Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Serenity

The Serenity Prayer is a troubling bit of naive advice.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

The more well known first five verses set up the contrast between action and inertia, between courage and wisdom, between divinity and humanity. For believers in a monotheistic world, it seems to be a means to shift blame and justify inaction. For unbelievers, it points to wisdom as the inspiration for decisions rather than any god or gods. The Glori Patre formulation brings familiarity.

The second stanza becomes very Buddhist for the first three lines. Accepting the world as it is rather than as I would have it be, is easy to say and certainly harder to do. In my morning meditation, I can be accepting of my surroundings; the light, sounds, and energy around me. I have learned to accept my aches, physical, emotional, and intellectual for the moments that I rest in awareness of my body but the experience is fleeting as I return to the room, the house, the world.

The metaphoric invocation is abrupt but temporary in line eight. Almost as an aside, an incantation that harkens the magic and power from beyond. The poet becomes frenetic jumping from self to Saviour as the reason to live and the means to solve the anxiety of decisions. If I relinquish the decision and the responsibility for it, I am absolved. Even if I don’t fully and truly accept the Christian myth, I am restored for making or not making a choice to act.

The prayer ends, as all good prayers should, with the incantation; repeated and bleated by so many. In the call for agreement, we reinforce the fiction that we have created together and which is necessary to make any sense of our world, our place and the concept of prayer.

As the prayer closes, it makes the big promise that regardless of whether I have wisdom or courage or knowledge and without consideration for how my self-imposed choice impacts others, I will live forever with the one who releases me of the responsibility.

To be clear, I have prayed this prayer on many occasions and my significant action bias always won out even when I didn’t have the necessary information to make the choice wisely. For the times when I know that my choice to act caused harm and for those times that I don’t recognize the hardship I contributed to, I accept responsibility. For the times that my limited view of the world suggests that my action was neutral or helpful, I accept responsibility too. No passing the buck, no shared fiction, just me being responsible or irresponsible in the moment.

This post was precipitated by having someone say to me ” God helps those who help themselves” in what I felt was a callous response to some homeless people we had an encounter with. He didn’t appreciate me suggesting that his statement was an acknowledgement that there is no god and if he still believed there was then, from my reading of scripture, that he was missing the big point by weaving a thick veil with a whole lot of very small stuff. Not my finest moment. But I was frustrated by his words and concerned that I didn’t have a better response to the two women and a man other than the giving of alms (which readers of this post will remember, I have referred to as a status verification absolution practice. ) If charity is the best we can do, so be it. But charity shouldn’t stop us from looking for root causes. If we continue to manage social issues, social issues manage to continue.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. ~ John F. Kennedy

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Success

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What constitutes success? How do you measure the value of a minute, an hour, a lifetime? Is the accumulation of material goods and zeroes a meaningful metric? How much is enough? Is there such a thing as too much?
For regular readers, you will know that I tend to believe and try to practice the belief that our lives aren’t measured by what we have but rather by what we do. Too much creates an expectation of more and a dissatisfaction with the present.
If I live my life with open hands; allowing gifts and possessions to be shared rather than accumulated, my hands never seem to be empty. When I close my fists on money, material belongings, relationships, ideas then there isn’t room for additional, new, exciting possibilities. There isn’t a motivation to seek out new people or room in the closed fist to caress a new idea.
My success is measured by the incremental changes that my curiousity and relationships bring me. I am better (more successful) on the days that I am open to the unknown, interested in mystery, and able to have impactful and challenging conversations with the people that I encounter on the adventure of my day.
We have stuff and sometimes I cling to it but mostly it gets in the way of explaining, learning, sharing because the stuff says more about me (and things I don’t aspire to have said) than my intellect, rhetoric and actions. If the bling and accessories don’t add to my essence then they are detracting from who I want to be and how I want to be remembered.

Shedding stuff is difficult, especially if we have vested personal importance in their status and allowed them to become proxies for true meaning. It may be easier to succeed in not acquiring objects that are peripheral to your life mission. If I want to live a more self-sustaining life, does a luxury SUV or the latest Keurig machine fit inside or outside the path? (does the latest anything fit?)

In a Business Insider article Arriana Huffington says “To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric,” she says, “a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”
In the same article Winston Churchill says “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”.

It seems that others have been asking the “what is success” question for decades, maybe centuries. How do you know or feel your success? Do you? What needs to change so your metrics are meaningful for you? Are you ready and willing to shift your focus and live life a new way?

B

Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Contentment

 

soloWhere does discontent come from? How can I shift the blame? the perception, the perspective? Is discontent merely a figment of an ego driven mind? I crave attention, I don’t get attention so I feel discontent. I want more, I don’t get more so I feel discontent. Can the process be reversed? I am content, I don’t get more, I don’t want more. I am content, I don’t get attention, I don’t seek attention.
That would mean that contentment, like so many other things, is a choice I get to make. I can look at the menu and choose to embrace my current circumstances without expectation, envy, or external drivers.

If chasing riches, adding Facebook friends, impressing bosses, buying stuff,
believing myths is a way to find satisfaction, why can’t we bypass the noise and get right to the music? ” I choose to be satisfied” ” I will sing my own song of happiness”.

Regardless of what the world tells us, we should desire, can’t we still seek something else? I was party to the race to fame and fortune and still find myself running alongside the sprinters but I continue to try live a life less conventional. On the best of days, I hold deeply and loosely the values and relationships that mean the most to me. I swim in the satisfaction that my ‘heart’ feels and rest on the shore as my mind’s cravings begin to still.

I certainly haven’t mastered any of this and can find myself wanting, wishing, chasing, coercing and cursing but I can choose to be satisfied in the moment and joyful in being present. I remind myself that what the world wants me to want isn’t what I want. I remember that I am satiated by music, books, love, nature and agitated by the clamouring of stuff and accumulation. I measured how long I felt satisfied after buying a new outfit. The glow was strong in the store but faded as I was heading home. I got a rebound on the occasion that I first wore the shirt and shorts but in total, I received less than 40 minutes of good feelings from the purchase. On the other hand, I can spend hours in the company of friends and family or in a great book and be filled with contentment. The return on investment from the latter outstrips the former even as the principle message I receive tells me the opposite.

Today, I spent time accomplishing small tasks; cleaning, mending, writing and enjoying reading, riding, running and resting. I had lunch on a rooftop and took in the view, did maintenance on our home and cleaned up from a storm. My day was around people that I care about and I come to the end of another rotation feeling fulfilment and happiness and I don’t have anything material to show for it. I will see if I can end on the same note tomorrow having played a similar tune and I will try not to add anything to my closets, bookshelves, or larder.

Can you acquire less tomorrow and feel joy and gratification because that is the choice you make when you get up? Are you willing to give it a try?

Make Tomorrow Remarkably Satisfying,

Bob

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

This too Shall Pass (Likely)

Why do things have a way of working themselves out? For most of us, most of the time, regardless of how much or how little planning things have a way of working themselves out. Even when a detour jumps out of the bushes or the sky seems to fall on our heads, we find our way to the end of the road. It might not be the destination we were seeking or via the route that we expected but somehow we make it out the other side. Tragedy can strike and we go on, a windfall can arrive or be lost and we continue, or boredom, stress, or health concerns weigh us down and we march on.

Most of us have had setbacks that knocked the wind out of us and left us reeling; an untimely death, an unexpected diagnosis, a broken relationship and yet we soldier on. We reflect, we ruminate, we readjust, and we remain. I don’t believe there is an exceptional characteristic that allows us to overcome. It seems to lie in the process.

There is a bit of ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”, a bit of ” don’t let the bastards beat you down” and a lot of living in the pain and through the pain to the other side. Sometimes the ache can be erased, sometimes it can be accepted easily, but mostly it needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and absorbed. The suffering and pain leads to somewhere, somewhere better or at least different from the current state. To clarify, I am not talking about individuals who suffer from debilitating and deteriorating illness. Their condition might leave little room for relief from long-term distress. But if someone is suffering from diabetes and their illness is managed by treatment, they go through an initial depression but generally adapt to the new normal of medication and/or injections and the regimen becomes part of their day-to-day.

Unfortunately, what seems like an organic process of reflection and recovery requires intention and commitment to staying the course when our instincts scream retreat. Living in the anguish without judgement, accepting that many/most things are beyond the span of our control, and resolving to allow for the time it takes and the energy it requires to feel the depths, hold in the deeps and rise up, in a controlled, steady ascent. This is not something to be taken lightly nor without support.

The world is a much better place when we live in interdependent relationships; giving and taking support, grace, and service to each other. It is difficult for many of us to seek and accept these gifts from others, even those closest to us. We find it much easier and more pleasant to give love, provide nurturing and solve problems for others. There is a happiness glow that occurs when we use our strengths to strengthen others because our brain chemistry is triggered to release chemicals that interact with neurons that signal pleasure in our brains. When we ignore or reject assistance from those around us or stoically deny we have any issues, we are robbing our friends and family of the same pleasure we seek.

My thesis is that we overcome circumstances and adapt with the help of those in our community (community being a group of people who know and depend on each other) while we recognize, acknowledge and live through the downs and ups in our lives.

Who depends on you? Who do you depend on? How are you ‘working through’ a detour or unexpected situation in your life?

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

The Harder Way

If we embrace a bit of inconvenience, how do we benefit? Convenience is a set of stepping stones that easily and harmoniously lead to the same conclusion as yesterday and the day before. If I always accept the ‘easy’ way it becomes the only way. If I use my private vehicle as a convenient tool to avoid planning, avoid exercise, and avoid thinking I am blindly going where I always go. But if I consider my options, reflect on what I want to accomplish and make a plan, I can save time, gas, frustration and expand my mind rather than shrink it into tiny status quo blob.

adventure
We have stopped considering options. The mediocrity rut will lead to the grave without any personally generated excitement.
(Not to dwell on automobile use because the issue of defaulting into convenience is across all elements of our lives but where I live the truck is a god-given-over-my dead-body right and suggesting that there might be a different approach is worth your life and would be political suicide.)
Inconvenience wakes us up and conversely convenience keeps us inert and supposedly satisfied. Shake up your routine, walk when you could drive, mail when you could text, call instead of email, get up early, go to bed early, make a meal rather than takeout, think about a different way to use the next ten minutes and then do it.

Go out of your way to help a friend, a stranger, an enemy. Do something difficult and do something the hard way. If you are considering doing something and think ” that wouldn’t be to hard” or “that should be easy”, imagine a way to make the task more difficult, more perfect, and then take the high road.

I have discovered that the difference between good and great is a matter of inches but on far too many occasions, I am tempted and then convinced to be satisfied with good. When I go the extra inches, I feel better about myself and my performance and the interaction is remembered and appreciated.

Surprise yourself and others by going the extra inches and intentionally taking the hatd way.

B