By Bread Alone

Analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour springs and germinates no more.” ~ Henri Frederic Amiel

Life is a mix of predictable cycles punctuated on occasion by the unexpected. The most obvious rhythms we experience are those caused by the machinations of the universe. Our planet turns on its axis, its revolutions give us a 24 hour day. Our orbital path around the sun provides us with a year, which is roughly 365.24 days. And the inclination of the earth on its axis – despite the occasional shift due to large earthquakes and the like – bring a regular pulsation of seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn.

Life is predictable on the whole, yet full of surprises. It is for this reason that the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” For example, fashion week in Paris saw unseasonable warm temperatures this year, rendering the autumn wardrobes packed by many of the attendees unwearable. On a less serious note, in 1971 a Soviet oil drilling rig accidentally punched a hole in a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Poisonous gas began leaking from the hole so the Soviets, in a effort to divert a larger problem, set the hole aflame. The hole has been burning ever since.

To be effective in living you must be well-prepared for the predictable and adroit in handling the unexpected. If you become prejudiced against surprise, where your first flush of feeling in relation to unforeseen events is “I hate surprises,” then you will likely confuse a blessing for a curse. If, on the other hand, you develop the ability to handle everything that happens within your scope of responsibility with equanimity and poise, then you can turn even the most shocking and unfortunate surprises into stepping stones for victory.

This sounds good, but how is it done? For starters, you have to make room in your consciousness for the unexpected to happen. Rather than steeling yourself against the capriciousness of life by trying to make everything routine through schedules, habits and inflexible opinions, keep it light by cultivating a lust for the adventure of life. Moreover, be spontaneous on occasion. Spontaneity – the exhibiting of actions, impulses, or behavior that are stimulated by internal processes – is your opportunity to infuse life with the creative impulses that come to focus in you.

One of my favorite poems on spontaneity speaks of a time not too long ago, where wells ran dry in the autumn. This was a predictable side-effect of the rhythmic pulsations of of the seasons, yet the children exercised their spontaneity in relation to an event that could have disheartened an otherwise happy person because of the inconvenience.

Going for Water by Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

Enjoy this lovely autumn day!

Attitude and Character

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” ~ Albert Einstein

Character flaws don’t just happen. They are formed over time like stalactites in a cave. They are rigid, yet ultimately fragile and they invariably complicate the passage from this moment to the next. Character flaws are not a necessity, only an unfortunate side-effect of careless attitudes.

If you are concerned to improve upon your character flaws, you must first make a thorough review of your daily attitude. How do you tend to receive the daily challenges which arise in your day? Are you upset by them, angered or thrown for a loop or do you take them in stride, thinking first and reacting later? Far too many people are tripped up on this point alone: they shoot first and ask questions later.

We tend to be creatures of habit. We sit in the same seats in a meeting room or a conference, even if it extends over several days. We drive the same routes to and from our daily stops despite the likely availability of many other routes. We form routines that get us up and going in the morning and that provide an initial rhythm for the day. These habits become engraved in our consciousness over time to the point that more and more of our day can be (and is likely) performed on an unconscious basis.

Most over time develop habits of reaction to external circumstance. When life lobs a sweet opportunity over the plate they tend to respond one way, while the curve balls receive a different, but similarly predictable treatment. This is the basic mechanism behind prejudice, jumping to conclusions and pet peeves.

Why not meet everything that comes your way with equanimity, poise and an eye for making the best use of what does unfold in your field of circumstance, no matter how favorably or unfavorably it is clothed. Think of attitude this way: attitude is the basic inclination with which you tend to confront the familiar as well as the unknown. It is just as easy to develop a habit of emphasizing the opportunity inherent in any circumstance no matter how infinitesimal it might be as it is to complain, deride, whine and indulge in self-pity.

Your habitual attitude in this sense is what shapes your character. Your character is not something you were born with, neither is it your personality. It is built over time, laid like bricks based on how you respond to each and every circumstance that comes your way. Deliberately change your attitude and step by step you begin to reshape your character.

If anything, remember this point: nothing will ever come your way that is bigger than your ability to handle it with dignity, creativity and aplomb!

Facing the Mistakes of Life VII

We cannot relive our old mistakes, but we can make them the means of future immunity from the folly that caused them. If we were impatient yesterday, it should inspire us to be patient today. Yesterday’s anger may be the seed of today’s sweetness. Today’s kindness should be the form assumed by our regret at yesterday’s cruelty. Our unfairness to one may open our eyes to the possibility of greater fairness to hundreds. Injustice to one that may seem to have cost us much may really have cost us little if it makes us more kind, tender and thoughtful for long years.” William George Jordan

I’ve known some people who used the idea that mistakes provide lessons for our tomorrows as an excuse for not giving their highest and finest now. “There’s always tomorrow,” they say, believing that so saying gives them permission to slip up with impunity. Thank goodness that the phoenix can rise form the ashes, but that should only be the approach of last resort and never Plan A!

There must be sufficient momentum to sustain progress individually and collectively. If you, for instance, go through a day where your thoughts, words and deeds only hit the mark in 10 percent of the cases, the resultant drag will likely grind your life’s momentum to a halt if you’re not careful in the days to come. If, on the other hand, you maintain your crown of individuality and as a result, your integrity, dignity and poise, you are more likely to hit the mark, say, 75-95 percent of the time. This has the dual effect of reducing drag and increasing thrust.

Navigating the world we’ve created for ourselves, which is essentially the culmination of eons of free choice and other lesser-known causal factors, is akin to flying. If your airship is well-built, has structural integrity and is free of maintenance squawks, you’ll likely do well, regardless of the occasional turbulence. If, however, you’ve put off the maintenance, disregarded the growing rust on your wing spars and failed to make the adjustments necessary to keep your craft in top shape, the slightest bobble in the air will be sufficient to produce knots in your stomach.

There is mercy in the fact that – up to a certain point – we can learn from our mistakes and move on. Let that not be an excuse for subpar function, in fact, don’t just shoot for average. Go for the gold! The more refined your function, the more aligned your body, mind and heart, the less corrections you will need to make and what’s more, the slight adjustments you’ll need to make to your course will become almost imperceptible to others!

It is true in sports, it is the case in relationships and this principle works out in every other department of life. Just watch those who excel and you will see it in action. Learn to cooperate with it and I can assure you that your life will be a thousand times easier, more productive and less stressful!