Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just what does that mean, "want what you have?"

Want What You Have

I meant to get this posted before Christmas. It seemed timely, given that Christians all over the world were about to participate in one of the great holiday traditions of tearing into piles of brightly colored packages filled with things. But the four good ideas are bound to no one ideology, so timing of the message isn't really the point. Let's get back to Christmas. I won't say all the things unwrapped are useless. Some of them are likely to be much needed. Many of them are things wanted. It seems a fair few of them turned out to be some sort of technical gadget that will reduce one's ability to be where they are. And of course a certain percentage are unwanted, unnecessary, or duplicated.

Here's the question: Now that you have it, do you still want it? Or are you already counting the things you did not get?

I know a man who has much and counts none of it towards his list of blessings. He lives in a well-built 3-bedroom, 2-bath ranch-style house with a kitchen, dining room, living room, concrete back patio with cover, privacy fencing around the back yard. It is beautifully landscaped, in a neighborhood where most of the folks are hard working, blue-collar middle class. He calls his home a dump and his neighbors trash. He has family members who love him, and while he lives alone, and is very lonely, he is not unloved. He calls himself the Black Sheep. He believes his isolation is God's punishment, though he has committed no sin. He has excellent health, and looks years younger than his actual age. He tells his reflection he is fat, wrinkled, old, useless. He lives off a nice pension as well as social security and savings. Cash flow is tight, but the bills get paid. There is money for travel and for new clothes, furniture, wall-to-wall carpeting, etc.. He claims he is a pauper. It is not what he wants, you see, none of it. He tallies it daily, the things he feels he should but does not have in his life: a bigger house, more money, exotic travel, someone to travel with, fine clothing, more antiques, affluent neighbors, a vacation cottage... . He wants more because being comfortable is not enough.

I know another man who lives in a three-room basement apartment so small there isn't enough room to swing a cat. The furniture came with the apartment and shows its age. The one entrance opens onto a concrete step and slopes down a steep hillside of a yard. The bathroom is accessed by walking through the bedroom and the minuscule kitchen. He is perfectly content. As is his cat, when it's not being swung. If you ask the second man to rate his position in the world, he will tell you that he counts himself lucky and calls himself happy. Although he would like a soul mate too, he believes that God loves him.

When I first heard the phrase, want what you have, it struck me as truth. Pure blazingly simple truth, like, "Yeah! That's right! Why didn't I think of that?" If we all actually want the things we have, we would be richer people. How sad is it to spend one's life counting only what is missing, and not counting what is present? (Of course you must be where you are in order to count what you have...if you spend your time mentally tallying the contents of your older sister's house to convince yourself you don't have enough, you will never see what you yourself have acquired...but then the "Quest to Acquire" is a false path, and a topic for another blog.)

Want what you have and you will always have what you want.

Now before we move onto the next good idea, I want to clarify a position at this point. I have heard others argue that if you spend your time being where you are and wanting what you have, you are merely settling and lack ambition. Not true I say! Although I concede it does appear that way on the surface, and frankly, I have a lazy streak a mile wide. But I am a believer in goal setting and dreaming big. The phrase, "no risk, no reward," is oft heard leaving my lips. Robert Heinlein wrote, "to fully enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks," and I have quoted him regularly, because this life is about the adventure of living, even living the bad times, because without that experience, one has less ability to fully appreciate the good times.  As with all truths, the key is balance — set goals but also appreciate the goals already set and accomplished, because that's how you get where you are, and that's how you gain what you have.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just what does that mean, "be where you are?"

There's a terrific book called Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How to create a more peaceful, simpler life from the inside out, by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey that I haven't read in a while, but now that I think about it, I will probably re-read soon. I think that my notion of "be where you are" probably emerged from this book. It's very simple really. Wherever you are, be there mentally as well as physically. This is easier to say than do, especially today when multi-tasking is believed to increase productivity. (It doesn't, but I'll save that for another post.)

This is especially a good idea when one is driving. Be driving when you are driving, don't be talking on the phone, fiddling with the radio, eating lunch, disciplining the children, petting the dog, etc.. Cars can be lethal weapons. Cars with drivers who are not focusing on driving are even more lethal. No conversation you may wish to have is more important than my life or yours.

But beyond safe driving, to be where you are is important for relationships too. I have a friend, and I love her dearly, but when we are together, I don't always feel like she is with me. She is on the cell phone more often than not. Sometimes the calls are important, but usually they go more along the lines of justifying why she is spending time with me rather than with the other people in her life. She's busy, a single mother with a very busy career. The demands on her time are many, and I feel privileged that she makes time to spend with me. But she isn't really with me, is she? She's with them, in front of me. I don't mean to sound like I am complaining. I would rather have this time with her than none at all. We have a lot of fun in between those phone calls, and I find her conversations interesting and intelligent.

Being where I am makes me a better listener. Because I am being there mentally as well as physically, I am actually listening to what is being said, not formulating my own response to the first three words, not mentally writing a grocery list or planning dinner or arguing with my mother in my head. I think we as a species take listening for granted. It's an ego thing, that belief that what we have to say is more important than what the other person is saying. We are all important. Each life has its place and each voice has meaning.

To be where you are is to be in the moment, enjoying it (or enduring it), and not wishing it away with thoughts of the future or the past. Time seems to last longer when we make each second count. Time is all we have, it is precious, it cannot be saved, but it can be savored.