Living, Aging, and Creating

Crazy Music
Crazy Music (Photo credit: pfly)

A dozen quotes to ponder, laugh over, or even use as journal writing prompts.

I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn’t play it. – Charlie Parker

For many people, reality is an acquired taste. At first glance, you may have uncomfortable and disturbing experiences. – Robert Fritz

I left myself, drove all night without stopping, called myself from a phone booth to say I was sorry it had to be this way. – Sy Safransky, “The Sun” magazine

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. – John Irving

Who I am is just the habit of what I always was, and who I’ll be is the result. – Louise Erdrich, “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy.”

He closed his eyes. He was aware of so much, and it all escaped him. – David Plante, “The Woods”

We outlive ourselves. We look back and recognize no one. – Joyce Carol Oates, “Childwold”

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed. – Lao Tzu

It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you have a talent, use it in every which way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke. – Brendan Behan

A person dies for the first time at the age when he loses his enthusiasm. – Honoré de Balzac

If you prepare for old age, old age comes sooner. – Dr. Robert Anthony

The Consistency Hobgoblin

Eat Your Vegetables, They're Good For You!
Eat Your Vegetables, They’re Good For You! (Photo credit: the bridge)

Consistency is a concept that has developed a bad rap, at least in some neighborhoods. I’m not sure why this is but I suspect it’s because consistent has become another thing we should be, at least in regard to developing those habits that are good for us. Right off the bat, labeling a habit as being good for us automatically makes it a tough sell. If it was something we were going to enjoy, we wouldn’t have to persuade ourselves to do it on a regular basis, would we?

For some, consistent = boring and repetitious. It connotes a lack of spontaneity and freedom and engenders an instantaneous desire to rebel. It evokes, for those folks, the mental image of swallowing an evil-tasting pill. Ugh.

For others, consistency is nearly as elusive to achieve as locating the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It seems like a really good idea. At least they’ve heard that it is. Not being consistent at maintaining good for them habits makes some of these people feel bad about themselves and what they perceive of as their lack of will power.

For yet others, consistency is but a speck in the rear view mirror as they speed past it all the way to rigidity. Good ideas, good for them habits, personal goals or intentions—all are transformed into self-imposed rules that must—and will—be adhered to no matter what.

Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead. –Aldous Huxley

Maybe we ought to look a little deeper into those things we think we should be more consistent about. When you hear yourself say I know I should be [fill in the blank], stop and ask yourself why you think you should be doing—or not doing—whatever it is. Because it’s good for you isn’t a good enough answer.

If you can’t come up with a better one, maybe you’re putting the cart before the horse. Maybe you’re trying to make some positive changes without having clearly defined what you are aiming for in the long run. What do you want to get out of being more consistent about [fill in the blank] and why do you want that? What is the overall positive outcome you’re trying to achieve?

If you’re aiming for something you really want, and you identify the steps it will take to get there, it’s a lot easier to be consistent about taking them. I don’t mean to imply it’s that simple or easy because it isn’t. But if you have gotten to this point and you know the what and the why of the habit you want to change or begin or improve, there’s a process, outlined by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, that can help you do it.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense. –-Charles Duhigg

Since there’s an element in the formation and continuation of habits that is outside of our conscious awareness, we may as well stop beating ourselves up over our track records in regard to consistency. Much more useful to learn how to work with what scientists call “the habit loop.” Duhigg’s book is a great place to start.

~ ~ ~

Thank you, Beverly, Jean, and Linda. 🙂

No App for Happiness

We know now that external circumstances don’t predicate happiness. As we know, there are many poor people who are very happy and wealthy people who are extremely depressed, suicidal. What I’m talking about is the daily experience of a meaningful life. I find that when people feel like they have meaning in their lives, they define themselves as happy. They want to get up in the morning. It’s not just a fleeting experience because they had a glamorous holiday or won the lottery or something, but they actually have meaning. Meaning brings fulfillment. So the first imperative is self-awareness.

Max Strom, author of There Is No App for Happiness
Interviewed by Suzanne Lindgren in the January/February 2013 Utne Reader

The book isn’t yet available. But here’s Max Strom giving a TEDx talk in Greenville:

If you listen to/watch the video, please note that Max Strom is on Facebook. 🙂

Everything Happens…

Random (Photo credit: tim ellis)

Whenever I hear someone say that everything happens for a reason, I have to bite my tongue. The words are usually uttered either to comfort someone or to explain something that is very painful or difficult and often sudden. But I’ve never been sure how that’s supposed to work. Are we supposed to feel better because there was a reason for what happened? Are we supposed to be less devastated, injured, or cold and hungry (if we were to end up on the street, say)? I’d certainly want to know the reason why that happened.

But the point of the proverb is that we don’t or can’t know the reason, so we just have to trust that there is one. We are also supposed to believe that no matter how awful whatever it is is, it is in our best interest. Our long-term best interest, needless to say, since in the short-term it seems to be a monkey-wrench of major or minor proportion.

But reason implies intent on the part of someone or something—God or maybe the universe that is reputedly poised to align itself with our wishes. So God or the (sentient?) universe intentionally set this up as a means to some end. Since we aren’t privy to knowing why, we’ll just have to stumble along, suck it up Job-like, and wait for the outcome to be revealed.

In the meantime, we can try to wrest some meaning from it.

A Narrative Device?

Theological and philosophical minds much greater than mine have wrestled with this issue and arrived at their own conclusions. A simple explanation is this. Humans began making up stories to explain the world around them as soon as they had the language for it. It’s what we do. We crave explanation and certainty and the logical narrative structure that stories provide. Everything happens for a reason is merely a device for tying up those loose ends in the story that can’t otherwise be satisfactorily explained. Perhaps the reason will be revealed in the sequel.

All any of us can say with certainty is that everything that happens happens. Events we don’t expect may feel random, but there are plenty of here-and-now cause-and-effect explanations for most of what occurs. Those explanations may not be particularly satisfying, however. Bad things happen to good people. And it can be very difficult to come to terms with them when they do. Believing that everything happens for a reason might make someone feel less isolated and victimized and more hopeful that the terrible circumstance will eventually lead to a greater good.

It’s interesting, though, that we don’t use this expression or seek to find the deeper meaning when sudden and inexplicable good fortune befalls us. Shouldn’t the corollary be that unexpected happy events will eventually give rise to painful ones?


Have you heard the Taoist story Maybe?

An old farmer worked his crops for many years. His horse ran away one day. His neighbors heard about this and came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The next morning, the farmer’s horse returned, bringing three other wild horses with it. “Wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

The following day, the farmer’s son was trying to ride one of the wild horses but was thrown from it and broke his leg. The neighbors sympathized with the farmer’s misfortune.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The day after that, some military officials came to the farmer’s village to draft young men into the army. Since the farmer’s son’s leg was broken, they did not take him. The farmer’s neighbors congratulated him on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” he said.

Is this story implying there was a master plan in place that caused the farmer’s horse to run away, find and return with the wild horse the farmer’s son tried to ride but couldn’t, thereby breaking his leg and exempting himself from the military draft? Of course not.

The meaning of events is determined by the contexts within which they occur. As contexts change or are redefined, our interpretation of the meaning of events changes, too. We can count on the fact that contexts–and perspectives–will change. Does that mean that an event that seems disastrous today will look totally different down the road? Maybe.

Whose Life Purpose Is it, Anyway? Pumpkinfest Pumpkinfest (Photo credit: leesean)

Purpose is a term freighted with significance; life purpose even more so. Realizing what our life purpose is—let alone fulfilling it—is so daunting a task that there’s a huge industry out there that wants to help us with it. Because we have to have one, right? If we don’t find it and go after it, life will be empty and our lives will have been wasted. This is tough enough to deal with early on in life, but as we get older it can lead to all kinds of stress and anxiety. If we haven’t found it yet, does that mean we’re failures? Or is there still time to undertake the quest?

Assuming we actually do have a life purpose, why is it so hard to determine what it is for so many people? What’s the big mystery? Whose purpose is it, anyway? If it’s yours, it should not be opaque to you. If it’s part of some universal master plan that requires we race through a series of mazes like rats in order to find the life-purpose cheese, do you really want to play that game? I don’t.

Life mission is another one of those terms, but with a twist that includes coming up with a mission statement for your life. It would be interesting to take a poll to find out how many people have written mission statements for their lives. But I think I already know what the results would be: damn few.

This idea that each of us has a specific life purpose probably derives from humanity’s deep need to understand the much bigger picture: the purpose or meaning of life itself. That isn’t something we can actually know from our particular vantage point, but it’s hard to live with the unknowing. So we search for the meaning of life and try to figure out what our purpose is in having one (a life).

This may seem radical to some, although I know it won’t to others, but if there’s a big-picture purpose to your being alive right now, you probably will never know what it is. If you believe you’ve found it and are living it, congratulations. I mean that sincerely. But if you’re still looking for it, feel free to give up the search. Have a bowl of ice cream. Listen to some music. Call a friend. Enjoy your day.