Weekly Holiday Challenge, First Installment
Let's assume conversation is a game of catch among speakers. The point when it devolves into an argument is when one player plucks verbal bait launched by another (irritating) participant. And without thinking, slam a rebuke back to the thrower, hitting him in the face.
Although it takes an instant, it leaves everyone to wonder, later, how did that escalate?
Think of it as seasonally shortened temper disorder. It’s like seasonal affective disorder but more chaotic. What’s worse, it afflicts everyone: vegans and carnivores, patrons of airports and stores alike, the devout and secular.
It’s a universal plague, exacerbated by all things holiday: overheated cars, under-heated houses, small talk, egg nog, being related to others by blood, being related to others by circumstances beyond your control.
With that in mind, one day a week through the New Year I’ll post a bunch of quotes. They’ll generally be focused on keeping one's cool amid trying situations.
The “challenge” part is using these quotes. Consider them mantras. Write them on index cards for daily review, set reminders on your phone. Do whatever it takes to internalize their sentiment. Have them lead you, rather than impulses and reactivity.
If nothing else, instead of feeling flabbergasted by people’s insanity, feel gratitude. For anything. In a pinch, “Thank God I’m not him,” plus deep satisfaction about being you, will suffice.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29:
Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays translation, all emphasis mine)
Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces—to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it—and makes it burn still higher.
The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. (Is this fair? Is this the right thing to do?) Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.
The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve. – Say this at dinner and watch your social standing skyrocket (not that you care any longer). Way more erudite than “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Nothing has meaning to my mind except its own actions. Which are within its own control. And it’s only the immediate ones that matter. Its past and future actions too are meaningless.
No matter what anyone says or does, my task it to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.”
Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.
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