One of the easiest lessons of wisdom to learn is you are what you repeatedly think or do. One of the hardest wisdom disciplines to practice is thinking and doing good things.
Aristotle said, paraphrased by Will Durant; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” So what we keep thinking and keep doing reveals who we truly are, on the inside. We can say we are kind, loving, grace-giving, but if our thoughts and deeds betray us we must come to the reality of who we are if we desire to change or be at peace through acceptance.
For those like myself who live with depression, one of the cycles we can get into are negative thoughts about ourselves. We relive painful moments, negative events, over and over again. We get stuck with thoughts of how we could be better, how terrible we are, and how little we can offer the world and those closest to us.
Being caught in a cycle of negative thoughts, reliving mistakes and mishaps is called ruminating. For those battling depression the thoughts can literally go on for days, weeks, months. When we are doing well, on a plateau, we can catch ourselves and refuse to hop on these train of thoughts. When we are struggling our thoughts can take us down tracks from which we may never recover.
I like the Zen saying; “You can’t stop negative thoughts from coming but you don’t have to sit and serve them tea.”
On Monday I wrote about installing a light for a friend on a high wall of a building (Highs & Unknowns) (https://thewannabesaint.com/2017/06/25/highs-and-unknowns/). It was hot on that ladder and my hands and arms were dripping sweat as a vent from the building blew out hot air making it even more stifling.
I’m not a big fan of heights but I made the decision to go up and not look down. I had a hand towel to dry off my hands, arms, and forehead and used it to get a better grip on the light and keep the sweat out of my eyes….all for a friend unable to make the climb.
When we take on a burden from a friend, when we set out to help someone, we do it, hopefully, out of love, kindness, and concern. The challenge becomes when, if, the burden become greater than we realized. The decision must be made repeatedly to continue to carry on, not give up, look for the extra strength needed, to not give up or give in until the burden can be laid down and both are free.
I am sore today! Yesterday we spent most of the day trimming and hauling away a big limb from one of the four huge trees in our yard. Today I am paying for it with sore arms, back, and legs. I don’t think I’ve developed any muscles but trying to lift some of the pieces we sawed off yesterday gave me an appreciation of how strong the wind must’ve been to down the limb and how strong the tree was to support a limb of such great weight. It took a lot of energy, strength and time to remove most of the obstacle.
I spoke with a few friends today who are also trying to overcome a great obstacle. They are, like we did yesterday, dealing with it one piece at a time. When you’re faced with a huge challenge there is a part of us who’d like to get it over with NOW! However, life doesn’t usually work according to our time schedules. We must take each step, walk each mile, and hope the journey ends well.
I imagine a person who lifts and cuts wood as their job must be strong. I also know that those who face tremendous battles will develop the strength and energy necessary to see it to the end, what the end may be.
Last night a fierce thunderstorm passed through the area and downed a huge branch off a tree right outside our bedroom window (see photo). The size of the damaged area leaves doubt as to whether the tree can be saved or if we will have to cut it down when removing the limb. I love trees, flowers, grass, spring, and summer, nature at its absolute best. It hurt my heart to see the beautiful tree, which is much older than I, with such a gaping wound.
I spent the week helping friends whose world, like the tree, has been torn apart. Two months ago everything seemed on track and then one of life’s damaging storms ravaged their lives and left them in doubt and afraid. They are looking at incredible odds against survival itself. They stand in the midst of what used to be their normalcy and are surrounded by debris, devastation, and the possibility of death.
Life is never predictable. It doesn’t have a reset button, can’t go back and fix things or jump forward to see how it ends. We weather the storms of life, pick up the pieces and pray for the strength, stamina, and the will to survive.
Absence of Disease –
This afternoon, at a staff meeting, we listened to a Harvard University graduate talk about happiness, mindfulness, and contentment. He was humorous and engaging with lots of information.
One of the things he said that seemed to resonate with the staff was; “Absence of disease is not health.” It takes a while for the truth of this sentence to sink in. We often think sickness, a diagnosis, a trouble, challenge, a difficulty, is what keeps us from a contented life. Perhaps it’s a new job, losing weight, a promotion, a relationship or whatever that will make us happy.
Wisdom teaches us that anytime our quality of life depends on outward circumstances we are not where we need to be, ie: unhealthy. CS Lewis says; “Never let your happiness depend on something which can be taken away.”
He hovered about as the other men left the classroom. I didn’t know what to expect, I never do when it comes to the incarcerated dads I am privileged to work with but who also keep me on my toes. He was tall, skinny, long grayish brown hair, missing most of his teeth and spoke softly. It was the first class of the spring semester and after everyone had left he came forward. He is soft-spoken with lines and wrinkles of a life filled with heartache and wrong decisions engraved on his face. I leaned forward as he struggled to tell me his secret; he couldn’t read. My heart sank.
Reading is such a vital part of our program and everyday life. There are homework assignments and times during class we read to ourselves and together. Not being able to read certainly presented another challenge for a man who has faced, and lost, his share of them including a drug addiction. I asked if there was another resident in the jail he could ask to help him and he shook his head; “No.” I breathed in silently and thought about the courage it must’ve taken to admit his weakness. “Then we’ll meet after each class and go over the lesson. Let’s start today.” We made our way over to a couple of chairs, sat down and began to review.
After we were done, driving away from the jail, I reflected on the different ways we can be imprisoned. It’s not just about concrete walls, bars, thick glass and heavy metal doors. Prisons can be addictions, basic education skills we’ve somehow missed, mental illnesses, bad attitudes, negative environments. Too often we take for granted so many blessings. The gifts we’ve received, the talents we’ve been given, the good, are not for hoarding but for sharing, multiplying and helping others find freedom.
This morning I participated in the monthly ritual of refilling the ice trays. We have various ones of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of the designs of the trays make them harder to fill. If the water faucet handle is too far up the water comes out too fast and instead of filling it overflows and the water is wasted. The different trays requires adjusting the flow.
With each tray I filled I began to think about various parts of my life’s journey. When I am open to learning, being filled with wisdom, I soak up every drop and seemingly can’t get enough. Coincidentally, these lessons being poured into me are usually in harmony with much of what I already believe and accept.
I also reflected on times and seasons which are difficult to have a spirit of openness to receive the truth being offered. Instead of not getting enough, I resist even the smallest amount. Not amazingly these wisdom lessons often challenge my preconceptions, beggar my intelligence and spirituality.
I am thankful that if we desire to be filled with wisdom it doesn’t just pour into us with what we prefer but also fills those empty places with truth that challenges our beliefs, understandings of God, life and each other.