If you look for thorns, you’ll see thorns. If you look for love, you’ll see it all around you. And if you look for opportunities to make a difference, to shower people with love, and to take a stand for all that is good and right in the world, those opportunities will be there.
What opportunities do you see in the day ahead?
Angry words. Personal attacks. It seems too common these days for someone to try to win an argument by cutting their opponent down at the knees rather than, for example, by having a good argument. But the personal attacks are just keeping everyone wounded and hurting. No progress is made. Real issues go unaddressed. Everyone suffers.
What if, instead, we try to respond to people without tensing up and bracing for impact, without turning to an angry smear, without trying to wound?
What if, even better, we look for ways to lift each other up?
What questions do we frame for ourselves at the end of the day? What are the questions that have caused us to soul-search and perhaps take a new path? What questions have forced you to look at something a different way?
Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. There are some that resonate so deeply with us, we may spend a lifetime trying to answer them. In her piece about the beauty of these profound questions, Karen Horneffer-Ginter identifies some that have been meaningful to her:
When used properly, questions have the potential to connect us to the world of another. A heartfelt “How are you?” or “How was your day?” can become the bridge that keeps us in relationship to the lives of those we love. Sometimes, too, questions create a bridge within ourselves, allowing us to hear what’s going on at a deeper level. We know when we’ve encountered a question that has this potential because it stays with us — maybe for the day, maybe for our whole lives. It taps us on the shoulder to wake us up, or it wiggles its way in more deeply, opening us up to seeing things in a new way.
I still recall first encountering Judith Duerk’s chorus of questions about how my life might have been different if there had been a sacred circle to step into. Mary Oliver asking me about my plans for this one wild and precious life, Oriah Mountain Dreamer wanting to know what I ache for and if I dare to dream of meeting my heart’s longing, and Angeles Arrien reminding me of the questions asked in some indigenous cultures: When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? I think of my friend Ming,asking me at lunch one day if I thought writing was my fullest and truest expression. All these questions have remained close companions across the years.
And just the framing of the question can be significant, as she suggests. Consider the difference between ‘What do I have to do today?’ and ‘What do I get to do today?’ That simple shift helps us move from feeling burdened to being grateful for all the opportunities presented by the day.
What are the questions that have been your close companions? What do you get to do today to help answer them?
Apparently, one day in 1922, Albert Einstein was caught short, unable to leave a tip on his lunch bill. Instead, he scrolled:
“A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.”
Einstein hoped his words would prove valuable to the young waiter some day. Ironically, that scrolled message recently fetched over a million dollars at auction. More valuable, indeed.
But, setting humor aside, isn’t Einstein right? What are the moments that bring us joy?
Are they in the hustle and bustle and endless striving, or are they in life’s quiet moments, those moments with no posturing, no striving, no achieving? Just being.
We can paralyze ourselves from finishing something if we aren’t careful. Even if it is something we really want to accomplish, our minds have a way of wandering into the parade of horribles that might go wrong. Or maybe we get stymied when we hit a closed door or an unexpected problem.
But our minds are also remarkably fluid and creative. If we keep our eyes on the goal and let go of our hyper focus on the things in our way, our minds have a remarkable way of showing us a new angle or insight that helps us approach the activity in a new way. We control our minds, not the other way around. So next time you keep going over and over all the obstacles, close your eyes and picture yourself surmounting them.
And then open your eyes, and get back to work.
What seems impossible to you right now?
So much seems out of reach. So many problems have yet to be solved. So many people do not get along. And yet, when we step back and take a long view, so many seemingly impossible things have been accomplished in just a lifetime–anti-biotics, flight, space travel, computers, internet. And though social justice clearly does not move in a straight line, we have seen significant advances in human rights that our great-grandparents may have been unable to predict or even hope for.
So what to make of this? It’s important to keep fighting the good fight even when the odds seem insurmountable. Keep striving for peace, for social justice, for a more equitable world. We may not see the dramatic change now, but when someone looks back at our time here on Earth, they will see we didn’t stop pushing forward and, with that long view, there was continued progress ever forward.
You can’t do everything. You can’t have everything. You must choose.
This is particularly true of how we spend our time. We have a set amount of time, no more. When we decide what we do with our time, we necessarily decide what we don’t do with our time.
Choose wisely. Time, once spent, is lost.
When you touch your hand to fire, it’s good to take notice and move your hand away. You notice the pain, and then move to avoid it. The same is true of jealousy. You notice it first because it gives you a clue as to what you feel is missing in your own life, but then you move away. But that first part, noticing what you’re jealous of, is important because it points to a lack you’re feeling you may not even be consciously aware of. But don’t keep your hand in the flame, obsessing. Analyze it. Is there something missing in your own life? Turn your attention to making your own life better, your relationships deeper, your work more meaningful, your health more vibrant. That is time well-spent.
What if the world knew you only by the worst thing you’ve ever done? Assume everything’s public, no secrets, anything can be known by everyone. That’s a tough scenario, isn’t it? What would people think if they could see all the bad things you’ve done, the cruel things you’ve said, the opportunities to be kind you’ve missed?
Some of us live that reality–known by one event, judged by all and found lacking–the drug addict, the convict, the molester, the drop-out, the neglectful mom. And yet each of us is incredibly complex, capable of both good and bad, cruelty and kindness, and, most importantly, redemption.
How all of our souls hunger for someone to see that, even when we make mistakes, there is good in us, too, that we aren’t all bad. That mistake shouldn’t define us. Imagine how much more that is true for someone who has been shunned by society because of one wrong turn.
What can we do to look at each other as we see ourselves, complex, erring individuals worthy of love? What can we do to recognize that we are all kin?
So much of life depends on our perception of reality. When things go deeply wrong, how can we consider the opportunity hiding there? Perhaps there is a new way to do things, a better way to communicate, a method of engagement that factors in other perspectives. Failure is never failure, really. It is always an opportunity to learn, even if it is merely to learn what doesn’t work.
What obstacles are in your path right now? How can you look at them differently to see the new opportunities waiting?