So. School is starting again. That could mean nothing or it could mean everything. I’ve been thinking a lot about how life is what you make of it. I have met people who dive into what is right in front of them, whether it is a river or a pile of mud, and make a grand time out of it. They take the opportunity at hand and improve it to the utmost. I have noticed that these kinds of people don’t wait for life to give them handouts. They don’t wait for the “stars to align”, nor do they wait for something to happen to them. They make opportunity by putting their soul into whatever is at hand. I have noticed that many great people become great in the way that we recognize them (by standing up to injustice, exercising moral courage when it is the hardest, speaking up when no one else is, etc.) not because they were born that way. I think they just did their best to live honestly, to put the virtues they recognized to work, work, work, and to live mindfully and not to settle for mediocrity.
Think of some of those great names that we know, the names of those that are universally recognizable for the good they contributed to the world: Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. It is how they responded to the challenges in front of them that turned mean barriers like racism and prejudice into the opportunities at hand that I spoke of. Notice again how it is their response to what was happening to them and outside of them that opened up the wide channels that allowed them to challenge the prevailing, habitual cultural ideas around them.This opening, these seized opportunities, big and especially small, allowed these individuals to do good work that inspired the lives of countless others who have since gone and lived lives of courage, selflessness and striving, and whose names we will never see written boldly in the annals of history. But their deeds echo boldly because of the good they have done, though we may not be able to identify the exact source. That’s the power of responding to the challenges of the moment and allowing them to be opportunities for growth, for doing good, for losing self, for speaking courageously, instead of seeing them as set-backs, pitfalls of defeat, automatic excuses for discouragement.
Now all of this is work. In my own small ways I have to make decisions all the time about how earnestly I am diving into what is in front of me. Am I taking this moment and improving it to the utmost? I know that stillness, solitude, writing, and very pure honesty allow me to see myself most clearly and allow me to judge for myself whether I am living a life that is courageously doing good in my own small, and sometimes big, ways. I have learned to try not to panic when fear pours its intoxicating juice over my head, seeming to soak my experience in self-doubt, inferiority, shame, all the little complaints of the ego. I found the best antidote is not to stop moving; not to stop doing good, even if it’s just holding the door open for someone. You may feel like crap, but don’t give into self-pity, the most deliciously deceptive and dangerous candy out there. Just keep striving, doing good, being good, really. Remember people, being good is natural. And if I do give into self-pity, I do my best to know I am responsible for stopping. I am the only one who can press the “stop” button on what could be endless cycles of rehearsed injustice. I wake up, and keep going. That takes courage, but I feel like I am more effective, more alive, more real, more ready to respond to those around me regardless of what the need is, if I am not letting the ego’s plaintive wails slow me down, and I march on, improving the moment, and thus the opportunity at hand.
It’s going to take work. A lot of honesty. A lot of self-forgiveness for we are forever slipping back into old habits that we despise. But to really make the most of the present can become effortless, a joy, and in it I find I am happy too.
School is starting on Monday. That could mean nothing or it could mean everything. It’s a simple matter of whether I am living the opportunities at hand, or whether I am letting unimproved moments slip by, choosing instead to be complacent. I found it’s always a choice, so this can be a year “big with blessings” (MB. Eddy), in which new and wide channels for doing good may open and satisfy us and a world hungering for true substance– true, pure and honest goodness.