wish to be anywhere else, doing anything else.
Maybe it’s about trying to learn the thing that Henry David Thoreau said he went to the woods to learn: “to live deliberately.”
As a reflection on living intensely, Thoreau’s well-known words are worth repeating:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.”
The comic, Will Rogers, said,
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Very true. But is just sitting there the problem today?
Or is the problem that we stay so busy, moving so quickly down the tracks and trails of life that we never stop and ask if we’re even on the right trail?
In the movie, Dances With Wolves, Chief Kicking Bird talks with the character that the Native Americans have named Dances With Wolves (played by Kevin Costner).
Kicking Bird tells him,
“Of all the trails there are in this world, there is one that matters most and that is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on that trail and it is good to my heart to see it.”
The trail of a true human being.
In a busy, noisy, confusing world, is this a trail worth searching for?
I believe it is, and here’s why: this trail is not only good for our hearts…it’s also good for the hearts of those who live around us.
“I could have really done something, I could have made a difference, I could have followed that dream…if only I had more talent, or more brains, or a better education, or maybe a little more luck…”
It’s easy to feel that way. But is it true?
When you look at the lives of people who made great contributions, you often find that brains, talent, education and luck had little to do with it.
Asked to explain the secret of his success, Louis Pasteur said:
“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”
Pasteur saw himself as pretty much like most scientists, with this difference: he just kept at it, kept working on the problem. Never gave up. Tenacious!
Samuel Johnson put it like this:
“If your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”
Whether you call it tenacity or perseverance, it’s that determination to just keep on keeping on through ups and downs, through failure and success, when you feel like it and when you don’t, when people understand and when they don’t, when the situations are favorable and when they aren’t.
The rule would seem to be: Is there something you want to do? Then do it. And keep at it. And keep at it. And so on.
Even if you’re not as talented, as bright or as lucky as some, you may surprise yourself at what you can accomplish through sheer perseverance.
Perseverance is a great equalizer.
Why are we in such a hurry! Sometimes it feels like we’re taking the words “human race” literally!
Perhaps this is why James Thurber wrote,
“People should try to understand before they die, what they are running to…and from…and why.”
Sounds like something we should think about!
Well, Henry David Thoreau spent some time in a cabin thinking about this problem and wrote these well-known words,
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Maybe Thoreau is right. Maybe “race” is the wrong metaphor for life. Maybe, instead of the human race, we should call it the “human dance.”
Maybe it’s not about being fastest or first to the finish line. Maybe it’s more about deciding which music you’re going to dance to while you’re here.
A young woman went into an old record shop. The shop owner said, “What are you looking for?”
The young woman said, “I’m looking for music I can dance to for the rest of my life…music that will energize me with joy each day…music that will stir me to follow my dreams and do my best work…music that will enhance all the important relationships in my life…music that will keep me going through failures, troubles and disappointments and keep me growing as a person…and music I can even dance to when I’m old. Do you have that music?”
The shop owner smiled. “No, but not to worry. An old musician told me about it. And he said that those who seek that music with all their heart will find it.”
If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? Ability to fly? Read minds? Invisibility?
John Mitchell believes we already have a superpower: it’s the ability to choose our attitude. He put it like this:
“Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude toward us.”
Pretty powerful, right? If Mitchell is correct, this is a power worth thinking about, experimenting with, cultivating.
What is your basic attitude toward life? Have you thought about that?
Antoine St. Exupery, author of The Little Prince, believes that choosing our attitude can even help us discover the meaning of life. He writes:
“The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves but in our attitude towards them.”
That line is worth thinking about for a while!
“Attitude” is an interesting word. It comes from a Latin word that means “apt”. You could think of it as our innate ability to think and respond to any person, problem or situation in a way that is fitting, appropriate, beneficial.
Attitude is the particular slant we take on things, our angle of approach. If I’m experiencing a lot of conflict, stress or frustration, I may simply need to back off, get a fresh point of view, and come at things from a little different angle.
For example, we sometimes repeat the same arguments over and over, saying the same things. And surprise, surprise, the other person never listens! Maybe it’s time to back off and take a new angle with a different attitude. Maybe a little more respect and empathy?
“Attitude” can also describe the angle of an airplane in relation to the horizon. Without a proper “attitude”—without knowing where it stands in relation to the planet—the airplane may crash and burn. Having the correct “attitude” helps the airplane take off, soar, reach its destination, and land safely.
An eagle was flying between mountains when a violent storm swept through the valley. If the eagle tried to flee the storm, the strong winds would dash it to the rocks. Instead, it flew into the storm—and the winds lifted it up above the storm into the sunshine.