I never wanted to read another war novel again, and I never did.
Bob Dylan, describing All Quiet on the Western Front
The problem is not us. The problem is the problem.
This is true enough, but hard to hold onto. When a problem resists solving, we are left with the need to do something — and attacking ourselves provides the illusion that we are. When you tell yourself “If I worked harder (or something similar), I wouldn’t have this problem,” you have resorted to self-attack.
Practice: Ask yourself to notice when your attention shifts from the problem and how frustrating it is, to feeling frustrated with yourself.
“I don’t like to work,”says Marlowe in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “but I like what is in the work — the chance to find yourself.”
Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris
You may or may not like to work, or like the work you do, but Marlowe’s words ring true: Work provides an opportunity to find yourself.
Practice: Enumerate the things that work has taught you about yourself. When you get to a stopping place, add one more.
Discuss the qualities you like with a friend or colleague. Ask about theirs.
Optional: Consider grieving the qualities you don’t like. ”Finding yourself ” includes finding selves you regret.
1 a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact <paints an authentic picture of our society> b: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features <an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse> c: made or done the same way as an original <authentic Mexican fare>
2 : not false or imitation : real, actual <an authentic cockney accent>
: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character <is sincere and authentic, with no pretensions>
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate(r) Dictionary, 11th Edition (c)2016 by Merriam-Webster, Inc. (www.Merriam-Webster.com).
Practice: If you know where you stand in regard to facts, reproduction farmhouses, Mexican fare and cockney accents, consider advancing to definition 3.
It’s the hard one, requiring as it does both awareness and action, as well as a tolerance for surprise: Who knew you had it in you to do that?
With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be.
Pain and disappointment lead us to ask “Why?”, but not something we find perfect. Asking seems counterintuitive, even ungrateful. But ask. Please ask.
Practice: After a wonderful moment has passed, investigate it. What was the light like, the sound, the aroma? Who else was present? How did it resemble previous wonderful times?
Such information allows you to create more times “with everything perfect.”
You do not need a sabbatical or a grant to write a book.
Nor anyone’s permission to do a whole host of things. At 89, Doris Haddock, pictured above, decided to walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. to publicize the need for campaign finance reform.
Practice: Asking yourself “What do I lack permission to do?” may not work.
Sneakier, and more effective, is urging others to do something they hesitate to do: play the harmonica or run a marathon; get a gizmo that works in theory to actually work, and then patent it. Give enough other people permission for long enough, and a pattern will emerge. That’s what you need permission to do.
At least one aspect of boredom is a failure of perception. We can never be legitimately bored by the world. Moss, under a microscope, exceeds our imaginative and intellectual capacities.
Focus, we are told. Bear down. Lean in. Boredom is a state to avoid.
Or a state to study. Boredom is worth looking at, in the same way a kaleidoscope is.
Practice: With so many lively patterns present, how has stasis become the one you focus on? What interests you about your loss of interest?
She kept encouraging her mind to feel its discomfort, trying to let it intensify so she could identify what it was.
The pain that never bothers you enough to pay attention to it is your enemy — medically, psychologically, operationally.
Practice: Leaning into pain and allowing it to intensify is counterintuitive, to say the least. But it is this month’s practice.
Allowing a sensation to intensify is a way to gather information: You cannot address what you have not acknowledged.
Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.
Not only is it the only spring, no one appreciates it the exact way you do.
Practice: Sink more deeply into your own senses; they are what allows you to take in the season. Your sense of smell plus lilacs. Your visual acuity (or lack thereof ) and the changing angle of light.
The annuals that have started to crop up at the grocery store? They’re waving at you.
Related Practices: Patchwork Quilts
Also thanks to the people who advise and guide and patiently explain why this bit is rubbish and that character wasn’t even in the story until page 274 and everyone in the book has glasses on …
Dinise Mina, in the Acknowledgements to one of her mysteries
Other people help us all the time, if only by growing the produce we eat or keeping the traffic lights in working order — matters we tend to notice only when they go wrong. We see them as part of modern life, which is to say we don’t see them.
Practice: Trying to “practice gratitude” is an iffy proposition. Instead identify a specific place and a time — the entrance to the grocery store, the traffic light at the bottom of the hill — to name a benefit you appreciate and acknowledge those who made it happen.