Yesterday, something I read on Social Media made me remember the excitement that you can find from exploring the world via Google Maps. I’d cleaned the snow from the sidewalks and was just hanging out indoors for a while, so I decided to look at some streets in Japan. Why Japan? well, why not! I decided that Tokyo would be much like any city, so moved north along the island state to somewhere called Kaminoyama in Yamagata Prefecture. I was just “walking” the streets, and came across this random view of a suburban house and its front yard.
This yard is pretty amazing to western eyes, and yet it does not appear to be an exceptional or grand house, just someone who takes pride in their property. The placement of the stones and the way the trees have been cultivated is simple wonderful, and one can see that a pathway meanders between and around the planting. It is clearly man-made, but also brings with it a feeling of the wild and natural.
Only after looking at the picture for some minutes did I realize that the picture had captured a some people in the yard, and this close up image shows three men sitting, surrounded by construction materials. This throws the whole scene into a different perspective. Does the pile of gravel and the spade mean that the yard here has just been completed, and these men are the workers, taking a break from their labours? One of them may be pouring a drink, but why are the two workers sitting, apparently in conversation, whilst the other is at some distance, looking the other way?
I will never know just what that moment in time captured, but that glimpse into the live of real people in a far away land is itself interesting.
“No one knows where our journey will lead us – all we know is that we walk it one day at a time.”
Life happens. Just when you think that you have it all planned out and that you can clearly see the way ahead, something comes along that totally changes everything.
Some may complain about that fact of existence, but I believe it can be looked on as a wonderfully exciting thing. Not only that, but it is a comfort when times are hard to know that we do not know that the road will always be this tough, stuff happens.
Just in living a day it has changed, we are one day nearer a change, whatever that change may be. Most humans like to plan, few of us are totally free spirits without any sense of the future. And planning is good of course, as long as we remember that whilst we can plan, we cannot guarantee the results of our plan.
We are not omnipotent, we cannot control the world or others in it. And, frankly, if I were God, and I did have control of the world, I’m fairly certain that it would turn out to be a far worse place than it already is.
Each of our journeys is unique, and each one takes twists and turns we could not have imagined. Sometimes we find a travelling companion for part of our journey, sometimes we walk alone, but always we are moving, even when it does not feel like movement.
When we think we are settled, it is then that we are most likely to find a new bend in the road, one that takes us in an unexpected direction. When we most want to move in one direction, even when all else is against us, we fight along the road, and often find allies in unforeseen places.
We hear so many times of people fighting against adversity, and winning out to greater glory, and these stories can give us hope in our own struggles.
What we hear less of are the more common stories, or struggle that continues and does not end is success; rather it ends in resignation. These stories of everyday struggle show us that the journey is not a predictable thing, and it is easy to think that no progress can be made.
But even here, the fact that the journey continues can give us hope. We will not necessarily win through in the way that we dreamt of, but we will see a change in the road, and we will be able to move in a different direction.
Each day takes us forward on our journey, and at the end of each day, we can see the distance travelled.
The new is but the old come true; each sunrise sees a new year born.
–Helen Hunt Jackson
In my part of the world, we have just come out of a celebration for the New Year. It’s a time when people look back over the past and make resolutions for the future. Most of the reflections are viewed either with rose tinted spectacles or with a jaundiced view that it had been the worst year ever. Most of the resolutions are made in the expectation – the hope, even – that they will be quickly broken.
Is it really true that something remarkable happens at the turn of the year, is it only then that we have to opportunity to reflect and change?
In this quote from Helen Hunt Jackson, we see a deeper truth.
Every day is a new start and every moment an opportunity to reflect on the past that has just gone.
The resolutions made on New Year’s Eve are so easy to break because they are too frightening to consider doing forever. Once broken, the whole year is considered spoiled, and so there is no point in trying again until the next New Year.
But if we look at each new sunrise as a new start, then the task is no so daunting. This new day I can try a new thing, a new action, a new way of acting. Even if I fail, I can try tomorrow again because tomorrow starts a new year.
We can learn, not only from our distant past, but the day just gone. We can look at yesterday’s successes and failures to make today a better one.
This is what the nineteenth-century American poet and writer is suggesting, but I would go further; we do not have to wait for a new dawn to start again, we can start afresh from where we are.
Let us say that I have made a resolution to always be positive, but find myself sharing a negative thought, do I have to wait until the next day to get back on the positivity train? Should I carry on with that negativity until evening, and then realize what I have done wrong, resolving to do better tomorrow?
I think not. There is much we can do in every moment to reflect and change. We can look at that negative comment as something past from which we can learn. It is past, gone, and we do not need to wait for some arbitrary “new beginning” to start again.
I made a negative comment, or had a negative thought? I can learn from that action just completed, and activly seek to be more positive, maybe even say or think something specifically to negate the negative!
Every moment is a new year born.
“Don’t be clever, be clear.” -Howard Ogden
I like to cook, and I like to try out new recipes. With a few exceptions, recipes are clear; you need this amount of these ingredients, and then you follow these steps to create the dish. Recently, I was trying a new dish which had, as one of its ingredients, “2 slices of fresh lemon juice”. Whilst I chuckled about how to slice a liquid, it was clear what the writer meant, and I put it down to poor proofreading.
A recipe is a prime example of something that needs to be clear, even though the results may be extremely clever creations.
This is not the case when we come to other areas of life. I am thinking of a website I sometimes visit, which has remarkable offers on items for sale. I go there because I like their offers, but the site itself is really a turn-off. Rather than a simple description of the goods for sale, there is a discussion between two cartoon characters, which bears no relevance to the product. To get details on the product, you need to navigate to other pages where this information is displayed. It is, I am sure, very clever. I can imagine the web designer saying that the old way of doing things was stale, and they needed new bright ideas to show how modern and different they were.
And yet, to me, it comes across as trying to be clever, rather than trying to be clear. If I wanted “amusing” repartee, I’d go and look for some, but I came to this site to find out about a special offer, and it annoys me that they don’t simply tell me.
I still sometimes buy things from the site, because I know from experience that their offers can be good value, but in other areas of life being clever at the expense of clarity can definitely stop one’s point coming across.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to impress, and use words that are clever, rather than clear.
Instead of saying that someone wanted to cross the street, one could say that they intented to perambulate in a perpendicular fashion towards the opposite side of the thoroughfare. Both are technically correct, but the latter is an example of using words just for the sake of them, rather than to make the meaning clearer.
I always find that when I first learn about something, it is a muddle in my head, and I can’t always articulate what it is that I know. Only with real understanding can I explain it in clear terms, and for me, it is a sign that I understand something if I can make it seem simple.
There is a place for being clever, but the cleverest person is the one who can take something that is complicated and make it clear.
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill
I have discovered a secret – well, not a secret, perhaps, but certainly something that many people do not realize. The secret is that Attitude Matters.
Wow, is that it? Don’t we all know that?
Speaking for myself for a moment, I really didn’t always understand that, and can still find myself forgetting.
In the moment of our disaster or despair, it can seem that this is all there is, that there is no bright spot on the horizon and that there is no solution to our problems. But the amazing fact of life is that everything changes, not just the material, but our feelings about them.
Our attitude towards life often does not change the externals to us, we will still be out of a job, alone, sad or lonely. Attitude is such a little thing compared to all of that.
Yet this little thing called attitude makes, not just a big difference, but the defining difference; just look at these two stories.
I own my own very successful business, which takes a lot of work, but is really fulfilling: it’s great not to have anyone telling me what to do. I have a wonderful family and we live in a fantastic house with a pool, and we even have a paddock for my children’s horses. It’s right next to the golf course, and I love nothing more than to go out on an early Sunday morning for a few holes. I have a great life!
I have a really stressful job running my own business and I have to put in a lot of hours; I wish there was someone I could refer to, but as the boss all the responsibility rests with me. I can’t relax because I have a huge mortgage on a big house. There is also a lot of costs involved, not only with the house, but the pool and a paddock for my children’s horses. I love to play golf, but can only manage to get out early on a Sunday morning, when I’m already exhausted from working all week. I have a terrible life!
These two stories could be told by the same person, the facts are the same. The difference is in the attitude of the teller.
Is it a shame that I only get to play golf on Sunday mornings, or is it a blessing that I can play golf every Sunday morning?
Is it wonderful that I have a big house, or terrible that I have a huge mortgage?
Is the glass half full, or half empty?
The answer is simple – both are true, but how you feel is dependent on your attitude.
And whilst there may be little one can do to change the dynamics of the world, there is a lot one can do about one’s attitude.
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Peter Pan is an interesting story, isn’t it? A boy who ran away because he didn’t want to grow up, living in a fantasy world where the only grown-ups are evil pirates.
And yet, at some level, all of us live in a made up world. I am not talking about the esoteric worlds of theoretical science or arcane philosophy. Each of us constructs our own world based on our own experiences, beliefs and understandings of the world.
Really, what is this construct but faith and trust, mixed with a bit of pixie dust?
Traditional faiths may have gone into somewhat of a decline in recent years, but that does not mean that faith has gone away. On the contrary, our very existence on a day-to-day basis is all about faith and trust.
On a very practical level, why would we bother to go to work, unless we believed that we would get paid, and trust that the money we received would be able to get things that matter to us?
Our like or dislike is irrelevant, the fact that we turn up to get money, shows we believe that money will in turn mean something to us.
When I get into my car and head down the road, I have to have faith that my car will work in a reasonable way, and trust that other road users will keep to at least the most basic of rules.
On a more basic level, we believe that life is worth living. We may struggle along or march joyfully, but most of us will find in our lives a combination of the two. In the good times and the bad we may say that we cannot go on, but we do.
And I guess this is where the pixie dust fits in.
Because to really carry on day to day, we must have some sort of belief in the ultimate purpose of it.
I know that some will disagree, saying “life is hard and then you die,” but if that is their core belief, why would they bother to carry on?
Maybe your “pixie dust” is the accumulation of wealth, or having fun with your mates, or getting drunk every weekend. These seem to me to be rather sad versions of pixie dust, but if they work for you then, I guess they are what works for you.
Maybe your “pixie dust” is a strong religious belief, or a committed political conviction. From my world view, at least these are more altruistic forms of the magic, even if I abhor your stance on particular issues.
We may not be aware of it, but all of us find our own version of pixie dust – our own reason for carrying on.
All of us are on our own journey through life, and rather than waiting for Tinkerbell to sprinkle the magic dust over us, we can search for our own magic, our own reason to carry one.