Today I read this from Steve Jobs: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
These are powerful words and they hit close to home for me. I have spent most of my life living by someone else's rules. Even retirement from teaching did not completely free me from that pattern. Now, for the first time in my life, I am able to live each day the way I want to. And while this may sound like a "first world problem," it is not always easy to know what you want to do or how you want to go about it. So I go back to the first four words of the Jobs quote, "Your time is limited." Knowing this I ask how do I want to spend my time today. I have had breakfast and cleaned the apartment. I have a commission painting I am going to execute this week, but not today. Today I am going to think. Plato says, "Thinking is the talking of the soul with itself." And I find that this is an essential activity that I must engage in almost constantly.
Of course, I don't mean the kind of thinking that spins off of survival. Things like what to eat, what to wear, when to work, how to work, when to exercise, etc. What I am talking about is the need to step away from distraction and escapism to really have a talk with yourself.
Several years ago I asked my grandson what he was going to do that day. He was probably about five years old at the time and quite precocious. He responded with, "I am going to be a think tank." Naturally I was impressed that he even knew what a think tank was, and with my adult wisdom pointed out that he probably couldn't be an entire "tank." But now I'm not sure about that. I am a naturally reclusive, introverted person, and I function quite well most days living in my own head. This doesn't mean I don't value the ideas of others, but I just need lots of time to myself to digest the things that come across my screen.
I have a lot of time on my hands these days. Lots of time to think about thinking. Metacognition. And every once in a while I allow myself to become what I have always thought of as "bored." I have come to realize that this feeling of boredom is in reality an unwillingness to concentrate. And sometimes it is a demand that the brain just needs a little rest. A little meditation. A little not doing anything. Unfortunately, in our culture, our response is often to go out and do something when we feel bored. I am trying not to do that. I am trying to make it my habit to inwardly instead of venturing outwardly.
I read a lot. Charles Scribner says, "Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." I like that. This morning I have been reading Rumi's poetry and thinking through his mind. He writes, "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." Powerful words. I imagine that Rumi was not talking about romantic love or familial love, but the kind of peaceful perfection and purity that we all try to struggle toward.
I find that it helps me organize my thoughts to start the day with some intentional thinking. Today I chose Rumi as one of my guides. He writes, "Water, stories, the body, all the things we do, are mediums that hide and show what's hidden." So much to ponder here... I got out this morning and went to the bookstore. I wasn't in a shopping mood, just trailing along after David while he bought a book. I happened across a book by Viktor Frankl about what he calls logotherapy, and read a few pages. His amazing premise is that we, as humans, have the freedom to find meaning in our lives, no matter what our lives are.
That is a lot of responsibility. How can one turn away from that? Frankl says, "A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the 'why' for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'" These words give me tremendous hope and empowerment! Even if things don't go well, I have the ability to deal with them, understand them, and react to them. And when things do go well, I also have these same abilities. I am the constant.
This is what I will consider today as I paint, as I cook lunch, as I sit by the window and watch a storm blow in.
I will close today with my favorite Rumi poem:
Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
in the pomegranate flowers.
If you do not come, these do not matter.