About five years ago, an albino deer was spotted in our town. With no commerce, two small schools, and one traffic light, the deer’s unique beauty quickly became the talk of our small community. What we do have in abundance though are deer. Deer are everywhere! It’s inevitable that almost every morning you will drive past several deer carcasses along the main road, and there’s some odd relief when you realize it’s not the albino deer. Every winter, there’s a weekend-long cull to help control the deer population. It largely goes unspoken, however, it’s always a relief to see the albino deer once again after those weekends. As if some faith in humanity is restored because we like to believe the deer’s life was spared because of its uniqueness. It would be like killing a unicorn!
Last year, after spotting the albino deer some weeks after the winter’s cull, and breathing a grateful sigh, something occurred to me. We, as humans, feel good about ourselves, knowing we have “saved” the life of this deer, “allowing” it to live on so we can marvel at its majesty. My perspective then shifted to that of the deer. Perhaps this deer wonders why every deer it’s ever known and traveled with – its family, friends and acquaintances – have all been shot. Year after year, she survives, never knowing why. She has perhaps never even seen her reflection to know what makes her unique. She was never alone, so perhaps the other deer never told her she was different. The last time I saw her, she was with her fawn. That was a beautiful moment. Not only was she alive, she now had a family of her own. Would they too be taken from her by human choice in a few years because they didn’t also possess her unique trait? Are we sparing her life allowing us to feel better, assuming she is incapable of feeling sorrow? Perhaps she feels like a pariah. What I do know is that when I see her, she makes me smile. What I don’t know is that she may be the saddest deer in the world, wondering why her sadness seemingly brings so much joy to us humans.
Santa – Perfection – Wisdom. What do all three of these things share in common? They can never be captured. They can only be pursued. A child’s innocence is in pursuit of capturing the idea of turning a belief into a truth. A fool’s confidence is in pursuit of capturing the apparition of what’s knowingly unattainable. A philosopher’s purpose is in the pursuit of capturing the essence of becoming wiser. ‘Tis always the season to be in the spirit of pursuing wisdom, knowing it is a gift we’ll never receive. The gift is in the chase.
The mind and the body are often in a managerial power struggle. Stephen Hawking had an incredible mind and was afflicted by an illness that betrayed his body. Those suffering with Alzheimer’s have able bodies afflicted by a terrible illness that betrays the mind. These are the extremes, however, what it demonstrates is that the body and mind are co-managers. Sadly, we take that granted most of the time. We take a great deal of things for granted in life, often waiting for tragedy to be the reason we examine and explore the depths of our gratitude. The trick is learning to separate our minds from our egos. Daily practice to detach from ego is the birthplace of fully appreciating the mind/body connection.
Comedian Emo Philips has a joke: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” This brilliant phrase speaks to the ego. That little voice starving for constant praise and attention. That little voice that seeks so much validation that it also knows when to seek pity. This is why characters like Michael Scott from The Office are so maddening, yet somehow remain endearing. But do we really long for others to feel “bad for us”? Do we really want pity for what ails us? When we receive the pity we sought, what do we do with it when we have it? Nothing. The ego gets its validation and then, like the addict it is, simply seeks more. The ego’s greatest triumph is distracting us from the simplicity of being human: to be one in mind and body. Inner peace and/or inner strength does not come from being able in mind and body, it comes from being able to transcend the ego’s need for validation.
We consume. We consume food, data, knowledge, information, content. We process it, filtering out the wanted from the unwanted. Figuratively, the phrase “a mind like a sieve” is meant negatively for when a person has difficulty retaining information. However, when it comes to emotions, our minds often do a wonderful job retaining what hurts us most. We clench pain like a bear trap! We don’t filter out pain in the same method we do joy. We’ll often hear people say, “Wow, that was fun!” in regards to a positive experience. It also speaks to how the experience was fleeting, as if to say, “That was fun, but what’s next?” We rarely hear the opposite. “Wow, that was painful!” with the same fleetingness. Why would that be? Why do we gravitate to letting pain overstay its welcome? Why would we choose this when our bodies are designed to filter out waste? When emotions are at play, what we waste most is our time. Our time is precious, so why choose emotional constipation? Why treat our bodies differently than our minds? Reasoned choice is the fiber of our minds.
“What we allow, is what will continue.” I couldn’t find a source for this quote, however, it’s one that has been coming up a great deal lately in my life. As children, we may have received an allowance in form of payment for doing our household chores. As adults, allowance is the currency of accountability. Simply saying that we are taking ownership of something, and not backing it up with the necessary action is meaningless.
The character Wimpy from Popeye cartoons had a famous saying, “I’ll gladly repay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” For this to become a famous saying means that it was not a one-time scenario. This was said regularly. If we are all too familiar with such scenarios in our lives, the failure goes to the ones that tolerated the allowance, not the person(s) that have adapted to the conditions we poorly set. Accountability cannot be an expectation; it has to be demonstrated. Accountability is more easily said than done. The demonstration of accountability holds meaning. The trick is navigating it without emotion. The purpose of accountability is not personal. It’s about right action. Right action is not personal – it is simply just doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
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?