(Today’s article is by guest writer Brock Haussamen. See bio below.)
I’ve been reading and re-reading certain works in snippets. They are not actually daily readings, and they are not even all readings. But partly because they have become a habit, they support me, help me manage life, and bring me a sense of sanity. They are of three types.
Word for the Day
A red Lululemon shopping bag sat in our living room for a couple of weeks. Along with the phrase “this is yoga,” a column of 18 words ran down the side of the bag: ACCEPTANCE, HUMILITY, STILLNESS, ATTENTION, DEVOTION, LETTING GO, MEDITATION, SELF-DISCIPLINE, INTENTION, CONCENTRATION, GENEROSITY, SELF-DISCOVERY, PURITY, NONVIOLENCE, BREATH, TRUST, COMPASSION, PATIENCE.
After many mornings of staring at the list, I began choosing one of the words each day as a theme. Some days the chosen word is an antidote—stillness on a day that feels hectic. At other times, the word is a skill to be honed, like generosity. Or it may be a word to deepen a current mood, such as acceptance.
So far, nonviolence hasn’t been a theme. And I’ve added awareness as a prompt for backing off mental processing for a while and just taking in what’s around me. The list itself encourages choice.
In Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (2021), Adam Grant describes our stubborn attachment to how we view the world and the dilemmas that result when new information comes along and we interpret it according to what we already expect or want it to mean. The habit is clearer in others than in ourselves. “We’re swift to recognize when other people need to think again. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right.” Expertise doesn’t help; the more one knows about something, the harder it is to re-think it.
Thinking hard for me means concentrating in a particular way, sometimes briefly, on a question or a situation I’ve been avoiding or minimizing. Problems come in all sizes: how to get a torn window screen out of a window frame; how it was that a family conversation suddenly turned nasty; how to wrap my head around a friend’s illness. I find a few minutes to think hard about that screen/the conversation/the friend. What is it I want to know, what do I know for sure already, what assumptions am I making? Have I misjudged? What options do I have? What’s my best judgement for now?
The process almost always brings new clarity. And I like knowing that any tough issue will get its scrutiny in a process set aside for the best thinking I can give it.
Besides a cue word and the problem-solver, I often find myself carrying around a couple of good ideas from books. The books vary. These days, I dip into Deepak Chopra’s Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life (2020) for his commentaries and connections. Here is a passage:
Quiet Mind is the way your mind recovers from overwork. The mind is constantly processing daily life and its challenges…. [It] naturally wants to be quiet when no activity is necessary. In peace and silence lie the simple contentment of existence and a renewed appetite for the next situation that demands a response. (page 53)
Other passages offer startling demonstrations, as this one about consciousness, from a list of everyday miracles:
Close your eyes and visualize complete blackness…. Now open your eyes and look at the room around you.
Where is the miracle?
When your eyes were closed and you imagined nothing but blackness, you were seeing your room as it actually is. No light exists without you to perform the miracle of turning invisible photons into brightness, color, and shape. The night sky actually is black. Stars do not shine. The noonday sky is also black. The sun doesn’t shine.
…The fact that we see things happens entirely in consciousness…. (p. 203)
Words are only tools of course, and in all the examples above, what matters is what we find behind and through the words. The word for the day refreshes a mood, thinking hard can clarify human relations, books inspire. But it’s fortunate to have the word-tools to give us access, to remind us, and to tell us.
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Bio: Brock Haussamen taught English at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey until retiring in 2006. He has followed and written for the Spiritual Natural Society for many years. His blog, 3.8 Billion Years: Lives and Life, explores the history of living things and the consolations that it offers. It remains available at 38by.blog.