As we think about the coming year, I would like to put before us some familiar words from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.
As Thoreau wrote about his morning routine at Walden Pond, this led him to some reflections on what it might mean to wake up:
“Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep…To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face…”
What does it mean to wake up? He’s talking about waking up on the inside, isn’t he? He’s talking about waking up our inner selves.
Before astronauts blast off into space they first go through an extensive pre-flight checklist to make sure every part of the space ship is “awake” and functioning and all systems are “go”.
Just imagine what it might be like to “wake up” all our human systems in the morning before we blast off into the day. It might go something like this:
Is my mind awake? Check. Is my heart awake? Check. Is my humanity awake? Check. Is my sense of joy and humor awake? Check. Is my compassion and kindness and forgiveness awake? Check. Is my sense of wonder and reverence awake? Check. Is my courage awake? Check. Is my love for life awake? Check. Is my love of wisdom awake? Check. (We could go on and on; you can make up your own check list.)
Why is it important to work at keeping ourselves awake? Thoreau says it’s because this helps us to “affect the quality of the day.”
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn…I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue…but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look…To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
To paraphrase: Every new morning calls us to wake up on the inside, to experience the dawn within. And the more awake we are, the more this enhances the way we experience the day, and the impact we have on the day.
Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for 365 new opportunities to wake up.
In celebration of the holidays, I would like to share with you a holiday message from Landon Saunders about the importance of joy in our lives.
Saunders is a nationally known speaker and the author of Life That Loves to Happen…No Matter What Happens and How to Win Seven out of Eight Days a Week. He writes:
There’s something about this time of year that brings out the very best in us. Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that this is the time of year in which the word ‘joy’ is on our lips, both in song and in word. It is an emotion we feel that picks us up, and it’s one we wish we could have all year round.
Let me tell you what I believe about joy: I believe joy is the deepest thing in the universe. If it’s possible, I think it’s even deeper than love. I also believe it is the deepest thing in the human heart. Joy in a turbulent life is like the stillness of the ocean’s depth during a horrible storm. It is there. It is untroubled. It is unthreatened. Joy is powerful, and, when it’s understood, it’s the perfect antidote to anxiety and tragedy. Joy is the only thing I know before which tragedy loses its steam.
Best wishes to all. May joy be the GPS that helps you navigate through the coming year no matter what may happen. May joy be the default setting in your heart.
The days fly by without asking our permission, and sometimes we can feel the drag of routine and the drag of repetition—a “drag” expressed profoundly by Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
Harriet Martineau, the British social theorist, (often called the first woman sociologist) offered a succinctly-worded antidote to this sense of drag in life:
“You better live your best and act your best and think your best today, for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow.”
To paraphrase: Treat today as a dress rehearsal for the future you want.
You want a joyful future? Look for and be open to joy in the moments, the work, the challenges and the personal interactions you have today.
You want a kind, loving future? Practice acts of love and kindness today.
You want some wisdom in your future? Take time to listen for the voice of wisdom today.
You want a future where you’ll feel your life has mattered? Do something that matters today. Make that call you’ve been neglecting. Start that novel. Forgive…or tell someone you’re sorry.
You want a future where you’ll feel you have truly lived? Live today.
Of course, I suppose it could work the other way as well.
You want a boring future? Go ahead and be bored today.
You want a life that is taken for granted? Take today for granted.
Here’s the point: the daily routine is all we’ve got. Life is either found there, or it’s not found.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson said:
“We purchase the future with the present.”
The Russian writer Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago, said,
“Human beings are moved in two ways: by the cudgel or by the inner music.”
…which raises an important question for reflection: What moves me?
What’s the fuel of my life? What energizes me? What keeps me going? And when I run out of gas, what is it that I run out of?
Yes, it’s possible to be moved primarily by the “cudgel”: by all the things we have to do, by the demands and deadlines, by the “to do” lists, and by sheer busyness.
But I think we often sense a need for a little deeper, more powerful fuel for our lives, something that will keep us going no matter what happens.
But what is this inner music?
In a word, the inner music is joy. But it’s not a joy for someday. It’s a joy that provides real energy for all we have to face today.
Joy is about finding something to pour our lives into that energizes us, wakes us up in the morning, puts a sparkle in our eyes and a spring in our step.
Joy is about living for something that enriches all the important relationships of our lives and keeps them moving toward joy.
Joy is about living for something that keeps us growing as persons all the days our lives, all the way to the last day.
Joy is about living for something that time and circumstances and even death cannot defeat.
It’s about saying: I refuse to let my life be cudgeled into a drudgery! I will keep my life dancing to the inner music of joy, the only sustainable fuel for a human life.
This week’s thought is from a little poem by the American poet Edwin Markham:
We are all blind until we see that in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if it doesn’t make the man.
Why build these cities glorious if man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build a world unless the builder also grows.
Which raises an interesting question: While I’m busy building things in my life—career, business, family, friendships—what is being built in me?
In the midst of all the activities of my life, what am I growing into? What kind of man, woman, human being?
Am I growing more compassionate or more cynical? More courageous or more fearful? More joyful or more disappointed and discouraged? Am I learning to combine the spirit of my inner child with the wisdom of experience? Am I growing a little deeper?
I think it’s easy to neglect that question. But we should remember three things.
First, the kind of person I am will have an impact on the people around me. As someone has said, every life has an aroma. Some attractive, some not so much.
Second, the kind of person I am will affect the way I see everything. As the saying goes, when a pickpocket looks at a great man, he only sees pockets.
Third, when all the building is over in my life, the question of what kind of human being I have grown into will take on even greater significance.
So maybe it would be good, now, to at least give a little attention to that quiet question.
The poet Carl Sandburg, writing about Abraham Lincoln, said that in the years of his obscurity, “he was growing silently, like the corn.” It was that silent growth that, later, enabled him to guide America through one of its greatest crises.