Stuff happens. What happens is neither good nor bad. It merely IS. But we, in our attempt to understand everything, stick labels on things. We call things big or small, hot or cold, smooth or rough. These descriptive words can help, but where we go astray is when we label things as `good' or `bad.' These two words (and other negative and positive words) do not describe reality; they merely describe how we FEEL at the moment.
For instance, as I write this, it is raining and the sky is grey. Suppose a friend calls from another city and asks me what the weather is like. If I were to answer, "The weather is lousy," that does not describe what is happening outside (the weather), but what is happening inside (my feelings). We cannot master life until we master how we describe it, for the words we use determine how we feel. Does it make sense to describe a rainy day as `lousy'? Why would I want to feel bad?
Suppose I had answered my friend's question differently. If I had stuck to the facts and said, "It is raining and the sky is grey," then I would have been detached from the events (rain and grey sky) and free to go on enjoying life. The way we see things is not based on reality but, on a choice we make. Why not choose to see things pragmatically. That is, pick a viewpoint that works for you, empowers you. Why spend time choosing a viewpoint that works against you and prevents you from getting the most out of life?
Suppose you lived at the foot of a mountain. Would you see the mountain as a glorious opportunity for adventure by conquering it and yourself? Or would you see it as requiring too much effort to scale and just an inconvenient barrier? I believe the perspective of G. K. Chesterton (1874~1936) is the correct one, "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."
A mountain is whatever we say it is, inconvenience or adventure. So it is with life. The choice of how we look at it is a switch that fills our lives with light or darkness. Why is it that many people still don't realize that it is THEIR FINGER that is on the switch? I choose to see life as a magnificent adventure, not a struggle that I have to put up with. As a result, I have known and continue to experience many adventures.
Today, many of us work with computers. Although I love computers, every now and then something goes wrong, such as misplacing a file. But when something goes amiss, it is not because the computer doesn't like me or life is unfair, but because I did something wrong. I try to learn from my mistake and avoid making similar errors again. I'm sure you behave in the same way.
Yet, when it comes to managing the greatest computer of all (our brain and mind), many act differently. When they get bad results, rather than trying to learn from what they did incorrectly, they search for scapegoats. Instead of seeking solutions they search for excuses.
Many computer users are familiar with the term GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out), which simply means that the results we get are only as good as the input. The same is true for the computer that controls my life (my brain and mind). If I put garbage in my mind (negative thoughts), the output will be garbage (an unhappy life).
It is essential that we clearly understand the relationship between our thoughts and the life we experience. If I insist on dwelling on negative thoughts, I will feel negative, which will lead to negative behavior, which in turn will bring about negative results. Of course, when I choose to focus on the positive, the opposite happens. In a word, what I choose to think about acts as a switch that either opens the blinds, flooding my life with light, or closes the blinds, shutting out the light.
Since we have a choice, doesn't it make sense to look at life as an exciting adventure? Many have already done so, and here are two examples:
1. "Never forget that life can only be nobly inspired and rightly lived if you take it bravely and gallantly, as a splendid adventure in which you are setting out into an unknown country, to meet many a joy, to find many a comrade, to win and lose many a battle." (Annie Besant, 1847~1933).
2. "What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for." (George Leigh Mallory, 1886~1924).
Before we can make the right choices, we have to be aware of our choices. The great writer Joseph Epstein contrasts what we can and cannot choose:
"All men and women are born, live, suffer and die; what distinguishes us one from another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about... We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, WE DO CHOOSE HOW WE LIVE."
Thus far I have been emphasizing the power of choice for good reason, but in all fairness, not everyone is equally free to make the right choices. You and I will choose to cross the street when the light is green and choose to wait when the light is red. But what if you are blind? Well, depressed people are blind. They cannot see the joy, wonder, and glory that surrounds them. Not because they are lazy or stupid, but because they suffer from a mental disorder. So, if you know some very negative people, try not to judge them harshly and wish them well.
Adventure is the champagne of life. Like champagne, make your life sparkle. But what of those who have not yet discovered that life is an adventure? What can they do to bring themselves closer to this empowering point of view? Developing the curiosity, courage, and commitment of a child would help.
Children are filled with insatiable curiosity. Each step they take is a step into the unknown. What will they discover next? What will they encounter around the corner? They lead the life of an adventurer and explorer. They don't understand the meaning of `boring.' You were once that child and you have the right to reclaim that inquisitive spirit.
It's not hard to do so. Start by shifting your attention away from that empty, banal chatter that clutters your mind and focus on what is happening around you now. What do you hear? Can you tune in on something enchanting or fascinating? Be curious. Search for it. Find it.
Do the same with your other senses. For instance, how many of the surrounding odors, aromas, or fragrances can you identify? How many of them were you ignoring or overlooking? Let's try the other senses. What about touch? Can you feel the warmth or coolness of your environment? Where do you feel it most?
How about taste? Lick your lips. How do they taste? Why do they taste that way? Is it because of something you ate or drank or because of the environment (the rain or a sea breeze)? Look around you. What do you see that is interesting or different? These exercises help to draw us out of the fantasy world of our imagination and replant us in reality. How can we enjoy life if we are unaware of its presence?
Also, be curious about your own mind. Explore it. Rather than ignoring the chatter of your mind, observe it. What are you usually thinking about? Are your thoughts helpful or harmful? If harmful, what thoughts should you replace them with?
Because every step a child takes is a step into the unknown, it takes great courage to continue on its journey of discovery. Courage is the second trait of a child that we need to reclaim. For without it, our journey may come to an abrupt halt. Johann Friedrich Von Schiller (1759~1805) put it well, "Who dares nothing, need hope for nothing."
And Patrick Overton's Faith Poem offers artful encouragement:
"When you walk to the edge of all the light you have And you take the first step into the darkness of the unknown You must believe that one of two things will happen There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly." (http://www.patrickoverton.com/)
Here are two more lessons about courage:
1. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." (Anais Nin, 1903~1977)
2. "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." (T. S. Eliot, 1888~1965)
As young children explore their world, they may slip, stumble, or stagger, but if they fall, they simply pick themselves up and go on again. This is the third characteristic of children that we need to reclaim, commitment. Those who are committed, never give up. Their mindset doesn't allow it. To them, there is no such thing as failure, only lessons to be learned. Of course, we are free to ignore our lessons and drop out of life's school, but at what price?
Let's turn again to Anais Nin for wisdom:
"It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before... to test your limits... to break through barriers.
"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
Within you is a bud waiting to blossom. It is a little child with curiosity, courage, and commitment, that is eager to participate in the adventure we call life. Are you willing to embrace that child, take it by the hand, and join it on its remarkable journey?