We live in strange and shallow times. TV, social media, our addiction to our phones—all these can have a flattening effect on our minds and inner lives.
We live today like weeds which grow up quickly—nurtured by noise and busyness—but also fade quickly because they have shallow roots. Once in a while, we ought to be more like a big oak tree that takes plenty of time to quietly grow deeper roots.
But what does it mean to grow deep roots as a human being? How does one tap into deeper resources for joy, wisdom, compassion, courage, aliveness and generosity?
The ancient world used the word “soul” to describe this deeper part of us that can be the source of such richness—yet is so often neglected.
Socrates chided his fellow Athenians for taking better care of their houses than they did their own souls, their own inner selves.
Jesus said, similarly, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his own soul.”
And the poet John Keats suggested that perhaps the main point of our being here is to cultivate this inner self, when he said:
“Call the world if you please ‘The vale of soul-making.’”
And when it comes to thinking about soul, I like these words from the French writer George Sand:
“Try to keep your soul young and quivering right up to old age, and to imagine right up to the brink of death that life is only beginning. I think that is the only way to keep adding to one’s talent, to one’s affections, and one’s inner happiness.”
This week’s quotation is from a book titled, Life That Loves To Happen…no matter what happens, by Landon Saunders and Michael Hawkins.
The central idea of this book is that the point of life is joy…that work and relationships are meant to be enjoyed. Joy, it says, is the flip side of tragedy.
The book explores this idea through a series of imagined conversations between Soul—your deep inner self and perspective, the source of your wisdom, courage, compassion and joy—and Life—your outer, everyday self.
Here’s an example, which I’ll simply give without comment.
I’m still not sure I have a plan for my life.
What I hope to be able to say about you is that you didn’t hesitate, that you didn’t wait, that you went ahead and really lived.You lived, even though you didn’t have a plan. And then one day, in a quiet, intense moment, you realized that this is the plan—to LIVE (Love Intensely, Value Everything). L.I.V.E.!
There are some thoughts that have no future.
They may be seductive, they may weasel their way into our heads—but they can’t really take us anywhere we want to go. We might call them…
“If only I was luckier or richer or wiser or more talented, I could have really done something…”
“If only I hadn’t messed up…or been hurt so much…”
“If only I had a better family…better friends…a better partner…”
“If only I didn’t have to go to this job every day…”
And so on.
On the other hand, there are thoughts that can help get our life moving or keep it moving and growing, no matter what may have happened.
We might call these:
Here’s one example of a jump-starter thought: Theodore Roosevelt wrote:
“Have you got a problem? Do what you can where you are with what you’ve got.”
And in the same vein, the 19thcentury English writer Sydney Smith said:
“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little. Do what you can.”
Do. What. You. Can. That thought can help us avoid dead-ends and keep things moving.
It might even help us avoid the worst dead-end of all: coming to the end of our lives thinking, “I could have, but I didn’t.”
We’re all measuring the people around us all the time. We even measure ourselves. But what measuring stick are we using?
Well, here are some of the most common ways we measure each other: by looks, by income, by skills or achievements, by first impressions, even by height.
But are these measuring sticks accurate? Or helpful?
Someone did an experiment, sending 100 essay tests to 100 different teachers to grade. There was a photo of a different student attached to each test.
Here’s the trick: the essay answers on every test were exactly the same. Only the pictures varied.
You guessed it: the tests with pictures of children who were better looking consistently got, on average, a letter higher grade.
That’s just the way the world is, right? What can we do about that?
Here are two thoughts that I think are worth reflecting on:
In Lorraine Hansbury’s wonderful play, A Raisin in the Sun, a character named Mama tells her child:
“Whenever you start measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he came through before he got to wherever he is.”
Thinking about hills and valleys might help us be a little more kind with that ornery person. And, heaven knows, they need the kindness!
The second thought is an English proverb. It’s quite simple, but sometimes the simplest things are the most profound. It says:
“Measure people round the heart.”
It’s not hard to see the value of this. In the last days of your life, which will matter more: The size of your bank account? Or the size of your heart—its capacity for love and joy and generosity and courage and wisdom?
Here’s another way to look at it. Suppose people were actually as big as their hearts.
If that were true, we’d have to watch out for a lot of so-called “big people”—for fear of stepping on them!
On the other hand, there are some quiet, uncelebrated people among us who would be as tall as buildings.
In today’s world, I personally think there’s a crying need for people who have the courage to see others with more depth and humanity – people who are trying hard to measure themselves and others not superficially, but “round the heart.”