True Joy in Life

This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

The funny thing about discovering your true purpose is that it is rarely what you might have imagined it to be.

True purpose emerges from the inside out, and as such you cannot will it or intention it into being. It comes into focus as you serve those around you and gains definition as you wisely steward the resources at your disposal in any given moment. It cannot be attained through self-gratification or self-indulgence, in fact, it is known only as you remain faithful to a worthy purpose.

We all have our ups and downs, for there are a great many factors within us and beyond us that are not entirely under our control, but the closer you come to revealing your true purpose, the less likely it is that you will be turned from fulfilling it. My personal experience tells me that the most critical times are those where the chips are down, the world is pressing in and everything seems to be going wrong. It is in these times that your fidelity to your central purpose is put to the test.

While I wouldn’t wish such things on anyone, they are valuable to those interested in revealing their true purpose because they are typically filled with pressure. They are terribly uncomfortable, yet the pressure that builds can be used in relation to the fulfillment of your purpose if you manage not to react to it. Just as those who excel in the martial arts would use the force and momentum of an opponents attack to his advantage, so to do those who are at rest in the arms of their true purpose. When others are crying “I’ve got to get out of here” those whose life is on purpose are at peace, assured and ready to strike while the iron is hot, saying to the world around them “bring it on…I’m waiting for you.”

If you have not yet found your central purpose, give more, serve more. Let go more fully of the notion that your happiness and fulfillment can be extracted from the world around you, that they will come just as soon as your circumstances and relationships arrange themselves thus and so. Do so, and your purpose will soon come clear. Fail to do so and you cannot help but be reduced to a “feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances,” not because of the forces at work in the world beyond you, but because of a failure from within.

The choice is yours.

 

 

Good Company

The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”~ Epictetus

I discovered this simple truth the other day and despite its simplicity it is one of the most profound statements I’ve come across in a while. To follow this advice you needn’t be hardhearted, you just need to be willing to be governed by common sense and brave enough to choose your company carefully.

Bad company is addictive, but not for the reasons you might suspect. As you’ve probably experienced, keeping company with those who challenge you to rise up, to do better, to give more (in life and online!) is not always comfortable. It involves pressure. Bad company tends to sympathize with your weaknesses and encourage the expression of your faults, which strangely enough can be more comfortable. Bad company leaks the pressure that would otherwise compel you upward.

Who do you turn to when the pressure comes on, when you feel down and out or when you feel badly done by? Someone who will sympathize with your grievances and provide ready agreement with your complaints and accusations or someone who will say to you that you are not a victim and that you can rise above it?

The person you choose to place at the other end of the line of your call for help will either weigh you down or lift you up, help you to contain the pressure that allows for the birth of something new or leak it out.

Choose wisely.

 

A True Lady or Gentleman

I am inclined to agree more with Theodore Roosevelt’s assessment that courtesy is “as much a mark of a gentleman” than with Honore de Balzac’s less encouraging assessment of courtesy being “only a thin veneer on the general selfishness.” While the latter may be more predominantly the case, the former holds in it the promise of a brighter future, where the entropic nature of human nature is overcome by specific and deliberate action.

We are not slaves to human nature, although we are born into a world ruled by it. It is generally assumed that you must struggle to free yourself from the chains of human nature, that somehow through human intelligence it can be annihilated, but it is soon revealed to those who attempt to overcome on this basis that struggling only reinforces subjection to, as with a Chinese finger puzzle.

You cannot fear something so much that you eventually gain freedom from it. Likewise, you cannot hate something so much that you eventually are released from its grasp on you. Fear and hatred bind you to the subject of your antipathy. You inevitably move in the direction of your emotional response.

A true lady or gentleman recognizes that fear and hatred are never creative motivations. Both are survival instincts, developed over generations of living in a world that has come under the dominion of human nature, but neither are natural. They serve as a default mechanism for dealing with an often confusing and twisted world, yet in a truly refined lady or gentleman such defaults are never employed as a first line of defense let alone pulled out as a last resort. They are dropped from the vocabulary of “Being” altogether.

Men and women have marveled at the apparent power and seeming invincibility of human nature for centuries, if not eons. Human nature is the great and mighty usurper and those who would dare face it in battle face not so much a formidable foe, but a weak and petty taskmaster who has amassed billions of followers through the years. Its adherents are Christian, Muslim, Agnostic and atheist, in fact, the great god of human nature has little concern for distinctions which has caused its congregation so much grief, such as nationality, race, sex, color or creed. In fact, it welcomes the divisions, for ironically the more divided its congregants are, the more united its congregation is.

The more we fight, the more we argue, the more we disdain, accuse and condemn, the more we play into the hands of human nature. The less we do so, that is, the more we discover common ground, the more we approach one another with an underlying pattern of respect, the more we employ genuine courtesy with one another, the closer we become to one another and to the truth itself.

The truth is never in conflict with itself, therefore if humanity is aligned with the truth it is no longer in conflict with itself. “A tall order,” you might say, to which I reply “the truth eventually prevails.” So, why drag it out? Why not let it be the case in our living? Why not redirect the sense of awe we’ve held for human nature’s beastliness into a pattern of response that moves us in a completely different – more productive and more sensible! – direction?

The choice, ladies and gentleman, is yours. I can point to it. I can describe it in as many ways as I know how. I can implore you, but at the end of the day, the decision as to what you will dedicate your life to rests squarely in your hands.

What will it be?

The Courage to Face Ingratitude X

If a man receives a counterfeit dollar he does not straightway lose his faith in all money,—at least there are not such instances on record in this country. If he has a run of three or four days of dull weather he does not say ‘the sun ceases to exist, there are surely no bright days to come in the whole calendar of time.’

If a man’s breakfast is rendered an unpleasant memory by some item of food. That has outlived its usefulness, he does not forswear eating. If a man finds under a tree an apple with a suspicious looking hole on onside, he does not condemn the whole orchard; he simply confines his criticism to that apple. But he who has helped some one who, later, did not pass a good examination on gratitude, says in a voice plaintive with the consciousness of injury, and with a nod of his head the implies the wisdom of Solomon; ‘I have had my experience, I have learned my lesson. This is the last time I will have faith in any man. I did this for him and that for him, and now, look at the result!’

Then he unrolls a long schedule of favors, carefully itemized and added up, till it seems the payroll of a great city. He complains of the injustice of one man, yet he is willing to be unjust to the whole world, making it bear the punishment of the wrong of an individual. There is too much vicarious suffering already in this earth of ours without this Lilliputian attempt to extend it by syndicating one man’s ingratitude. If one man drinks to excess, it is not absolute justice to send the whole world to jail.” ~ William George Jordan

People form groups for all kinds of reasons. They have a common outlook, mutual interest or shared purpose. Book clubs. Churches. Political parties. Fantasy football leagues. Facebook friends. Ethnic groups. Nations. And the list goes on.

You no doubt belong to clubs, groups, online forums and the like, but have you given much thought to the syndicates you form and join by virtue of the daily attitudes you take in relation to the situations you face? Every time you express emotion or broadcast an attitude, you are plugging yourself into a largely invisible network of individuals who share your view on life.

Every ill spirit and bad attitude springs from a failure to orient in love or one of its many derivatives, including, but not limited to: like, care, healing, genuine concern or blessing. To the degree that you give an ill spirit residence in your heart, you are “plugged into” the network of hatred and its derivatives. This does not corrupt you entirely, but it does limit your effectiveness in living.

The same is true for those around you. The content of the heart and the way in which it is expressed gives evidence of underlying orientation. Most people exhibit a thorough mixture of orientation, carrying themselves nobly under certain circumstances and in some areas of their lives while acting sub-optimally in others. You, in your dealings with the world around you, are likely to come in contact with the “mixed” state on a daily basis, and you must take great care to separate that which merits your attention and support and that which must be either ignored or discouraged.

You must further take care not to paint the whole world with your momentary observations and discoveries. To do so gives evidence of a dreadfully unscientific and astigmatic approach to living. Regardless of how they got there, the mixtures are what they are. It is best to deal with them to the best of your ability and then move on. Don’t linger. Don’t dwell on them. Don’t obsess about them. They will drive you crazy if you choose – yes it is a choice! – to let them.

You need not let the shortcomings in others be reason for you to buy a lifetime membership in the syndicates of complaint, victimization or blame. The world will offer you a million and one reasons to join the many groups of people who have given up on the magic of life.

The choice, my dear readers, is yours.

Of Sound Mind and Body

It seems to me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be of sound mind and body in the world we’ve created for ourselves. We surround ourselves with all types of toxic substances – plastics, VOCs, chemicals and impurities – all the while increasingly isolating ourselves form the experience of the great outdoors. More often than not, the climate is controlled when we’re at home, while we travel around in our vehicles and while we’re at work and the air we breathe indoors in well-constructed, air-tight homes is often more deleterious to our health than the polluted air outside.

The environmental xenobiotics affect more than our bodies, in fact, they also impair our mental function. The extracellular matrix is increasingly befouled and research now shows that our cells themselves are being compromised by the increasingly toxic food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink. Such is the price of progress.

I mention these trends not to alarm or bemoan, but instead to raise awareness. The world we live in is the net result of the choices made by the body of humanity in the moments prior to the present. Change the choices and you change the world. It is that simple. Change your choices and you change your world.

Of even greater importance than what goes into you, in my book, is that which flows out of you. You have a choice as to whether your expression blesses and uplifts, purifies and inspires no matter how toxic the world around your might be. If that which flows out of you is not pristine, or at least the finest of which you are presently capable, the work you do on your body or mind will be of little import, for you will be like an attractive piece of fruit with a rotten core…worthless and unsatisfying.

Any step you take in the direction of greater soundness of mind or body influences the world beyond you. You are a part of a whole, a connected albeit not always integrated whole, whether you like to admit it or not. I’d like to challenge you, dear readers, to deliberately choose this weekend to move in the direction of soundness, be it of body, mind or heart.

Facing the Mistakes of Life I

As human beings endowed with the capacity of free will we are faced with a profound responsibility and an uncommon privilege. If you’ve lived any amount of time you realize that you occasionally make good choices and every so often you make a bad one. The good choices are as instructive as the bad ones, if you can maintain your perspective and poise in both success and failure.

A mature approach to making mistakes separates the men from the boys. I’ve noticed over the years that great personal progress can be made in the moments immediately following an error, whether intentional, accidental or forced.

William George Jordan put the matter of mistakes in a balanced perspective:

There are only two classes of people who never make mistakes,—they are the dead and the unborn. Mistakes are the inevitable accompaniment of the greatest gift given to man,—individual freedom of action. If he were only a pawn in the fingers of Omnipotence, with no self-moving power, man would never make a mistake, but his very immunity would degrade him to the ranks of the lower animals and the plants. An oyster never makes a mistake,—it has not the mind that
would permit it to forsake an instinct.

Let us be glad of the dignity of our privilege to make mistakes, glad of the wisdom that enables us to recognize them, glad of the power that permits us to turn their light as a glowing illumination along the pathway of our future.

The opportunity to make mistakes is in fact a privilege accorded to anyone who seeks to exercise his capacity for free will. Some people are afraid of making choices and prefer to defer their right to others in exchange for security or comfort. Others are driven to make decisions on behalf of as many people as they can get their hands on and the two sides mentioned here tend to come into agreement over time, balancing each other out, but greatly reducing the overall capacity for creative achievement in the process.

If you feel that you have made no mistakes recently, you’re likely not pushing yourself hard enough. When you live on the fine line between the known and the unknown, betwixt that which you’ve mastered and that which is yet new to you, you are bound to misstep every once in a while. That is a good sign! It means you’re moving. Whether it is the right move or not must be discerned but the fact is that you are not stagnant, stuck, and therefore rotting or sliding slowly backward.

Dominion versus Domination

Whether you believe that man was created to have dominion over the earth or that he evolved to dominate the food chain through a process of natural selection, it is in man’s best interest to exercise control in a way that promotes balance, sustainability and prosperity. Being at the top of the food chain has its privileges, but with it comes an enormous responsibility to steward the earth’s resources in a way that prevents their exhaustion from unrestrained consumption.

You influence the world around you through your thoughts, words and deeds. When you are radiant, you govern through inspiring and uplifting self-dominion. When you are reactive, you are controlled by external influences and your govern as a dictator, and you rule by usurping the power and authority of others around you.

I imagine that the earth could sustain the loss of human beings, though I hope with all my heart that it doesn’t come to that. Human beings, functioning wisely, are fountains of endless blessing and an axis of wise governance. Their capacity for the extension of dominion is unparalleled in nature, as is their capacity for destruction and desecration. Free will opens the door to one or the other.

How do you rule the world you center? Would you say that it is better characterized as a noble and true dominion or a cruel and domineering dictatorship? Dictators rule out of fear, desperately seeking to control the world around them. True leaders, on the other hand, rule through love and extend control in ways that draw forth the highest and finest in every one they serve. The former employ force, violence and coercion to achieve their ends, while the latter compel agreement through righteous example, unflinching courage and irrepressible respect.

The world needs more people who know how to encompass the world around them through the spirit of dominion. Such leadership demands nothing yet expects greatness, employs humility where others resort to pride and eschews expediency in favor of integrity, no matter how high the stakes, how intense the pressure or how complete the discomfort. Such leadership is possible, not just through others in an ideal world, but through you, here and now.

The choice is yours.