This guest post is from Landon Saunders
Once there was a man who found a treasure map. He rose before dawn and went to the place where the treasure was buried, measured off his steps according to the map, and, by torchlight, he dug right where the “X” on the map marked the spot. After what seemed like hours of work, his shovel hit something hard. He had found a treasure chest.
He pulled the chest, covered with mud, out of the hole and, in the early morning darkness, he held the torch close to examine it. Through all the mud and debris, he could barely make out the letter “T” and the letter “O”. “To whom?” he wondered. He scraped off the mud and he found that it wasn’t “to” anyone—the treasure chest was etched with the word “TODAY.” Very curious, he thought, as he went to work on the lock. He struggled and sweated, trying to open the lock. Then, just as the first rays of light were beginning to reach him, he got the chest open.
At the bottom of the chest was a leather-bound book, obviously of great age. Opening it with feverish intensity, he read the first page:
“You’ve discovered the greatest treasure any human being can possess. You have discovered today. A day is the only package the gift of life comes wrapped in. Take today and learn everything you can about what it takes to cherish a day—to cherish today, for you will never find another one like it. Realize that today is the right place for you—not yesterday and not tomorrow—but today. And, as you realize this, you will be in the valley of love and delight.”
Right now, it can be challenging to remember that today is still a day to be cherished. Our daily lives may seem to have shrunk down to the essentials we then repeat over and over again. With so much anxiety over the future, we may find ourselves “living” in the “what-if’s” of next week or next month, never really spending much time in today.
This is understandable. Today’s box may not look like much to open. Yours may be covered in a lot of mud and gunk. But, this week, try to take the time to wipe it clean and open it. You’ll find there is still so much to cherish.
How’s it going with your relationship to time?
Sometimes, we can find ourselves sort of living in the past. (“If only this or that had happened—or not happened—things would be better.”)
Or, we can find ourselves running so fast that we hardly notice the present; it’s like we’re living in the future. (“One of these days, when X happens …)
Living in past tense or future tense can leave us tense. So when I find myself slipping into either one, I like to recall this wonderful reminder from film maker Mel Brooks:
“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 greener pastures It’s crazy … Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful.”
Don’t you love that?
We are meant to live in the now—it’s really the only place where life happens! And the pandemic hasn’t changed that.
Instead of saying “Wake me when it’s over!”, we can use this time to wake up more fully to the power of being present in the now.
One way I try to take hold of this: I go through my day sort of telling myself that whatever I’m doing, that’s what the universe wants me to be doing.
If I’m washing dishes, I’m washing dishes. I don’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else. Same goes for writing or having dinner or having a phone conversation or talking to my grandchildren or playing golf—even when I hit a bad shot. Especially when I hit a bad shot. (I’ve had to work on that one!)
It’s one way to sort of relax and inhabit the present. As someone has said (I think it was that wise old sage, A. Nonymous):
“Plan as if you would live forever, but live as if you would die tomorrow.”
So this week, the word is “Now thyself!” No matter what tomorrow holds, let’s have a merry journey now.
Someone has said that Columbus didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know where he was when he got there, and didn’t know where he’d been when he got back.
Well, about the time Columbus thought he’d found India, far away in the real India there lived a poor weaver who made rugs by day and scratched out poems by night.
His name was Kabir and today he’s one of India’s best-loved poets. Here’s a sample:
I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.
You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!
Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real.
I think maybe Kabir is onto something.
Just think of the civilization we’ve built in the last century—the wealth, the comfort, the inventions, the possibilities. It would blow the minds of any other century.
You would think we would all be ecstatically happy! You would think that loneliness, depression, addictions, lack of fulfillment and other social ills would be at a minimum.
It is a little like being fish in the water and still being thirsty, isn’t it?
I like Kabir’s prescription. He says we may need to grasp a little more deeply the truth that “what is most alive is inside your own house.”
That line stopped me. First, I thought, “That’s good, because that’s where we are!”
Yes, it’s easy to feel that life, aliveness, joy, meaning, the pursuit of happiness is all “out there”. And, of course, we’d all love to be “out there.” And someday we will.
But meanwhile, Kabir is reminding us to look again at what we have “in here”—in our homes, in relationships, in ourselves, in the cultivation of our souls.
In a way, Kabir is calling us to be the Columbus of our own lives, to quietly go in search of new worlds inside ourselves—new inner resources, new, more satisfying and more “alive” ways of thinking and living and working and relating.
Today more than ever, I believe many are making that journey of discovery and that we’ll come back with our boats loaded with the riches money can’t buy.
I see signs of that in the outpouring of compassion, in a deeper concern for each other, in a quieter, more thoughtful approach to things, in a greater sense of personal presence, and more.
The world is becoming more real.
Who knows, maybe it’s a time for the rediscovery of America—an America where more of us really do know where we’re going.
Here’s another guest post from Landon Saunders:
By Landon Saunders
You may have seen the story of the five-year-old boy who took the family car, three dollars from his savings jar, and headed out from Utah towards Los Angeles to buy a Lamborghini! A policeman saw the car weaving a bit, pulled it over, and, to his astonishment, found the little boy under the wheel, perched on the front edge of the seat with both feet on the brake.
Such imagination! Maybe a good measure of spunk! And at least a bit of lust for adventure! Will he ever again experience a day like that one? Let’s hope he never loses his capacity to dream even as he learns it was not a good thing at five years old to set off driving the family car! His parents made that clear to him, very clear!
One of the things I take away from this story is to begin each day with great intention. This little kid didn’t just have a dream. He grabbed up his three dollars and set out to attain it. Our young Don Quixote dreamed his wildly improbable dream of riding in the car of his dreams.
And, it turned out that his dream wasn’t so impossible after all. A nearby Lamborghini owner read the story and showed up at the little boy’s house to take him, as well as other members of his family, for a ride around the neighborhood in his loud, throaty Lamborghini.
I identify with the little Lamborghini boy’s excitement. For years, on my personal notecards, I had written the line: “In pursuit of a dream. . .” The ellipsis is an important part of the line because the dream has continued for me all the way to this good day. And I’m over 60. Well, 70. Okay, over 80.
The point we must never reach is a dead-stop period, the place where dreams and the creation of new dreams die.
So, here’s wishing you a Lamborghini of a day.
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Does history teach us anything that can help us today?
Film maker Ken Burns, who has spent a lot of time thinking about history, reminds us that what we’re experiencing today isn’t really all that new. And the challenge of living through it isn’t all that new. He writes:
“I go back to Ecclesiastes in the Bible, and it says, ‘What has been, will be again. What has been done, will be done again.’ That suggests to me that human nature doesn’t change—good and bad…With human beings, if you believe Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing new under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes, originally part of the Hebrew Bible, is an interesting little book—less than ten pages. Scholars believe it was written in the Axial Age (700-400 B.C.E), a time of tremendous social upheaval.
During this time, the nation of Israel was being invaded by foreign powers. Jerusalem and their great temple was destroyed and the people were carried off into slavery far from their home—a quarantine if there ever was one!
So it’s not surprising that the book takes what sounds like a dark view of the world. It says that there’s something broken in the world that can’t be fixed; that in the place of justice you’ll find injustice; that most people are “chasing after the wind” and life seems meaningless and, oh, by the way, everyone dies.
Is the author pessimistic? Or is he just telling it like it is?
Here’s what’s interesting. Over against these realities, the writer puts up joy—our ability as human beings to find and create joy in the simplest everyday things—even in dark times.
For example, he writes:
“Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God…God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”
He repeats this type of refrain nine times in this short book! From 2500 years ago, he’s reminding us to slow down and take a breath; to appreciate more and savor our food and drink more; to enjoy the work and the phone conversations more and be more present.
He’s helping us think about how important joy is to our lives—especially in a time like this.
In today’s guest post, Landon Saunders comments on a remarkable, uplifting excerpt from writer Nora Zeal Hurston…
I’ve just finished reading a book of essays by Zora Neale Hurston entitled “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.” The title itself stopped me in my tracks! She explained it this way: it means “making a way out of no-way.” Or, she added, “winning the jack pot with no other stake but a laugh.”
Somehow it made me think of where we are now. “Making a way out of no-way.” And, somehow, through great difficulty, we are “making a way.” It’s a pretty great commentary on our resilience and flexibility.
My heart brightened as I read the following lines from one of her short stories found in this book. She contrasts the little brook with the great river. Of the first she writes,
“The brook laughed and sang. When it encountered hard places in its bed, it hurled its water in sparkling dance figures up into the moonlight. It sang louder, louder; danced faster, faster, with a coquettish splash! at the vegetation on its banks. At last it danced boisterously into the bosom of the St. John’s….”
(I read these words aloud. Then I read them again. And yet again. And the words buoyed my heart.)
The great river complained to the brook, how it had disturbed its sleep. But, the brook spoke of the “flowers that bloom, the trees and wind say beautiful things to me,” and continued to speak of the lovers she had seen on her banks.
I loved Zora’s use of language, her imaginative way of viewing life, even though she lived a life of great hardship and was buried in a pauper’s cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida. Today, she shines as one of America’s greatest writers.
We need a bit of sparkle, a moment of joyousness, a time to remember we are greater than anything that can happen to us. I will endure. You will endure. We may still “win the jackpot with no other stake but a laugh.” So, with Zora’s brook, I will take a moment and laugh and sing and dance. It makes hunkering down again a bit better. Thank you, Zora.
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Here’s one thing I’m appreciating more in this time of quarantine: morning.
I’ve taken the experience of morning for granted too many times. No more.
Apparently, Henry David Thoreau felt the same. During his two-year “quarantine” in a cabin on Walden Pond, he came to see how important the experience of morning was to his life.
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation,” he wrote. It awakens us “to a higher life than we fell asleep from.” He mentioned that the Chinese King Tching-thang engraved on his bathtub these words:
“Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.”
Reflecting on this, Thoreau wrote:
“All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere…To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.”
This raises some interesting questions: What is “a morning atmosphere”? Is it possible to bring more of the morning atmosphere to the way we experience the day?
Another question: What does it mean to have a dawn in me? What is dawning in me? What is dawning in you?
Imagine that your inner world is a mansion with many rooms and each room has a name. At dawn, you quietly walk through your “inner mansion” to turn on the lights.
You come to the room named Peace, and turn on the light. You turn on the light in the room named Joy. You do the same for the rooms named Awareness. Hopefulness. Wisdom. Courage. Compassion. Aliveness. Friendship. Work. Love.
Now, all the lights are on—and you are at home.
During this dark time, may those rooms become more lit up in us, affecting the way we look at ourselves, at each other, at work, at problems, at life—bringing to even the remote corners of our day a little more of the clean, fresh light of dawn.
NOTE: The following is another thought from Landon Saunders, especially relevant right now.
Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, recently cited an observation of Dov Seidman, a values-based leader:
“When you press the pause button on a computer, it stops. But when you press the pause button on a human being, they start—that’s when they begin to rethink and reimagine.”
Our “pause button” has certainly been pressed during this current world crisis. Almost no one has been overlooked—workers, parents, neighbors, businesses, and the list is endless.
Will our “pause button” signify “stop,” as with a computer, or “start,” as with a human being? If we stop, negative thoughts and emotions will flood our minds and hearts. But, if our “pause” is a “start” that intensifies our ability “to rethink and reimagine” who we are, what is really important, then confidence and hope enter our minds and hearts.
This gives us a way to respond in ways we couldn’t have imagined just months ago. So, let’s ask: will we be stirred to new thoughts, to new ways of seeing ourselves and others, to new levels of respect for each other? Will we be more aware and appreciative of so many little things we took for granted? Will we be grateful for so many who make our lives possible by the services they render—those who tend our sick or supply our groceries or deliver our mail—people we may have hardly noticed before?
As a result of this “pause,” we’re seeing, thinking, sensing things in ways we may have never thought before. I’m finding that these new thoughts are helping me see myself and others in a whole new light. In response to this pause may we all find new strength, patience, and hopefulness because we will all so badly need it.
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