Here’s our final year-starter from Henry David Thoreau. It’s one of my favorites:
“Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to wisdom but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness.”
This reminds me if I’m going to get any wisdom, I’ll need to relax and have a little fun with it.
And this is important because if you watch the faces of folks going to work, you’re apt to see a lot of “constraint and severity.” A lot of stress and tension. And you wonder how much of that leaks out into home relationships.
Thoreau is suggesting it is actually wiser to bring a little playfulness to your work and to problems and relationships.
As someone has said, bring a spirit of playfulness to your work and you won’t have to work so hard at your play when you get home.
A sales manager for a big telecommunications firm called all of his salespersons together and told them: “This quarter, I’m not going to ask you how many calls you made or how many sales you closed. And we’re not going to talk about any of that at our weekly meetings. Instead, we are going to focus on how to make your work more enjoyable. We still have to do the work, but let’s talk about ways to enjoy it more.”
What happened? You guessed it. Over the next quarter, this team actually made more sales than any other team in the company. And they did it while making fewer calls.
Wouldn’t 2020 be a good year to explore the possibilities of seeking wisdom through “abandonment and childlike mirthfulness?”
Today’s quotation—another good year-starter—comes from that venerable source of ideas, Anonymous:
“Are your problems weighing you down, stressing you out or just boring you? Here is one of the most creative things a human being can do: trade in your problems. Trade them in for bigger, better problems that may challenge you more, but leave you feeling more invigorated and alive.”
What I hear in this quotation is another of life’s paradoxes: if we’re too stressed out, it may be that our problems are too small!
As someone has said, it’s not the climb up the mountain that wears you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.
The bigger problems—the problems that come with learning how to live well and fully, how to love freely, how to be alive and present, how to serve and do what matters, how to do your best work and grow into your best self, how to enjoy and celebrate life—these are the problems that can actually leave us “feeling more invigorated and alive.”
Do you sense the possibilities of that?
Anonymous is saying: instead of trying to eliminate problems (which would probably leave us bored anyway), we should think about trading up to better problems, just like we would trade up to a better car.
And even in the times when we find it difficult to make that trade, I think it’s important to remember:
Everyone has problems; problems are human. And our problems won’t kill us, (though the way we think about them might).
But with the right attitude, our problems can even strengthen us, as Hemingway wrote:
“Life breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong in the broken places.”
But don’t forget: you can choose the problems you want to live with.
All through January I’ll be revisiting some quotations from past posts that I think are good year-starters. They give us insights that help us get the new year kicked off.
Today’s quotation comes from the movie Dances With Wolves, starring Kevin Kostner. The native American chief Kicking Bird tells Kevin Kostner’s character:
“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.”
What is the trail of a true human being and how can I follow it? How can I more and more aim myself true?
A challenging question, yes. But worth reflecting on, I believe.
Can you sense the possibility, the promise, the excitement, the depth in this question?
I like to think of this question as the North Star that sailors navigate by at night.
Even though sometimes covered by clouds, the star is always there, bright and shining, always waiting to guide us, day by day, toward our wiser, more compassionate, more courageous, more alive, more joyful self.
A reminder: as you think about this question, be gentle with yourself, and forgiving. It is a question to explore, to play with, to open yourself too. It is not there to weigh us down.
Think of it this way…
You can think of your life as a unique, new response to the question: what is a true human being. No one has ever responded to that question in quite the way you will respond to it.
Here’s a New Year’s resolution that might help you keep some of those others: Awaken the artist in you…every day.
This comes from Robert Henri, author of The Art Spirit who believed that we all have an artistic nature and that this artistic nature can be applied to all of life.
Here is his quotation—and it deserves some quiet, thoughtful reflection:
“Art, when really understood, is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens and shows there are still more pages possible.”
One way to go through a day or a life is to run in place. To idle. To live under a security blanket. To take for granted.
Another way is to approach all of life as the artist we are. This is a way that reaches down to the deepest and best and most alive and joyful parts of us and brings those to the surface again and again.
Is there an art of living an ordinary day?
Is there an art of relaxing? And an art of working?
Is there an art of having an argument? An art of handling anger?
Is there an art of being with children?
Is there an art of conversation?
Is there an art of failure? As well as of success?
Is there an art of dealing with crowds? And loneliness?
Is there an art of solitude?
Is there an art of laughing? And weeping?
Is there an art of dealing with pain? Illness?
Is there an art of loving? Of being human?
Is there an art to being the one and only you?
Could this be the year you explore more deeply your artistic side?