Category Archives: Living life to the fullest
At what point in your life have you compared yourself with others?
What has made you say, “I will never be able to (sing, act, paint, write, run, kick, score, pitch, speak, draw, teach, etc.) like that? I might as well chuck in the towel now, because I’ll never be that good.”
It happens to writers often. We read a book or passage and think, “That is so well written. I could never have created something like that. Maybe I should just set down my pen (or laptop) right now.”
At the CanWrite conference in Toronto, Canada on the weekend, keynote speaker Alissa York addressed this issue. She said that comparing our fledgling writing projects to completed gems is like comparing an apple seed to an apple pie. If we spend our time drooling over someone else’s pie, we ignore our own seeds. Better to spend our time, she suggested, planting our own seeds in good soil, watering them, placing them in the sun, watching over them and nurturing them. Doing so allows our apple seeds to grow into mature trees that bear fruit with which to make our own version of a delicious pie.
And all the while we are helping our seeds to transform, we can also dig in and enjoy those other pies, instead of wasting time drooling over them.
In honour of National Aboriginal Day in Canada on Wednesday, June 21, I am sharing the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. This traditional story, given to our First Nations early in their history, applies to all people in all times.
The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent a helper out to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation.
Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. He came across a child, and he tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life.” Each of the Seven Grandfathers gave to the child a principle.
Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom.
Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
Love: To know Love is to know Peace.
Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. This form of love is mutual .
Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect.
All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected.
Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
This means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant.
Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.
Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.
Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.
This can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better.
Truth: Truth is to know all of these things.
Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.
Monday evening is the regular “library time” for a father and a small boy, and those two are the highlight of my week.
At the time of their visit to the library where I work, I am in the room that houses the book drop. I hear through the door the murmur of their voices and the scraping of a step-stool being pulled into position. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and then another as he prepares for his book return ritual.
“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.
He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.
I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.
This child shows me:
- He respects and cherishes books.
- He expresses gratitude.
- He knows how to “be here now.”
- He celebrates each moment with a Bam!
Some lessons for all of us, from a child.
My son applied for a job. He participated in a comprehensive testing and interviewing process and waited for the response. “Successful applicants will hear by Friday,” the organizers told him.
He came home that Friday to join us for a family event. The day came and went with no word. I would say “crickets,” but we’re in Ottawa, Canada, so no crickets in this cold. Let’s say that Friday passed with no sound but the lone call of a blue jay in the hinterland. He didn’t get the job.
“Oh well,” I said to him when all four of us gathered together for dinner. “Failure has its own lessons.”
Stunned silence followed my words. My husband, my daughter and my son stared at me as if I had declared my son—personally and overall—a failure. (No, no, no.)
After a couple of beats, my son said, “I might have put it a different way . . .”
I tried again. “You gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out. You learned from the experience and you’ll be better prepared for the next opportunity,” I said.
Mollified, all three nodded their heads. That was better. I didn’t use the word.
“Fail,” like “dead,” has become a word we’re not supposed to say. People don’t fail anymore; things don’t work out, or weren’t meant to be, or circumstances weren’t right. People don’t die anymore; they pass away, cross over, or go to a better place.
In this time of participation ribbons, and sports played without scorekeeping, and “leaving” ceremonies instead of graduations, perhaps there’s some value in reclaiming failure. Instead of protecting people from ever having a hurt feeling, we teach them how to deal with the hurt, how to build from it and not hide from it.
Maybe we can celebrate each failure as a worthy attempt. “You stood in there, faced your fear, tried something and failed! Good for you!”
“Failure made me look forward to the next game. If I had a bad game, I couldn’t wait for the next day, when I could brush off the failure and try to do better.” —Gary Carter in Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond
My son plays baseball, so overall I’m not worried about his ability to deal with failure. An exceptional baseball hitter fails two-thirds of the time at the plate, and pitchers fail over and over when their fastballs end up on the home run side of the outfield fence. Playing the sport he loves, my son has learned how to brush himself off and carry on with the game after one type of failure or another.
But he still doesn’t like the word.
Here’s J.K. Rowling on The Fringe Benefits of Failure.
Skaters arrived in my city and hurled themselves down a steep, curving ice track at speeds of more than 50 km/h.
The ice cross downhill athletes performed the feat on a track constructed in a breathtaking setting beside the historic Chateau Laurier and inside the Rideau Canal lock system. Who knows if anything like it will ever happen again in Ottawa?
Red Bull® Crashed Ice was an event not to be missed.
Off we went on Friday night. The sky lit up for miles around with the flashing light show. The bridge on which we stood over the Rideau Canal vibrated with the thumpa-thumpa of the non-stop pumping music. We craned our necks to see over the huge crowds and tried to figure out what was going on. We needed to deduce the action for ourselves because the young announcers for the event failed to live up to the basic requirements of their job description; that is, letting the spectators know what is happening. Information arrived to us in spotty patches. Skaters flew out of the starting gate with no warning. We didn’t know who most of the skaters were, where they were from or even what event they were skating in. I’d guess that five of eight skaters had backflipped down the track before the announcer informed us it was the semi-finals of the freestyle event. The commentary consisted mainly of “Whoa! Wow man.”
In the end, I didn’t marvel as long as one might expect over the daring of skaters who, by choice, (no one shoved them from behind off the starting block or anything) leaped off a precipitous ledge into a steep, icy hairpin turn. I didn’t gape at their breakneck (literally) speed.
Instead I mused about how we as a human race seem to be losing depth of moment.
No need to know or remember the names, the inconsistent commentary seemed to suggest: You can Google everything later. Were you looking down at your Twitter feed when a skater whizzed by? No worries. It’ll probably be on YouTube.
Before the Internet, before search engines and social media, the announcers of such an event would have felt the weight of their responsibilities. They would have known that they were the sole, fleeting source of information about the happenings unfolding in the moment. They would have felt some urgency to get the 5 Ws and the How to the spectators at the time. Our younger don’t feel the same pressures.
We are drifting away from “living in the moment” toward “living in the moment we look up later.”
I know they’re millennials and I’m old, but I like to live fully in the now with all the information I need for that moment.
I won’t need to look anything up later. I’ll be too busy enjoying the next fantastic deep moment.
A child about 7 or 8 years old enters with a parent.
“Mommy (or Daddy), do they have books about (dinosaurs . . . Lego . . . dolphins . . .),” the child says.
“You’ll have to ask,” the parent replies.
The child slinks behind the parent’s leg. “You ask.”
“No, you go ahead,” the parent urges. “It’s okay. They won’t bite.”
The child peers out from behind the leg and faces the scary prospect of talking to an adult.
Last week a scenario exactly like that unfolded right beside me. As I worked I heard a young boy ask his father about a book. His father told him to ask me. The boy took some time to work up his nerve. He said:
“Do you have The Mysterious Benedict Society?
“Yes!” I said. “Right over here.” We walked together to pick up the book he wanted.
“See?” his father said. “Asking is better than wishing.”
The boy and his father left with the book and I went back to work thinking, What excellent life advice: Asking is better than wishing.
The rest of the afternoon I pondered, Have I been wishing for things without doing the asking? Could receiving those things be as simple as voicing the request?
Something to think about: Asking is better than wishing.