March 5, 2017 – Cutting Back on the Costly


“So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration  either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 42.6

It seems that Thoreau’s quote

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

fits perfectly. How often can I write/say that and it be true? In meditating on this quote I focused on three elements: pursuit, exertion, and cost.

Pursuit

We are inundated every day by people telling us we need things. Television. Billboards. Radio. Internet. Pursuing something, in and of itself, is not bad. Rather, it’s when the pursuit it for things that “aren’t worth much” that we find ourselves distanced from the things that do. How do we get back?

Exertion

Energy is a valuable, but limited resource. For humans, energy can be understood to consist of three important pieces: food, water, and sleep. But this for the body. The mind too consumes energy. Thinking is not free, and being able to think clearly assumes we’ve done well on the food, water, sleep front. When our pursuits take us away from the good we must exert even more effort to get back to the trailhead.

Cost

We pay for every mistake we make. Either with actual money or with time. It is critical that we are aware of what we are paying for.

Years ago my son shared with me that, in retrospect, he felt we wasted so much money on toys that received limited use. I can’t speak to whether the frequency of use is a good measurement for the value of something like a toy. Maybe it inspired him to like something else, and without it his life would have been different. A bit dramatic but I hope you see my point. That we were able to afford things is the benefit of my wife and I have good jobs. Her job, when my son was younger, required her to work weekends. This meant she missed a good number of his Saturday football games. We were both aware of the consequences of this choice and accepted it.

No decision, financial or time specific, will yield a perfect consequence. But when we measure the cost against return of investment, when we are truly aware of what we’re willing to pay, we can ensure we are cutting out the costly elsewhere. Those things that cost us but from which we yield little to nothing of value.

January 25, 2017 – The Only Prize


“What’s left to be prized? This, I think – to limit our action or inaction to only what’s in keeping with the needs of our own preparation . . . it’s what the exertions of education and teaching are all about – here is the thing to be prized! If you hold this firmly, you’ll stop trying to get yourself all the other things . . . If you don’t, you won’t be free, self-sufficient, or liberated from passion, but necessarily full of envy, jealousy, and suspicion for any who have the power to take them, and you’ll plot against those who do have what you prize . . . But by having some self-respect for your own mind and prizing it, you will please yourself and be in better harmony with your fellow human beings, and more in tune with the gods – praising everything they have set in order and allotted you.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a

Rather than pull out some personal experiences to elaborate on today’s meditation I will invoke the inspirational words of three men whom I admire.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

“The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own.”

“There are other measures of self-respect for a man, than the number of clean shirts he puts on every day.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Research the things you love. Gain knowledge. It’s valuable.”

“Be kind. Be courteous. Love others and be happy. It’s that simple.”

“Where else can you be as free as by yourself in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of the ocean, or on the peak of a mountain. Adventure is freedom.

~ Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris is a major league baseball pitcher. He presently plays for the Detroit Tigers, and may be most famous for how he decided to live after getting signed. He bought a 1978 Westfalia camper for $10,000 and lived out of it during spring training. Known as “Van Man” who lives in a vehicle he named “Shaggy”, what he determined as important were things he decided to focus on. Surfing. Hiking. Baseball. He opts to live simply, but pursue the sport he loves. May we all have the clarity to know our prize.

January 17 – Reboot the Real Work


I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior, unrestrained, without shame, free, flourishing, and happy, looking to God in things great and small – your aim is to learn and diligently practice all these things. Why then don’t you complete the work, if you have the right aim and I have both the right aim and right preparation? What is missing?…The work is quite feasible, and is the only thing in our power…Let go of the past. We must only begin. Believe me and you will see.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 2.19.29-34

My first thought in reading today’s meditation was this Henry David Thoreau quote.

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Who do we learn from? From what can we learn? When observing someone we admire we learn the right path. When observing someone we do not admire we can turn inward to determine what we find reprehensible. Is that character trait something we exhibit?

Today’s meditation reminds us that life is a teacher, and it’s our responsibility to respond with a forward thinking attitude. How do we do that? We trust that we have surrounded ourselves with teachers who have our best interests at heart. We trust that our discerning mind is humble and honest. We trust that any mistake we have made is simply an opportunity to be better.

This isn’t some feel-good pop psychology masquerading as wisdom.

On tonight’s episode of This Is Us, Jack (father of the triplets) finds himself at a golf course. His friend Miguel is showing him how a golf course serves as an escape from the responsibilities of a “nagging” wife and “crying” children. Jack explains that he doesn’t want an escape from them. He actually wants to freeze every moment because they are fleeting, and far too soon we find ourselves only remembering these moments.

Jack decided what is important enough to work for. Family.

We work at our marriage. We work at being a good parent. We work at being a reliable friend. We work at being a good student. A good employee. A good teammate.

At times we will find ourselves in the throes of regret. It’s part of being human.We cannot remain in regret because regret tethers us to the past. Every day is a new beginning. I say again, this isn’t some feel-good pop psychology masquerading as wisdom. Consider how Thoreau framed it. What is the price of that regret? What is it keeping you from?

The best way to spend life wisely is with a clarity of mind. Learn from your teachers and diligently practice. There is no going backwards.

Two Tuesday Quotes: Muir and Krutch


A recent trip to Cedar Key, FL brought me face to face with John Muir. I was completely unaware of his impact on the Sunshine State, much less this small fishing (well, clamming) community that is Cedar Key. The historical marker at Cedar Key Museum State Park gives one a short explanation of the role John played and additional information can be found at the Florida State Parks site. His writings on Cedar Key can be found here. While visiting the park with my son he noted what I thought was an interesting point: “I don’t think John Muir would be happy with what the Sierra Club now does.” It prompted me to understand a bit more about who this man was and what he stood for in an effort to better appreciate my son’s perspective. Having been a member of the Sierra Club, reading their publications and listening to other members and critics I am not convinced my son is wrong.

As always I offer up this information for you to consider whether you agree or disagree. Regarding Mr. Krutch, I had never heard of him. His name popped up while researching Mr. Muir. The paths each man took to become involved in nature presented itself as mirror images to a certain degree.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

John Muir

If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either.

Joseph Wood Krutch

Who they are

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Two Tuesday Quotes: Thoreau and Mead


Things do not change; we change.
Henry David Thoreau

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.
Margaret Mead
On Thoreau:
Over the years, Thoreau’s reputation has been strong, although he is often cast into roles — the hermit in the wilderness, the prophet of passive resistance (so dear to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King) — that he would have surely seen as somewhat alien. His work is so rich, and so full of the complex contradictions that he explored, that his readers keep reshaping his image to fit their own needs. Perhaps he would have appreciated that, for he seems to have wanted most to use words to force his readers to rethink their own lives creatively, different though they may be, even as he spent his life rethinking his, always asking questions, always looking to nature for greater intensity and meaning for his life.
– A comment by Ann Woodlief Emerita Associate Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University
On Mead:
Of her life’s work, cultural anthropologist, museum curator and feminist scholar Margaret Mead once said, “I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples — faraway peoples — so that Americans might better understand themselves.”
– Meredith Melnick’s Time magazine piece about Mead as one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century