Life is full of decision points. So often it is easy to go with the flow and direction in which I’m already moving. There are times when the right direction is heading in the other direction. Slowly but surely it is becoming easier to get a foothold, push back, and head the right way. Even more slowly it is becoming easier to look ahead without being frustrated and looking back.
One of the pieces of Stoicism I am most appreciative of is the focus on remembering that there is one thing under my control, only one. My response to the world. The world will react as it wants, people will do what they want, and I have no control over that. What I can control are the choices I make (and there is always a choice to make, even not choosing is making a choice) and the attitude I choose as I face the world. With daily practice it is becoming easier to do both. For sure, it is still incredibly difficult to both remember that there is a choice and to choose the right emotional response, but it is ever so slowly becoming easier.
Today I was tested. While I didn’t pass with flying colors I am happy with my response. It was not perfect, but it was much better than my actions would have been even a year or two ago. What made the biggest impacts were choosing the uncomfortable and remembering where my control was to be used. I’ve made mental notes to myself on how to improve this in the future, specifically to waste less time with emotion. Even though it was largely self contained (a big win for me) there was still extra stress and emotional energy used which could have been put to such better uses. At times my focus wasn’t exactly where it should be as my mind drifted back to the other situation. By the end I was able to see that had I just moved to action rather than wallow in emotion more quickly I would have had more space for myself during the day. Once I finally got my head to the right place I reacted almost exactly as I would have liked, only a couple of minor changes. Overall, I passed. Still much work to do, but better than I would have done previously.
True to almost every situation in life when one door closed another opened. With my mind made up, action taken, and attitude chosen I couldn’t help but keep bumping into the bright sides, not just one, but several. Yes, I removed the option I initially wanted most, but several new possibilities opened themselves up and I immediately started taking advantage of them. Had I kept my emotions and attitude pointed in the wrong direction I most likely would have missed these opportunities. By keeping them in check my heart was full. Full of a different joy than expected, but full of joy nonetheless.
It has been a very good day in many aspects of life. The blog I’ve written is actually focused on not just one situation but a couple. The results of these bled into other areas of life and have had a very positive impact. I found purpose in my struggle and it brought great joy.
Dad always used to say that time kept moving faster each day that goes by. As a kid I remember the summer break from school lasting an eternity, now it is but the pop of a flashbulb (if you’re under 40 you may have to look up that metaphor). There is no question that dad was right, days have seemingly dwindled into hours.
While time itself has sped up there’s an interesting reaction much to its opposite. I’ve talked before about those moments when you’ve done something so many times you can “see the stitches on the curveball.” Those moments when time almost slows down and you can react prior to the action actually happening. The older I get, the more experienced I become, the more that life situations seems to slow down and my reaction time improve drastically.
Maybe that’s what we mean by wisdom?
Regardless, today held many of both moments. Time flew by before my eyes while simultaneously slowing down as my reactions sped up. I wish there were more time, but I’m also seeing that I’m doing more with it than in the past. What a wild balancing act it is!
Looks like I’m going in a few different directions for today’s blog. Even as I’m mentally compiling my list of appreciation my brain is probably missing a few things I’d tagged earlier in the day. Maybe they’ll come back, maybe they won’t. What’s fun about this is that knowing that I’ve spend time being thankful for those moments earlier in the day I can know I’ve been focused on gratitude more often than just this one moment of the day.
In between a few Zoom meetings I had a short break in the action. Reflexively I reached for my task list and my email. Before my hand got there I realized I could really use time to pause and think. There was a lot of information and I hadn’t really had time to reflect on it, I hadn’t truly digested it yet. Rather than dive back in I closed my laptop, rolled my chair back, and closed my eyes. I wasn’t tired in the slightest, the closing of my eyes allowed me to focus my thought, to slow down the train hurtling down the tracks. Focusing my thoughts I was able to see how what I’d just learned could be applied to other situation. I could see the right next steps more clearly. I then opened my eyes and jotted down notes to myself and added the appropriate tasks and appointments to my calendar. Had I not taken time to pause and really let the knowledge sink in it would so easily have been lost.
Later in the afternoon I could sense that there was a resource that could help me as I put a few other things together. I turned my chair and stared down the two bookshelves in my office. Without a clue of what I was specifically looking for I soaked up all the dozens of titles printed on the spines of books I’ve read. Yes, I found the answer I was looking for eventually (Tribal Leadership), but I also found something else. I’m extremely grateful for my full bookshelves (& my 200+ book Audible library). Each of them provided insight, wisdom, best practices, and thought provoking exercises. Some are more memorable than others, but each of them helped me learn and grow. Those bookshelves have been some of the best investments I have made in my professional life.
Throughout the workday I kept feeling a strong sense of living my purpose. I can’t really clarify it more at the moment, my mind is getting too close to bed, but it was a feeling like I was in the right place doing the right things. That sensation is powerfully rewarding, I appreciate it as it helps motivate me to do more work along those same lines. In a way it was like the universe was reminding me that I’m exactly where I should be – while hinting at how to grow it to the next stage as well.
Last, there were a couple of times today when I was reminded of trips to New Orleans. If you weren’t reading with me when I went on those trips here’s my short synopsis. New Orleans – not really my kind of place… other than the food! The food is soooooooooooo delicious there! Specifically, look at this plate of awesomeness:
Talk about one of the all time great breakfast plates I’ve ever consumed. Still blows my mind a few years later. I’m very grateful for memories I can still taste so clearly.
With some of the changes I’ve made for the year I’m finding more and more positive returns on my investment of intentionality. One in particular has been how much more reading I’ve already done this year than in most years.
I just finished reading a favorite classic, The Godfather, and have now moved on to The Godfather Returns. The other fiction on my dresser to fire up afterwards is Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. I’ve also got a small handful of business related books and a few philosophy books to cruise back through as well.
In reading before bed each night for a short time I’m reminded how much better I sleep than if I were mindlessly watching TV or doing something on a screen. My mind relaxes so much more. The amber glow of my reading light cues the sleepy time pattern for my brain and I fall asleep so much more quickly.
When I focus my mind towards my goals I’m reminded of what Stephen King once wrote about always carrying a book with him rather than pulling out his cellphone. My brain is stimulated in such a more productive way with a book. I’m glad I’m making more time to do so.
One of the lag measures of a successful trip is the number of times I have to pause and remember, wait, we did that on this trip too? When my brain has become jumbled with so many new memories I know we did it right. There’s also often a direct correlation to the number of miles put on by foot each day – this one was also a success.
There was something a little different on this one than in past vacations. Wait, maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe it is more of something I remembered again which fades slowly to the sands of time. There was a different level of peace, of feeling at home, and hearing more of a calling to the outdoors.
On our short afternoon hike yesterday Becky and I spent some time in a little cedar wood along the beach of Lake Superior. The sound of the waves continually crashing against the icy shore in a perfectly imperfect rhythm was such a peaceful soundtrack to our walk. At one point I caught a deer observing us from a short distance away in the wood. Shortly thereafter Becky pointed out another three enjoying their time in the woods as well. Later there was yet another deer. Becky pointed and I thought I’d attempt to get a quick pic even though I was positive I would miss it. It wasn’t until later in the evening when I reviewed the pics form the day I chuckled at my fortune! Check this one out and look in the distance to where she is pointing 🙂
The sight of each of the deer had an interesting emotional impact on me. I laughed, I smiled, I looked in awe… I felt a sense of wonder.
I grew up in northern Wisconsin. I’ve seen literally thousands and thousands of deer in my life. Why should I be so excited at seeing some more of these brown furry creatures which are all over?
As I slowly start to unpack so many previous thoughts and ideas it seems as if several of them are beginning to merge into a more complete whole. Just as a little stream slowly connects to another little stream to become a river and then joins another river to become a giant sea, my thoughts are starting to coalesce into a greater thought.
Here are where some of my thoughts are going:
The more I appreciate what I have rather than wanting what I don’t have the more joyful I am.
When I intentionally act towards my goals rather than reflexively doing something unproductive or counterproductive, I feel a stronger sense of purpose.
The less “stuff,” the more simple the way I live life the more often I am in the present versus being distracted.
The more intentional I act, the more I am able to spend time in a state of flow doing the things I love so much – like being out in the woods.
When I am out in the woods I feel a deep sense of peace and presence.
The times when I am most at peace, most in the present, and the most joyful I am overcome with a sense of wonder of all that is around me.
When I am lost in a state of wonder my default mindset is gratitude for all that is around and the opportunity to experience it.
The more I feel a sense of wonder the more connected I feel to The Big Dude Upstairs (my way of “seeing” God or a higher power, call that higher power what you will)
The more connected I am to The Big Dude Upstairs the more I can live into the purpose of who I am called to be, the more I can intentionally live into that self.
Hmm… Okay, there is still a lot to work out and sort through there, but I am starting to see it. More time, more thought, and more action needed to rough this one out. Probably a few more blogs in the future as well.
Walking in the woods today had such a different feel than it did in our last summer trip to the Minnesota side of Lake Superior. While there was much familiarity with the types of wooded areas, rocky outcroppings, and the crashing of waves on the shore of the lake there was also much completely different.
Case in point, when looking at rocks in the summer I’m usually in the lake past my knees. Today I was on the shore, trying to gauge my footing on the ice, and attempting to avoid the waves rolling in. Rather than the beautiful rocks jutting out from the shore I kept a stronger focus on the thick coating of ice which encased the stone. There was no greenery to watch in the forest, only shades of white and gray. Such contrast from season to season.
What an inspiring opportunity to remember that there is much to be grateful for throughout each of life’s seasons. Rather than wishing away one season for the next there is a beauty to be found within each moment of each season. Enjoy the present, find the reasons to be thankful for it, and savor it. Whether a season of growth, life, death, or dormancy, each is natural and equal in its importance. Without one the others cannot exist. Watch for the gifts of each and I will be rewarded.
Lake Superior presented a very different experience over the past few days, I’m grateful for the opportunity to soak it all up!
While hiking today I realized just how at peace my soul was. Much of the time was spent not so much in thought as in appreciation of the majesty and simplicity of the outdoors. My inner voice was quiet as I soaked up the wondrous sights surrounding me.
Snowflakes lightly floating through the sunbeams shooting through tree branches creating a glittering fairy tale like scene. Clouds moving out of the way for the sun to light up a small portion of Lake Superior. The ice from mist off the lake creating sheets of crystal encasing the scrub pines on the shore. The labyrinths of icicles surrounding the maws of almost frozen waterfalls.
With all of this surrounding me I felt a deep sense of peace and calm. The sense of peace which seems to only be found in the outdoors.
Quite often in daily life I have to focus on taking a deep breath to help find stillness in the midst of busy-ness. As much as I practice it still requires me taking action to do so. Stillness is not my default mindset. In the outdoors my default response is stillness.
How can I rectify this so that it is my natural response in all of life? What is the root cause of the calm in the outdoors? How do I more readily replicate it in the rest of my life? Is this a default I could actually work towards and attain? Those questions will all have to wait for another day.
Today, I’m focusing my appreciation on the stillness which can only be found in the outdoors. It wrapped itself around my soul today and gave an increasingly warm hug.
The weather outside maybe be a little chilly, but it wasn’t too cold to prevent Becky and I from hiking. In spite of the sub zero wind chill we were able to bundle up and spend a few hours wandering through the woods. The air was so cold that the condensation from breathing froze my beard hair into ice balls. It was wild!
The trails themselves were nice, but the frozen waterfalls were definitely the highlight of the hikes. Watching the water flow in an open window of ice and then go below the snow was mesmerizing. There were points when we could see the water behind a semi transparent sheet of ice. Adding to the awesomeness were the wolf tracks walking out of the woods, to the open water, and then back into the woods.
The normal waterfall sound was, at times, choked out by the layers of snow and ice above. The contrast of normal waterfalls sounds with the deep silences of water muted by snow was surreal. At one of the waterfalls there was a place in which there was a small opening in the ice above the drop of the waterfall. The sound emitting from it was a low rumble of the crashing water reverberating back up through the icy tube and back into the world. At times it sounded similar to Wind Cave.
One of the things I found most interesting about the frozen waterfalls was the notion of complete stillness as the ice and snow hid the intense pressure, movement, and power below. It reminded me that there is some much more to everything in life than what meets the eye. The combination of power and beauty is one I’ll remember for quite some time.
Hmm… another interesting blog kind of day! Definitely one that is going to take some typing to unpack. I feel like there were a handful of times when I was pausing to appreciate something in the moment, but I’m struggling to pull the moment to mind. We’ll see what happens 🙂
While riding my bike on the trainer today I caught an unusually insightful quote from the TV series I’ve been watching as I exercise. This quote from Gerald on Witcher is one for me to remember.
“Our best chance is to kill the hatred we hold onto and move on.”
One of the things I enjoy about life with Becky is the ability to shift between engaging conversation and enjoying the quiet. On a drive today there were periods of both. Neither felt tedious, forced, or unnatural. We both enjoy conversation with each other and we both enjoy quiet time to think and process. The ride today was a reminder of how much I appreciate the balance we have.
On several occasions our conversation went back to our backpacking trips last summer to the Porcupine Mountains and Isle Royale. We walked back through the trail and experiences we had. So many memories were made on that trip. In looking back my heart is full of joy. We were outside, enjoying life at its most simple, breathing in fresh air, soaking in the beauty of the outdoors. Perfection! I swear I could feel my shoulders relax my heart rate slow as I thought back to those times.
Another thought I spent time on this afternoon was a focus on one of my biggest failures in business. It was a mistake which caused several other challenges that I still work to repair. What is interesting is that now that time has passed I’m able to better review the situation without much emotion. It has happened, I have learned from it, and it is time to move on. Time really can really help to heal wounds. How do I change my mindset to allow healing with almost no time going past? How can I remind myself in the heat of a moment that in a matter of years I will look back at this with the clarity of years? How do I skip the years and go straight to better self assessment? Today I didn’t find the answer, but I am grateful to have realized that I should ask the question.
Earlier today I encountered a situation that I was not prepared to handle as well as I know I could have. My emotions were getting the best of me and I knew it. I paused. I rolled my chair back from my desk, looked up, and took a deep breath. Then it hit me. There was a quote which caused me to chuckle. Next thing I knew it was the answer to the challenge.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
Looking at this situation through the correct lens solved the challenge.