The comedian, Mel Brooks, said:
“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 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.”
He’s right, isn’t he? Sometimes, it seems we’re running so fast and so far ahead of ourselves that we never quite seem to be where we are!
And we can get so bogged down in trying to “know ourselves” and fix what’s wrong with us that we miss the joy…instead of kissing the joy as it flies.
“Know thyself” can get awfully complicated and heavy. “Now thyself” keeps things simple and light-hearted.
So, what does it take to “Now thyself”? The humorist James Thurber suggests that it takes a little awareness. He said:
“Let us not look backward in regret or forward in fear but around us in awareness.”
Easier said than done?
Yes, yes. It’s hard to break the habit of looking back in regret. It can be tempting to think, “Oh, for the good old days,” or to think, “If only this or that hadn’t happened.”
And it can be hard to not be over-anxious about the future.
But Thurber is reminding us that part of our job as human beings—even as we rush through our day—is simply to look around. Who are these incredible people around me? What’s going on here? What really matters here?
Our job is to look and listen, to notice and wonder about, to pay attention, to think and feel, to laugh and weep.
Our job is to be present in the present…and to use present moments to help us become a more aware person—day by day.
In Mel Brooks’ words: our job is to Now ourselves…and have a merry journey!
Today’s quotation, a simple one, comes from writer and thinker Sandor McNab:
“A risk a day keeps boredom away.”
There are two things I like about this thought.
First, I appreciate the realization that if I’m bored, it may be, in part, because I’ve let my days, my routine, my responses become just a little too safe, too predictable, too comfortable.
And second, I like the idea of looking for small daily adventures that help us stretch and grow as persons.
So, what kind of daily risks could we take? Here’s a “soup starter” list of things I find both challenging and refreshing. (You can come up with your own ideas.)
The risk of getting up on the right side of the bed!
The risk of deciding to like yourself—just for today!
The risk of reading something you wouldn’t ordinarily read or attending a kind of event you wouldn’t ordinarily attend.
The risk of choosing to enjoy—pour your heart into—a difficult task.
The risk of trying something new that involves the possibility of failure.
The risk of admitting you’re wrong.
The risk of truly, deeply listening to someone you don’t particularly like or agree with.
The risk of going through a day seeking to do no harm.
The risk of having a difficult conversation—with patience and empathy.
The risk of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
The risk of forgiving yourself completely—and extending that to others.
The risk of being genuine…and being fully present today.
The poet Robert Frost once said:
“We must find the courage to act on limited knowledge and insufficient evidence. That’s all we have.”
On the surface, this may not sound like the most inspirational quotation. Not the kind to put on bumper stickers or a fridge magnet.
But Frost’s words are a good antidote to the “paralysis of analysis”—that very human tendency to postpone doing anything because, well, conditions are not right. Or we don’t have all the answers. Or we don’t know how it’s going to work out.
But, of course, we never have all the answers. We never know how it’s all going to work out. And conditions are never ideal.
Now, let’s be clear. Frost is not talking about being impulsive. It’s good to do our research when facing any life decision—whether it’s about work, career, relationships, dreams, faith, or whatever.
But we still need “the courage to act,” he says.
I like the example William James gives. He says: Imagine you’re on the sidelines of a hard-fought soccer game that is half over. You are given the option of joining the game and choosing which team to play on. Suppose you say to yourself, “Well, I want to play on the winning team, so I’ll wait to see how things go before I join the game.”
If you think this way, James says, you’ll miss the game! You’ll miss the experience. And you’ll miss your chance to have an impact on the game.
You have to choose—and back up your choice with your commitment and actions—not having all the answers and not knowing how things will work out.
That’s the way life is, says James. It’s brief. The world is complicated. But important issues are at stake in every life. And you can’t wait until all doubts are erased and everything is crystal clear.
He would ask us: What’s important to you? What do you most want to do? What do you believe in? What values do you most want to live for and fight for? What kind of impact do you want to have with your life?
You are needed now, he says. You have a place to fill that no one else can fill. So think it through as best you can. Then…get in the game!
Today’s quotation comes from John Newton, the former slave ship captain who later changed his views about slaves, his heart, and his occupation. He became an Anglican minister and wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace.
He also wrote:
“We can easily manage if we will only take each day, the burden appointed for it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today and then add the burden of tomorrow to the weight…”
I saw an illustration of this in New York City. I was standing in the back of a crowded bus. All the seats were filled, and there were many of us standing in the aisle as well, holding on to the overhead straps.
A woman got on at the front of the bus. She was carrying three or four shopping bags in each hand, so she couldn’t reach up for the overhead strap. And no one gave her a seat.
As the bus began to lurch and jostle its way down the street, she struggled to maintain her balance, still holding onto all her bags. I was afraid she might fall over at any moment!
It was a precarious position to be in, to say the least.
Though I was in the back of the bus, I was tempted to yell, “Put the bags down! Grab the strap!”
And then I laughed…at myself. I realized that I’ve done the same thing, trying to carry the baggage from the past and the fears about the future while trying to deal with the challenges of today.
A precarious position to be in!
Fortunately, we don’t have to do that. We can put the baggage of the past and the future down.
Today, our task is to live today…to just try to get today right.
Today, we can travel light!