It’s the holiday season and it’s hard to escape gift-themed advertisements. Commercials about tools boxes and tools sets caught my attention over the weekend. They serve as a great analogy for right action.
In life, we amass a great collection of tools (skills). Tools we’ve collected through our unique experiences and we hold onto until the right job comes along for them to be put to use again. There are skills that become our hammers and screwdrivers – the tools that get the most use, and we tend to keep those most easily accessible. But there are the specialty tools as well. The tools we rarely use and even the tools we hope we never have to use because a situation that requires their use means something rather inconvenient or perhaps terrible has happened. As a result, there will in fact be tools we’re grateful to know are collecting dust. But how sad it is to see an entire tool chest covered in dust? Knowing full well that even the hammers and screwdrivers are in there too! Knowing that we are choosing to avoid putting them to good use.
The same can be said for so many gifts we receive that spend more time collecting dust than being used. Why? Because we don’t first utilize the gifts we already have at our disposal: our reasoned choice, our ability to appreciate, our ability to demonstrate gratitude, our ability to create, our ability to be imaginative, our ability to play, our ability to do the work. These are our hammers and screwdrivers! To quote the movie Clerks, “What good’s a plate with nothing on it?”
How much real work will I do today?
How much of my time will be spent on actions for the sake of self-improvement?
How much of my time will be spent serving others well because I am present and focused?
How much real work did I do today?
How much of my time was spent on actions for the sake of self-improvement?
How much of my time was spent serving others well because I was present and focused?
If we are not equally excited to answer both sets of questions each day, we need to ask ourselves where in our day did what’s important to us suddenly become less important? More importantly, why?
Facts are wonderful. Their existence lends order to our chaotic world. They are the concrete slabs supporting the malleable structures we call life. However, to agree with a fact is not a special skill. Acceptance, on the other hand, is a skill. We often struggle accepting what is, because we’d prefer for things to be the way we want. What do we most often want? To be right! At least that’s what our ego’s desire.
We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been right; not because our views were our own, but because we were stating facts. When the persons in the wrong in these instances hold firm to their beliefs opposed to the truth, if we find ourselves maddened and becoming flustered, who are really we mad at? The opposing view or our egos? What good becomes of our anger? What of our own pain does it reveal? If we focus our attention to dissect what’s really bothering us, we’ll find that the greatest source of our frustration is allowing ourselves to be bothered by what’s outside our locus of control. If we can’t accept what burdens us, we’ll always be burdened by that truth. When we realize the challenge involved in learning how to accept our own burdens, we also realize we’ve lit the pathway to being compassionate and tolerant of others struggling with the burdens of accepting truths of their own.
Yesterday, I attended a professional development for work. During a breakout activity, my group was answering a question about what we felt was needed in order to be successful at a particular something. We quickly came to the conclusion that nothing or “no thing” was needed, but things are nice to have to supplement success in this area. We then came up with the equation Effort + Luck = Nothing. At first, it seems ludicrous, however, when you evaluate the equation, it reveals how you can make “something” from “nothing”. Nothing – Luck = Effort. Take nothing and take away luck and you’ll be left with only effort. Effort creates something from nothing. Nothing – Effort = Luck. Take nothing and take away effort, and you’ll be left with only luck. Luck creates something where there was once nothing. The equation checks out!
It serves to remind us that what we need is little; what we desire is more. All the experience and knowledge we accumulate is only valuable when it’s used in situations where our egos don’t benefit from putting it to use. When our egos drive our desire to demonstrate how much we know so we may “educate” others – that’s a recipe for failure. It’s a recipe for making assumptions. Math provides a world of correct and incorrect. Life is more gray. We experience situations and learn from them, however, when a similar situation arises but with different people, we can’t plug these new people into old equations, because their experiences and what they bring to the equation are variables.
If we choose to enter into all new situations knowing we’ve been there before, we’ve already made a crucial miscalculation. However, if we choose to enter to into all new situations knowing we know nothing (yet) about them, our experiences and knowledge along with our ignorance can serve to help us gain understanding as a means of being more open to finding solutions – to finding success.
Netflix and DVR. Two wonderful inventions that save us from watching commercials and having to wait impatiently. In regards to consumption of whatever we deem to be entertainment, this is a luxury. We can do it on our time, opposed to real-time. We are not bound by the constraints of regularly scheduled programming.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re also trending more towards dealing with our emotions in a similar fashion. We push them down or aside until we feel we have the time to deal with them. We attempt to binge-process our emotions. The trouble here is that as our emotions pile up, they get harder to fathom how to deal with, like a pile of laundry spilling out of the hamper onto the floor. It gets overwhelming, so we continue to avoid. And, how do we avoid? We seek to be entertained. There’s an escapism attached to entertainment. We look to be entertained to take our minds off what’s bothersome to our lives. It’s indeed another attempt to avoid dealing with ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle.
We’ve all experienced moments in our lives when our performance has been optimal. When we are on top of our to-do lists. The times we attack our days like a dog attacks a squeaky toy: we break the neck! And, it feels good to do so! When we are in these modes, we feel powerful. We feel unstoppable, because that positive momentum is fueled by dealing effectively with each moment. Emotions don’t muddy our focus. What typically derails us? In a word: disappointment. Something or some “thing” blocks our path and causes an emotional reaction we choose not to deal with in the moment. It begins as a few pairs of socks, but not before long, the hamper is overflowing once more.
The more we choose to deal with our lives in the here and now, the more we choose to process our emotional responses as they arise, the less likely we’ll need to seek refuge in escapism. Where we hope that the laughter, tears, horror, disgust, or interest we seek from the hours of our uninterrupted entertainment consumption will be a fitting cure for what ails us. The reality is that the commercial breaks offered in real-time entertainment are the best time to get some laundry done.
“For now we live” can be interpreted two ways. We can read it as meaning we live for the present moment – for now. Or, we can read it as more of a declaration of our impermanence – for now, we live. A simple, yet powerful mantra for reflection.
It reminds us that no matter what challenges we face today, the Life we don’t know will be here tomorrow. If you purchased a plot of land to be used as a public cemetery for use in your community, you may in fact own that land, but the deed to the land grants you no ownership over death. Upon death, the land will inevitably own you.
Ledger is defined as “a book or other collection of financial accounts of a particular type.” We’re all likely familiar with this definition. However, it can also mean “a horizontal scaffolding pole,” or “a flat stone slab covering a grave.” The latter is sometimes referred to as a ledger stone or ledgerstone, which is usually found on the floor of churches with inscriptions about the deceased.
What’s interesting about the word “ledger” is that the essence of stoicism lies within all three of its definitions. To live stoically is to support (scaffold) our days by taking stock of what’s important in our lives and keeping our affairs in order, because we never know when the debt we all pay will come due.
We live soundly when we leave our days without loose ends. We sleep soundly when we are unburdened – when we leave nothing but rest undone. No pillow can support a head that carries the weight of the world.