#1 Give an irregular amount of attention to an otherwise overlookable thing in your life
One of the most satisfying pieces of writing I’ve come across is Henry David Thoreau’s dramatic description of the ant war taking place just outside his home in the woods. Taking after him, the first practice bringing peace in this otherwise terrible time has been giving insignificant things a significant amount of attention.
There is a tree outside my window. It is not a remarkable tree by any means. It has no leaves, it has no admirable symmetry. It stands in front of no mountains or beautiful streams. It carries no nests. Its trunk could be as bland as dirt for all I care.
Yet I pay attention to the tree.
Paying attention almost innately seems to call for an action otherwise not naturally taken.
The tree outside my window, on account of its unremarkable nature, would never automatically cause me to give it thought. That is, of course, what being unremarkable must entail.
The task then is to search out those things which do not leap into view.
Find your unremarkable tree and watch it until you create for yourself something noteworthy out of its simplicity.
For me, my tree has begun to teach me about the effects of the environment on one’s appearance. One day, the tree looks rather dismal. With more sunlight, the tree appears more stark and pointy. In the snow, the tree causes the flakes falling between myself the tree to take on a significance that they would not assume without the contrasting background of those unremarkable branches.
Find something that does not ask for your attention and give it exactly that.
#2 Take a walk. Walk further than seems necessary. Don’t try to find something. Just let your thoughts follow the slow but directional plodding of your feet
There are many examples of people who walked in order to raise their spirits and solve problems, I am forgetting all of them at the moment. Let me just say that the last two weeks have brought repeated surprises as to the effectiveness of a longer than usual walk in banishing dark and brooding thoughts and their accompanying moods.
Take a walk.
Before COVID-19, I believed I understood how to take walks and reap their time-honored benefit.
I, of course, was wrong.
Adding to my daily checklist “take a walk” and defining that walk according to a known pathway of a known distance for a predetermined period of time is rewarding.
But I do not need a reward when my mind is dark, my thoughts are clouded with self-doubt, and my outlook seems to be only on the possible negatives.
I need peace, confidence, and humbling and healthy self-deprecation, none of which can be won like a prize at a fair.
It is, I believe the ambling nature of a good, undefined walk that allows for the attainment of those things which we cannot seek outright and hope to attain.
Rather, they must come to you as water in a river comes and flows over a rock: without expectations, without explicit desire, without clutching that it might not pass by.
The river will always pass by and it will continue to flow nonetheless.
I was skeptical as to the wisdom of taking a long walk of nothingness when I could think of at least 2-things I could be doing to better use my time. And yet, I walked.
I kept John Muir in mind and tried only to be honest with myself in my thoughts as they poured out over the unremarkable road in front of my very slowly progressing feet.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
If John had found something in an endless walk, maybe something would find me in my somewhat-seemingly-endless walk.
As my feet stumble forward and my mind strives to be honest, for once free of the burdens of productivity and comparison that a busy, ambitious lifestyle entails, I accidentally smile at the absurdity of something that only a matter of minutes before seemed like hell itself visiting my reality.
An argument, a mistake, an emotional mess, a failed responsibility, an unsure future, a lack of clear progress toward an elusive goal, and a smile.
While walking may not apologize for you, assign a clear direction in your life, and raise that number in your bank account, it will bring you closer to being able to face all of this with a clear mind. And a clear mind is worth many zeros in any bank account.
#3 Read about many other lives and therein learn more about your own
Some search for riches, some distraction, some don’t know why they do it. But many sit down to read. Reading has provided a two-part benefit of late. In spending time in books such as Getting There and Tools of Titans, I am exposed to distilled, down to earth wisdom from many lives in the span of a few minutes each day. Studying many lives and all of their differences as well as their humbling similarities brings energy and excitement.
I often will force myself to sit, with a timer ticking away the moments of required self-imposed suffering, and read a book.
Of late, I have come to suffer less while reading books containing stories and summaries of the lives of others.
Getting There by Gillian Zoe Segal was one of my first real exposures to the influence that multiple life stories told rapidly and succinctly can have on one’s psyche.
Subsequently, biographies and autobiographies have become my most purchased book category on Amazon.
I truly do not understand why more people are not enamored with and stunned by the ability to, in a matter of minutes or hours, dip yourself into the life of another and learn disproportionately powerful lessons to the lessons you might learn by living them yourself.
You can sit and listen to the minds and lives of emperors, revolutionaries, crazy and sane philosophers (the crazy are always more fun, and aren’t we all a little better off with a bit of our own crazy? Topic for another time), historians, inventors, rich, poor, happy, sad, regretful, unassuming, courageous, frighteningly genius, and just plane thoughtful people from thousands of years worth of writing and publishing.
Haven’t sold ya? Order a copy of Getting There and give the idea 1–2 hours. You are lying to yourself if you think you cannot benefit from studying the lives of others.
I did not expect peace to arrive at my door with the reading about other’s lives.
I did not ask for courage, excitement, and encouragement to face my own puzzle of life.
Yet ink on the face of unremarkable trees-turned-pages has brought me exactly that.
These are not normal times. If anything, clarity of mind and heart, the courage to do the right thing, and an appreciation for everything around you are more important now than they have been for some time.
These are three things that help me get through my day and find a way out of the darkness that so easily comes upon us in times like these.
I hope they can provide you the same benefit they have me.
Let me know if I can help.