Where Wisdom Grows

School of hard knocks EDIT

Misfortunes make us wise.
Mary Norton

I learned a lesson yesterday, taught a few times before but without me getting a passing grade. Like a child held back in school, it took repetition for the insight to sink in. It does not matter what the particulars are of what I learned. The jewel of knowledge that sparkles within now, came with a great deal of pain and difficulty; the ground and fertilizer where wisdom grows.

The best teachers have showed me that things have to be done bit by bit. Nothing that means anything happens quickly–we only think it does. The motion of drawing back a bow and sending an arrow straight into a target takes only a split second, but it is a skill many years in the making. So it is with a life, anyone’s life. I may list things that might be described as my accomplishments in these few pages, but they are only shadows of the larger truth, fragments separated from the whole cycle of becoming. Joseph Bruchac

When we search for “ourselves” in the eyes of others, we have imprisoned our own-selves in believing that our self-worth is nothing unless others validate who we are. Unless we approve of whom we are, what we are, and what we are capable of doing as an individual, only then we will have released “ourselves” from our own imprisonment. D. A. Isley

The names of my best teachers are Grief, Pain and Heartache along with their half-brothers Hurt, Sorrow and Anguish and their half sisters Misery, Sadness and Despair. In hopelessness, misfortune and depression each has been my hard, but honored teacher. When I get tired of repeating the same mistake and falling into the same dysfunction those instructors of the “hard way” school show me the best path when I let them.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Kahlil Gibran

If only I could have stronger belief in my abilities; show greater self forgiveness; and love myself more. Then most anything would be possible. Gratefully, I can, I will and I shall so that I might.

Experience is the hardest
kind of teacher. It gives
you the test first, and
the lesson afterward.
Oscar Wilde

Living From the Inside Out

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Once in a while I find myself wishing to be in a time before now. I have imagined living in Victorian times when history tells us manners and romantic love were in vogue. On other occasions, my fantasy has been living in the age of honor and chivalry written about the Knights of the Roundtable. Both are pure make believe and in truth both times were actually really tough for average folks.

It’s more productive to come back to my life experience. Many people wish for earlier times in their life and I am not immune. The late 60s and early 70s have long seemed like a cool time to visit as long as I could have a different life back there than I actually had.

Most people, from the age of about 16 to about 30 have dreams, expectations, zest and energy. They are still young and the future is before them. Often, there is a certain feeling of euphoria and great expectations. This is the time when people are at the start of their life, still able to think big, before settling down, getting a job, getting married, and entering the hustle and bustle of life.

When you think about the past, the feelings of joy, happiness and expectation associated with it awaken, and you feel good. Then you associate those feelings with the past, and get the impression that the past was a better time. Actually, what you are yearning to is to the feelings of euphoria that you experienced when young, to the dreams and expectations, which are gone now.

My advice to you is to awaken those feelings and thoughts intentionally, and to associate them with the present. No matter how old or young you are, where you live, and under what circumstances you are living, you can use these thoughts and feelings to motivate you. ou can again experience the euphoria and great expectations you had when young, but use them constructively to make them come true. Remez Sasson http://www.successconsciousness.com/blog/motivation/past-better-than-present/

A fairly recent discovery of mine has been changing the direction of my life has brought back some of the good feelings enjoyed in my teens and 20s The reason is not complicated. I am embracing the possibilities of being alive in ways like I did when young. And it’s not just the feel-good neurochemicals that my waxing nostalgic brings. Back in my younger days there were many “things I thought I could be” and lots I was “going to do”. Life seems filled with such possibility again.

One of the benefits of “old days” was the amount of times I spent with people. Today with all the possibilities to entertain myself it’s easy to fall into a hole and not spend much time with others. I’ve found adding more time with friends and making new ones is one of the best uses of my time. Making new “good old times” with others has become my best remedy for yearning for times past.

As a society we do live in challenging times with monstrously huge problems. However the overall quality of my life really does not have much to do with them. I can be socially aware and even active without internalizing the issues. Living from the inside out is a lot healthful than life being shaped from the outside where I have no control.

The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day,
the next hour are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
Arnold Bennett

Make as Many Mistakes as You Can

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Graduating is not something I have forgotten or better stated, I remember well how I felt at graduation. The title of my feelings could have been “Now What?”. Having spent years growing up and getting an education I was then standing on the threshold of a life I had yet to experience. Hopes and dreams were plenty, but what road to take toward them was fuzzy at best.

And so it is today, my third day into retirement from a long successful professional life. I am lucky and able to do this younger than most and am grateful for the opportunity. However, it feels like I am just past graduation again asking “Now What?”. There’s the same sense of things as when younger: lots I plan and imagine doing but uncertain where to begin.

In a book called “Hold Fast Your Dreams” Carrie Boyko and Kimberly Colen published twenty commencement speeches. Thumbing through it this morning I was touched by an address by Ken Burns at Georgetown University in 2006. Here’s a few highlights that stuck me as pertinent to my most recent “graduation”:

As you pursue your goals in life, that is to say your future, pursue your past. Let it be your guide. Insist on having a past and then you will have a future.

Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don’t confuse success with excellence.

Insist on heroes. And be one.

Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer.

Write: write letters. Keep journals. Besides your children, there is no surer way of achieving immortality.

Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, “God in us”.

Here at late morning I am off into my day with new inspiration borrowed from the past words of a man I know only through his documentaries and speeches. I am grateful the cosmos choose today for me to pull the book off my shelf that contained Ken Burns 2006 speech. Over and over and over… what I need arrives. All I have to do is believe and let things come to me in their own time. As long as I keep an open heart and mind they always seem to…

When we were five, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.
Our answers were thing like astronaut, president, or in my case… princess.
When we were ten, they asked again and we answered –
rock star, cowboy, or in my case, gold medalist.
But now that we’ve grown up, they want a serious answer.
Well, how ’bout this: who the hell knows?!
This isn’t the time to make hard and fast decisions,
its time to make mistakes.
Take the wrong train and get stuck somewhere chill. Fall in love – a lot.
Major in philosophy ’cause there’s no way to make a career out of that.
Change your mind. Then change it again, because nothing is permanent.
So make as many mistakes as you can. That way, someday,
when they ask again what we want to be… we won’t have to guess.
We’ll know.
Stephenie Meyer

Little Bit of Harmless Insanity

DSCN0880Being blessed with a successful career allowed me to live a life filled with comfort and acquiring material things, the quantity of which go far beyond what I now consider ‘normal’. With the ability to “have” I overdid it to where the magnitude of my possessions have become something of a curse. It never occurred to me at the time of buying that one day I would have to do something with it all. So easy it came to convert money into things, but the conversion of things back into money is difficult and time-consuming.

When I was fifteen I met a boy a couple of years older who had more record albums than I had ever seen any place except a record store. I decided “he who has the most records wins” and from that thought I began a collection that is now well over 4000 LPs. Then there are the 45’s, cassettes and CD’s that come along with a healthy addiction to music. Without doubt it is wonderful to be able to listen to just about anything I want when I want to. What is not so great is that a hundred records weights about eighty pounds and my collection LPs weighs about two tons! Over time I have moved them from the Atlantic to the Pacific and lots of other places in between. There’s a little bit of harmless insanity within that somewhere.

My music collection is just the beginning. There’s all the DVD’s and Blueray’s (thankfully most of the VHS tapes are gone!). Don’t even get me started about a book collection that runs about 150 linear feet! And then all the antiques and collectables I have amassed. My home is about 3500 sq feet and while cluttered it is orderly and organized. But then there is the ten by 25 foot storage until full of stuff also. It blows my mind now that I managed to acquire all this “stuff”.

Moving into a different phase of my life now with wishes for more freedom, I have a sizeable task in front of me. Once I stop working at a regular job every day (soon) so I chase more of my dreams, one of my first tasks has to be scaling back on the sheer quantity of my material possessions. I am more than a little embarrassed that I mindlessly spent so many years building this mountain of stuff that is now a burden. Looking ahead I hope to adopt more of the attitude of William Henry Channing:

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not, rich;
to listen to stars and birds,
babes and sages, with open heart;
to study hard;
to think quietly,
act frankly,
talk gently,
await occasions,
hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common
…this is my symphony.

To not be too hard on myself, it is important to acknowledge that one can not see the next horizon past the one currently in view. When younger there was much satisfaction in enjoying my hobbies, shopping for antiques and showing off my treasures. Then it would have been impossible to know the wisdom that comes from living past my “acquiring years”. I am grateful for the clarity to see I spent a large part of my life climbing the ‘stuff mountain’. Now I am now on the other side where it is liberation from material things I wish to gain. For me, this is a VERY important nugget of wisdom!

Anything you cannot relinquish
when it has outlived its usefulness
possesses you,
and in this materialistic age
a great many of us
are possessed by our possessions.
Peace Pilgrim

Freedom and Choice

A futurist’s comments I read about fifteen years ago predicted one day the number of big stores where you go to buy things would be far fewer. The suggestion was made that instead of going to Sears or Best Buy to make a purchase, in the future one might pay admission to a “display store” that had one each of many things to peruse. A choice made could be bought on the spot but only with delivery later to the buyer’s home within a few days.

A couple of the major Internet sellers are experimenting with same day delivery in New York City this holiday season. Things are changing!

The futurist also predicted grocery stores much smaller than what we have now would become popular for two reasons: 1) Some people don’t like all the walking and searching necessary in big box stores and 2) a good number of consumers actually want LESS choices. Smaller stores have always been a factor for the inner portions of major East Coast metropolitan cities. Same is true in Europe to an even greater degree for cities and towns of all sizes.

Most people equate choice and freedom. It seems so reasonable. Freedom means you are free to choose, right? It means you are free from restrictions. If you can’t choose, then you are not free. And it would seem to follow that the more choice you have, the more freedom you have. But it doesn’t work out that way.

The more options you have, the more energy you have to invest in making decisions. Which shampoo? Which car? Which dress? Which restaurant? Which movie? Your energy and attention are consumed by these decisions, and you have less left with which to live your life.

What does choice give you? One answer is that choice makes it possible for you to shape your world according to your preferences. All this does is to enable you to fashion a world that is an extension of your own patterns. With modern technology, you can weave a cocoon of your preferences and rarely run into anything that contradicts them. You end up isolated from the richness and complexity of life.

What is freedom? It is the moment-by-moment experience of not being run by one’s own reactive mechanisms. Does that give you more choice? Usually not. When you aren’t run by reactions, you see things more clearly, and there is usually only one, possibly two courses of action that are actually viable. Freedom from the tyranny of reaction leads to a way of experiencing life that leaves you with little else to do but take the direction that life offers you in each moment. From an article in the Winter 2012 Tricycle Magazine titled “Freedom and Choice: Breaking free from the tyranny of reaction” by Ken McLeod.

Thoughts of simplifying my life are getting stronger year by year, which is odd since I have spent my adult life accumulating. In my last move it became readily apparent what a burden “all my stuff” has become. I’m a single man who lives alone in a home of over 3000 square feet filled with stuff that took two moving trucks and six men fourteen hours to load and unload. I only moved a mile and a half!

When I read what I just wrote, I feel a bit ridiculous made worse by the knowing I have a big rental storage unit for things my home has no room for. I am grateful for the growing realization and acceptance that one day all of my stuff will be someone else’s.

The model of ownership,
in a society organized round mass consumption,
is addiction.
Christopher Lasch

Dreamers of the Day

 

For all wishers and dreamers;
For those who hope and pray;
For every faithful schemer;
Who lives from day-to-day;
Are words that count to forty-nine
With wisdom inside for you to find.

 

All people dream, but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind
Wake in the morning to find that it was vanity.

But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people
For they dream dreams with open eyes
And make them come true.
D.H. Lawrence

 

More than ever my dreams are before me.  Like never before they seem possible.  The path to them has become no easier, nor has some windfall of money or brain-power fallen upon me.  I labor under no great epiphany or increase in fortitude and strength. 

What has changed is I am open to what comes and truly believe I can accomplish most anything I set my full self toward. Simply here in the later stages of my life FINALLY I have learned to truly believe in myself and what I am capable of doing.  That understanding comes from a freeing of my mind, a loosing my grasp on much that does not matter and learning to lean on and trust a power beyond my understanding or explanation. 

Letting go, not trying to control everything and being open to “what is” was my new beginning. And for that my gratitude is profound and deeply meaningful.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
From “The Book of Good Cheer” by Edwin Osgood Grover