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Trade In Your Problems



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.


The Trail of a True Human Being



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.



Awaken the artist in you


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?


Savoring the struggle and creating joy



Here are some quotations to help us sustain the joy of the holidays through the coming year:

“The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right.”  –Anonymous

In fact, each day of life is a priceless gift—even if we still have that horrible commute and ornery boss to face.

So why not take a quiet moment to open each day the way a child opens his first Christmas gift—with great appreciation, anticipation and excitement. For this day will never come again.

“Be absolutely determined to enjoy what you do.” –Sikorski.

Take a vow to be joyful in your work, joyful in relationships, joyful in taking on challenges and problems. Make sure there is joy and laughter in your home. Find some joy in just being you. The people who live around you will be glad you did.

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: ‘To rise above little things.’”                        –John Burroughs

 Write on the walls of your heart: “I will not let the constant barrage of ‘little things’ keep me from getting to the ‘big things’ that make each day joyful and meaningful.”

And finally, this from John R. Silber, former President of Boston University:

“Inevitably you will sometimes be disappointed in marriage, disappointed in friends, disappointed in institutions, and sometimes disappointed in yourself. Thus, if you are to retain your joy in life, you must find much of that joy in spite of disappointment, for the joy of life consists largely in the joy of savoring the struggle…traveling with courage and a good sense of humor.”

 Best wishes for savoring the struggle and creating joy with your life this year.


A spark in your eye, a spring in your step, a song in your heart



What does it truly mean to be a success as a human being? What does it mean to live life successfully?

I have a hunch we might answer that question a little differently during the holidays. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success as follows:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.”

Emerson is suggesting that we may need a different way to think about what it means to be a success:

We need a way to think about success that includes every day of our lives, even the ordinary days—especially the ordinary days—all the way to our last day.

We need a way to think about success that includes (and makes use of) failures, setbacks and tragedy, since these are an inevitable part of life.

We need a way think about success that deepens and enriches our humanity, that helps us grow as persons and fulfill our own uniqueness.

We need a way to think about success that makes us excited to get out of bed each morning and helps us pursue what matters each day.

We need a way to think about success that helps us laugh more and deeper–a way that enhances all our important relationships and helps us be fun to be with.

We need a way to think about success that helps us find something to live for that is larger than ourselves, larger than any circumstance, and even larger than death.

Or as Krakatoa the parrot said to Hodgepodge the hippo (in my children’s novel, The Tale of Hodgepodge):

“There are many who frantically chase success, but success is not a chase and it’s not frantic. Success is a spark in your eye, a spring in your step, and a song in your heart.”


At ease in a world of dis-ease



One of the things I like about December is the uplifting music. For example, we’ve all heard Vince Gill’s familiar song:

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

A sentimental cliché? Perhaps. But sometimes clichés mask a deeper truth.

Suppose I actually wanted to let peace begin with me, how would that work?

In his poetic essay Desiderata, Max Ehrman begins with these words:

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.”

I like this reminder to relax and go peacefully, go gently, go quietly, go kindly through my days and years—especially in the midst of all the noise and busyness. (And it’s a reminder I often need!)

But how do we cultivate that ability? Ernst suggests, two things:

First, be on good terms with silence. Not an empty silence, but a deep, quiet listening—a warm, friendly fireside chat with my life.

They say a good friend is one who knows the worst about you and still likes you. We need a silence where we become that good friend to ourselves.

The busier our days, the more we need to put down our phones and turn off the tube, turn off the noise in our brains and make a little time for real, enriching silence.

The second suggestion is to do everything I can to be on good terms with all kinds of people—but without surrendering my genuine self, without being false.

The more ornery the person, the more we can learn from learning how to be with him or her in a human way.

In fact, maybe peace is simply about the work of learning how to be with yourself and how to be with others.

And that’s good work. It’s no small thing to do the “inner gardening” that helps you become a person at ease in the world—especially in a time that has so much dis-ease.