From stories in my newsfeed recently:
- Video of a brain in action, creating thoughts in response to external stimulii
- Pictures of famous landmarks…FROM SPACE!
- Our science robots have gathered more evidence for flowing water on Mars
- The age-old story of power, the gain and loss of, updated for the age of a vast global network of information, accessible instantly from nearly ubiquitous devices.
- One of those devices? A pair of eyeglasses that will speak to you via bone conduction
But enjoy the future, folks. You’re living in it.
In the game of Gratitude Journal Bingo, “Spouse” is practically a free space. If you have a spouse or partner, it’s trivially easy to be grateful for any of a hundred things about them. So, rather than just say, “You’re really great, you know? Just really, really…great,” I prefer to focus on a particular quality that demonstrates what is so amazingly kick-ass about the person. In my wife’s case, I’m focusing on her enthusiasm, and specifically, her enthusiasm for planning vacations.
I’m the type of vacationer who wants to get a general idea of the activities I would find interesting, pick a few “must haves” and leave the rest to chance. My wife is far more…detailed. For her, the planning is an intensely enjoyable part of the experience, and it allows her to get excited for the trip long before the actual departure date. That excitement can be a bit wearing at times, especially when the trip is months away yet, but overall, it keeps the entire family interested and engaged. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s one of the countless things I’m grateful for about her.
Even though I don’t really do New Years’ resolutions, I enjoy it as a milestone. I particularly like the opportunity it gives for reminiscing about the past year, and looking forward to the year ahead. Normally, I cultivate a present-focus: I try to remain aware of what is happening now, rather than worrying or anticipating the future, or regretting or gloating about the past. But from time to time, I let myself indulge in a bout of unapologetic nostalgia for the year that has passed, as well as a bit of daydreaming about the year to come.
I hope you find some time in the midst of your celebrations to spend a few minutes in contemplation of what has gone by, and what will come ahead.
Today, John Scalzi posted on his blog, “Whatever,” a profound statement:
The failure state of clever is “asshole.”
The older I get, the more often I use “clever” in a pejorative sense. When I was younger, and in love with the idea of being smarter than everybody else around me, I would often try to be clever for cleverness’ sake. As I aged, I started being clever as a shortcut to bypass some effort or process I felt was extraneous. Looking back on some of those works and projects now, I find myself thinking, more often than not, “What the hell was I thinking?”
Life lesson: Cleverness can bite you in your failure state. If you’re humble, you can talk yourself out of being clever and into being good. It’s a tough battle.
The story, which I’m lazily not going to look up, goes something like this: An elderly couple celebrates their long-time anniversary. Let’s say 50th. When asked by a well-wisher, “What’s the secret to staying married for so long?”, the man replies, “Don’t quit, don’t die.”
Today’s post on Zen Habits, “The One Deadly Sin of Changing Habits”, talks about that. The one guaranteed way to fail in starting a new habit is to not do the habit.
We see this all the time at our Aikido dojo. Someone will start training with us, and after a remarkably brief period of time—a couple of months, or weeks—they’ve stopped coming. “Work has really gotten busy,” they’ll say, or in one memorable instance, “I’m just not getting better.”
The funny thing about mastery: everyone who keeps practicing gets better. Everyone. Some people may get better faster than others, but everyone increases their level of competence up to the level of their practice.
Want to get better at something? Don’t quit, and don’t die.
I like simple.
After Joe Stack’s plane crash here in Austin–actually, let’s call it what it is: a murder/suicide, plain and simple–I come back to my usual refrain when faced with a tragedy like this.
What drives a person to these lengths?
What kind of pain would cause a person to consider this as the best option for dealing with it? Where in their thought processes does the switch from “I’ve had all I can take” to “I’m going to take everybody out” occur?
My working hypothesis is that it all comes down to the foundation upon which you’ve built your life. If you define yourself by your job, or by your income, or by your family, and that foundation is taken away for some reason, then the process of grieving and rebuilding has to start from a much lower place than someone who has a firmer foundation.
I’m passionately atheist, so the concept of a Higher Power appeals to me not at all. But the wisest words I have ever heard are the Serenity Prayer adopted by 12-step programs.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
There’s a fine line to walk between”I can’t change it, and I accept it,” and “I can’t change it, and I’m a victim.” Joe Stack crossed the line from accepting the things that cannot change to being victimized by those things. Then, when he’d had enough, he lashed out with horrific violence at the people he saw as victimizing him.
I don’t know the details of Stack’s situation beyond what he posted in his online rant. But let’s accept that absolutely everything in his rant is 100% factually accurate. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the government is corrupt, that the tax code revisions made it impossible for him to make his living, and that his accountant threw him under the bus during the audit. Now he is about to have everything taken away from him, and will have to start over yet again, with every chance of failing again. He may end up losing my wife and stepdaughter in the process.
Without changing any of those facts, consider these two perspectives:
My patience has run out and I have no control over my life anymore. The government is entrenched and powerful, and the only way I can affect my circumstances is to end them. Perhaps by ending them violently, I will be able to make the situation better for others.
Now, with exactly the same facts and pain, imagine intentionally adopting this perspective:
I have no control over my life. I have to accept that I may be in a car wreck tomorrow. I have no control over the weather, over other drivers, or over the people in the government who have stripped my livelihood away from me yet again to pad their own pockets. The only thing in this world that I control directly is my own reaction. I can choose to be angry, to be bitter, to live my life in fear, to end my life, or to end my life violently and take others with me. Or I can choose to live my life in the best way I can, continue to cultivate myself to be the best person I can be, despite the efforts of other people to suppress me.
Without diminishing the severity of the bad circumstances one iota, the second perspective allows a person to accept that they have the ultimate in control: They control their own reactions.
That’s an unimaginably powerful feeling. In the midst of pain and loss, I can face my own grief with the courage of knowing that I, and I alone, am responsible for the next words out of my mouth. Will they be virtuous or vitriolic? Hurtful or healing? Will they cause suffering, or ease it?
I can’t control how others react. I only control myself. And that is sufficient.
If Joe Stack had believed that, there would have been a lot less suffering this past week.