Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Good tidings NIP,
I can’t believe 2010 is almost over. This year flew by for me. Did it seem the same to you? Many of my friends say theirs passed quickly too. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, or it could be that the pace of change seems to accelerate. Either way, I’ve gotten much better at taking it all in stride. I think I grew frustrated when I was younger because I didn’t want things to change; I had to have control. These last two years have taught me that I cannot control circumstances over which I have no influence. So I let them go. Now I choose to focus on what I know I can control—myself. In previous letters I mentioned how we are the sum of our choices and that if you want to change it is going to take effort. But the effort gets easier the more you learn to let go of the needless worries and focus on your mental self-discipline.
To paraphrase Heraclitus, no person ever steps in the same river twice. It makes perfect sense. The water is never the same water you walked through the first time, but neither are you. We all change constantly, even on the cellular level. In fact, change is all we have. That’s Heraclitus’ point. By clinging to what we think we can control and preserve only harms us in the long run because we’ll never have the power to stop change. Though I can’t remember a specific epiphany two years ago, I’ve clearly experienced metanoia, as the ancient Greeks called it. Metanoia is literally “the changing of one’s mind,” but it has connotations of both spiritual awakening and repentance. I wish there had been some significant event like Jesus in the Jordan or Siddhartha under the Bodhi, but I don’t recall anything of the sort. I just remember a gut instinct that told me turning 33 was going to be a big year. Now it’s been more than 2 years and every day I feel that there’s just more work to be done. That I can become a better person than I am now. This began with that change of heart, that single decision to stop looking at the world so cynically. But from that moment on it has taken assiduous effort to nurture my personal development. By focusing on what is in our power to control—specifically our own perceptions and choices—we can harness the power of change and use it to better ourselves and the lives of others around us.
The realization of the need for change, however, is not enough. Many people want to change, but most of them never do. It all boils down to what the person gives: effort or excuses. As a seasoned teacher, it’s rather easy to discern someone’s level of effort. After a while, it becomes black and white. Some students give effort commensurate with their abilities whereas others have nothing to offer but excuses. It’s disheartening for me as a teacher because I am doing my best to lead by example, but I am satisfied in knowing that I am giving my all. That is how success should be measured; not dependent on a final result or whether a goal was surpassed or obtained, but how the result was achieved (i.e. was it done well?). Giving your personal best regardless of endeavor becomes a reward in and of itself. And if you have the good fortune to have your passion(s) and profession coincide, it is all that much easier to give your absolute best and fulfill your potential as a human being. We are all capable of great things, but it begins with believing in ourselves. That, I think, is the crux. We must possess self-confidence.
Prior to turning 30, I had plenty of self-doubt. I knew that I needed to change but hadn’t summoned the will to do so at that point. I had accrued the knowledge, not applied the wisdom. I certainly gave effort in areas of personal interest, but had nothing but excuses for entire areas of my life that I wasn’t willing to change. Erin then came into my life and her presence alone helped me change some of my more stubborn habits. But as these new changes came about in me, I began to realize that change wasn’t that hard to accomplish. Perhaps this is wrapped up in the way we view change initially. We often make change out to be more than it is. It’s not monumental and it doesn’t require herculean effort. While there will be times when these types of radical change do take place, they are often the collaborative effort of nearly imperceptible changes building up over time. Once we understand the nature of change as being continuous and infinitesimal, it is easier for us to let go and be a part of it. The duality we superimpose on life is a disservice because it only removes us from full participation with life. We live in a culture that prizes (and tries to cling to) youth, fame and wealth and yet each of these ideals is ephemeral. Why not work toward something meaningful? Why not change ourselves for the better and rely on our internal validation rather than transient external material signs of supposed success? My self-confidence has grown, ironically, by realizing I am not special. I may be an individual, but I am not that unique in a truly macrocosmic sense. Considering the insurmountable odds that went into me being here, thinking these thoughts and typing these words, the only way to be special is to honor this life, this precious gift we’ve all received. I don’t believe in much with any certainty, but I definitely feel we have a moral imperative to do justice to the life we have been given. We should not squander our time or effort in any way that does not promote the best of who we have the potential to become. Ultimately, though, we are the ones who must make the choice to see these changes through.
Whether we give effort or excuses is up to us and it is a matter of choice. In our lesser moments we may not see our excuses as choices, feeling instead that we are hemmed in by circumstance and compelled to choose them. But when you objectively take stock of the events, it was probably a lack of effort and/or bad choice in other areas that led to that conclusion. As you know, NIP, I am a big proponent of personal autonomy. I am a pragmatic existentialist, philosophically speaking, and to a certain extent I think we all are. We all recognize how our choices affect (and to a certain extent, effect) our lives, whether for good or bad. But I also think that I am a meliorist. Through our human endeavors, we can make the world a better place. Sure it may never be perfect, but the satisfaction is to be found in the pursuit of perfection, in the striving. In making excuses for lack of personal growth a person is literally missing out on what makes life so great. Excuses only put off the struggle, the striving. But it’s when we grapple, wrangle, and contend with life that we feel the most alive. The worst part of all is that by not wrestling with life we become stagnant and mired in our own mediocrity. This in turn creates more excuses, perpetuating a cycle of victimhood. All it takes, though, is that initial choice to accept change and the realization that the effort required will be incessant. You don’t have to undergo an instant metamorphosis, just begin with the single thing you feel needs to change the most. Start there and simply try to expand your comfort zone. Much like the life we are carving for ourselves, improvements come incrementally over long periods. In time your efforts will become automatic and you’ll realize that there is always some aspect that needs improving. And when you are focused on becoming the best of who you can be, NIP, you won’t have any time for excuses, that’s for sure.
I hope these words find you and your family sharing peace and prosperity during this holiday season, NIP. It’s not often we have the opportunity to gather with the most important people in our lives, so be sure to enjoy the time with yours. New Year’s Day is just around the corner and though I am not one for making resolutions, perhaps 2011 could be the beginning of a new you, NIP. If there is something in your life that you don’t like, change it. This is our one chance to become who we are. Let’s not live a life of regret when it is within our power to avoid it entirely. We are who we think we are. If you believe that you have something to offer this world, it is your duty to become that better person and show others who you are and what you are capable of. I was afraid to show that to people for far too long. Looking back on it now, I don’t know what I was ever worried about…
Be the change, NIP!