THE BEST THING I LEARNED IN 2013

This is my first ALL CAPS title. I’m that excited. It’s THAT important. I want to share with you the best piece of advice I received this past year. It’s actually part of a philosophy called Stoicism.

Still here? Good. Don’t be scared. Like many people, I want to be wise. I seek knowledge. I crave understanding and acceptance. Every year, I try new things to fulfill these goals. This year, I tried to meditate, but found that I would only fall asleep. It was like taking a ten minute nap sitting cross-legged on the floor. Even my butt fell asleep. Meditation was not going to get me there.

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I bought some books in September. I thought I’d begin everyday of the school year with an inspirational poem or thought-provoking essay–short, to the point. I bought A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings, by Coleman Barks. My friend Michele over at The Everyday Strange and Sacred (check out her awesome blog here) peaked my interest in Rumi. Very cool poet. He died in 1273, but his words are of all time. As I was finding the right book of Rumi, Amazon led me to the People who bought Rumi also bought…which led me to A Guide to the Good Life {the ancient art of stoic joy}, by William B. Irvine. I was looking for the good life–I knew I needed a guide. Yet, I was intimidated by the word “stoic”. Stoic seemed cold, steely, detached. But once I checked out the inside jacket cover, I was hooked. It read:

One of the great fears that many of us face is that, despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life…William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most successful and popular schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives…Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a road map for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us.

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The two books arrived together, and I spent the first few months of the school year trying to begin each day with Rumi and the Stoics (sounds like a cool band name). Like most things, my morning routine faltered, and my reading was replaced with hitting snooze seven more times, or making lunches for the boys, or–you get the gist. But as I look back on 2013, and I take stock in the year that was, I keep returning to the greatest insight I have gained this year, in fact in the past few years. It’s that good.

One autumn morning, as the sun turned our kitchen a golden orange, I was reading about stoic joy–I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. I came across the following: “In my research on desire, I discovered nearly unanimous agreement among thoughtful people  that we are unlikely to have a good and meaningful life unless we can overcome our insatiability…One wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to WANT THE THINGS WE ALREADY HAVE.

WANT THE THINGS WE ALREADY HAVE. My mind was blown. It seemed as if all of the words on the page darkened save for those six. I felt the glow of those words shine of the page a la Indiana Jones when he found the Holy Grail (maybe that was the sun coming in, but I swear the pages were glowing). Want the things I already have. Could it be so simple? Yes. Yes, it could.

I immediately thought of the gas fireplace I had been pining away for these past few years. “It’d be so nice to just flick a switch and have a roaring fire,” I’d say. (Damn you, HGTV) But wait. I have a fireplace. So many people wish they had a fireplace in their home, and I already do. I am lucky. What if I simply enjoyed the fireplace I already have? What if I made a point of having more fires this year? I could enjoy the sounds of crackling flames, the sweet smell of smoky wood, the natural warmth and ambient glow. Want the things I already have.

As I got dressed for work, I looked at my wardrobe. “How many plaid shirts from the GAP does one man need?” I thought. Not as many as I own, I’ll tell you that. Yet, I’d find myself buying another shirt or pair of pants every other month or so because of a sale that was too good to pass up. “Why do I even need to go shopping as often as I do?” I thought. I don’t, if I just learn to want the things I already have.

I drove to work that day and thought of all the things I covet that didn’t matter. I live in a nice house. I drive a nice car. Yet, there’s always something more on the list that I thought I needed–and when one thing was acquired, more was added to the list. It never seemed to shorten, just grow.

All that week, I applied this philosophy to my thought process. Looking around at the gym, I’d see the bodies of people more fit than I. “Wish I had that guy’s muscles,” I’d lament. But then I’d catch myself–Hey, want what you already have. You have powerful legs that allow you to run, and healthy lungs that let you breath. You are lucky.

And I am, terribly lucky. I have all the ingredients for happiness, yet I allow myself to become distracted by all the insignificant desires that consume us. We are consumers. And that’s the tragedy of it all.

But I found as the weeks passed, I continued to think about this phrase, and it released me from some of the pressure we put on ourselves to be, to do, to buy, to desire. I looked around me at the people in my life, and I thought how happier we’d all be if we just learned to want what we already have.

To the writer who just started a blog–don’t worry about when you will get your next follower–want the ones you have today.

To the person who keeps checking Facebook for more likes on her photo–appreciate the Likes you’ve already received.

To the folks who dream of one day getting the corner office–want the job you have right now.

To the couple trying to conceive their second child–appreciate the miracle that is already in your life–want the child you already have.

To the friend who can’t wait to move to a bigger house–talk a walk through your house now and remind yourself what you loved about it when you first bought it. Want the house you already live in.

To the people who look at their significant other and think how they might be able to do better–how much better would your relationship be if you desired your present partner more? Want the person whose hand you hold today.

To those who are searching for THE ONE–want the life you have right now, the freedom, and enjoy this time to discover more about you.

To all of us who’ve lost people, be it this year, last, or long ago–what if we loved those still in our lives more deeply, rather than allow our energy to be consumed mourning those who are resting in peace?

Yes, I found that this phrase became a mantra for me. I applied it to things, to situations, to people.

This Christmas, I thought of these words when spending time with family and friends. Too often in the past, I would fixate on the people who were not there, on the loved ones from whom I am estranged. But this year, rather than think about the people I didn’t spend the holidays with, I looked around the room at those who did come to my house, or I to theirs, and I appreciated them more. I was thankful to have so many kind, caring people show up in my life. I refused to waste my time and energy worrying about those who do not. Yes, I wanted the people I already have in my life.

Such thoughts were with me as I heard the laughter of my boys and their cousins as they chased one another through the house. I did not care about the furniture, or the mess, only the people who were there to share this special time with us. These thoughts made me feel more alive.

Someone came up beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Beautiful fire,” she said, admiring the dancing orange flames in the hearth. “Thanks!” I said.

Beautiful fire, indeed.

Happy New Year, Everyone. I hope 2014 is filled with many moments of joy and wonder. May you see the amazing things that surround you in the present. May you find more value in what you already have.

I leave you with a few of my favorite poems by Rumi, which complement this phrase that has become my guidepost.

Out Beyond

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense

Hoping to be More Alive

You are an ocean in a drop of dew,
all the universes in a thin sack of blood.

What are these pleasures then,
these joys, these worlds
that you keep reaching for,
hoping they will make you more alive?
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21 comments

  1. Happy New Year, Mike! Thank you for this heart-warming and wise blog. I love Rumi, too, and I love your thoughts on wanting what you have. When I retired, I assuaged my worries about money with the following words by Lao Tzu:
    To know
    When you have enough
    Is to be rich beyond measure.

    But I’m preaching to the choir!

    Like

    1. Kathy, I apologize for being so late in responding to your comment. Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. What a great quote by Lao Tzu.

      You know, in a strange way, I feel closer to you now that we don’t work together everyday, but communicate through writing. Go figure.

      I wish you a happy, healthy 2014. Peace!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on KingMidget's Ramblings and commented:
    What an incredible post and important message for me and a whole lot of people I know and care about. I found this to absolutely hit home for me. There are a couple of books here I’ll be switching over to Amazon to purchase … like right now.

    Like

      1. You replied to one of my earlier comments about seeing in me where you’re headed in the future. I see my past in your posts. It’s like this odd version of deja vu. In many ways, you’re living my life over again. Two boys, spaced a couple of years apart. The struggles and triumphs of being a dad, a role you take seriously. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and with your boys. I look forward to seeing you write about your experiences in 2014 and thinking “yeah, I know what he means.”

        Like

  3. Incredible post, Dadicus, just incredible. Came along at just the right time for me. It’s interesting, when I was a kid, my dad would tell me to stop wishing my life away. I still have that problem today. I’m going to purchase the two books you mention and see if I can change my tune. Finally, after all these years.

    Like

  4. Hi! Got here via the reblog from Kingmidget and I am so glad that I did. What an amazing post and as for others, it has hit at just the write time for me. I will certainly look into those books you mention, but in essence, te message is so simple. Want the things that we already have. What beautiful phraseology!

    Like

  5. Although I could appreciate all the philosophies, I appreciated stoicism most when I studied it. Funny, I didn’t think it would be such a difficult class. Now that I’ve gained some perspective, that’s the one class that left the biggest impression.

    Like

  6. I wish I could write as well as you….;-) Te-he…Loved the post- As my dad, and an incredibly rich manufacturer says, “Life is good!”

    Like

  7. Beautiful perspective that I needed to read today. I attended a dear friend’s funeral this morning, and my heart has been heavy for several days. I look around me and very much want the people and the life I have – – thanks for sharing.

    Like

    1. I am sorry for your loss and I hope you find comfort in good memories from the time you spent with your friend. Be patient with yourself in healing from this.

      I Love that you want the people and the life that you have–continue to embrace them and it.

      Like

  8. I love how happy just taking that one piece of advice into your heart has made you, Michael! And I love the joyful way you wrote about it, sharing both those wise words, and your happiness, with us. Thank you!

    Like

  9. Hey, Dadicus,

    This post is exactly the post I wanted to read. Wanting what we already have keeps us smack dab in the present moment. And in this moment, acceptance and appreciation is what I have. And they’re just what I want.

    Thank you for your well-written and wise words, and the new reads.

    Smiles!

    Like

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