“The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Sometimes the trick is to keep busy. Well, it’s more than that. It’s to follow through on the commitments I’ve made, my Purpose, my goals. There are some benefits to this. First, it keeps my mind occupied. My mind can be my friend or it can be my worst Enemy. It is my Enemy when I just leave it to its own devices. Imagine leaving a young child alone and saying, “Do whatever you want.” Chances are that child will cause problems.
I find my mind works the same way. If I just let it think what it wants, it will go to the most negative, the most frightening, or the saddest. I don’t know if this is all of us, most of us, or just me, but my mind at least tends to get in trouble and wander off into bad places. So, again, like a small child, I have to take King Solomon’s advice and “train it in the way it should go, and when it is old it will not depart from me.”
First, I want to acknowledge that my mind wants to go somewhere negative. I see the sadness or the fear or the anger. I’m not ignoring it or telling it to shut up. Again, using the analogy of the child, that doesn’t work. But nor will I try to reason with it. I’m simply going to lead it differently. I know what my mind is prone to do. It will get me lost in darkness and despair. This happens every time. So I’m going to be a good parent and lead it to a better place.
I think I’ll take it to my house on the beach.
Am I now in an imaginary future that is just as useless as where my mind would rather go? No. Because this is more than an imagination – this is a goal. This is my plan. No matter what happens in the next few weeks or months, this is what I am working for. It’s best to be present in this moment, but it’s also good to have a future orientation. Those ideas do not contradict but complement like a hummingbird and a flower. Each needs the other.
When I think of my house on the beach, I begin to think not only of that image, but also of the work I must do to get there. I don’t mind the work. This is why I have daily goals. This is why I work on weekends and nights and during my time off. This is why I rarely do anything anymore that doesn’t move me at least a little bit forward. This is why I write. This is why I study. This is why I will work no matter what happens –through loneliness, fear, sadness, worry, or any other distracting emotions – I will not stop. In fact, I will probably increase my output.
Instead of writing three pages by hand, I will write five.
Instead of putting one thing on eBay, I will put ten.
Instead of writing one blog, I will write two.
Instead of reading 50 pages, I will read 60.
Instead of walking two miles today, I will walk…well, probably still two. It’s cold outside today.
As I said, the point in increasing my output isn’t just to keep busy; it’s to focus my mind on pursuits far worthier than fear. It’s also to train my mind. When we train something, a child, a pet, an employee, or ourselves, we are trying to change behavior, by adding a positive one and preventing or eliminating a negative one. We are, in some way, trying to make a better and more productive world. When I train my mind, I am not just trying to keep busy. I am trying to get somewhere. Specifically, I am trying to get to my house on the beach. And negative feelings just slow me down.
In writing this blog, I feel better. I know that today might be a battle for my mind. Some days are like that. But I have a battle plan. My plan is to accept what is, and then change what I can and let go of what I can’t. Then I will work on my stated goals.
Already I feel love and peace flowing through me. I’m not completely there yet, but I’m not where I was when I started writing. That is a huge step forward. By taking action, by remembering to Get Started and to Keep Going, I was able to discipline my mind, to have self-mastery, one of the greatest skills one can have. In disciplining myself, I have actually freed myself.