Dr. No

What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I have a confession to make:  I’m a huge James Bond fan.  I have loved them all in all of their incarnations and inanity, from Connery to Craig.

Dr. No was the first Bond movie, dating all the way back to 1962. Bond was played by the inimitable Sean Connery. Julius No was the villain.

But these days, I tend to think of anyone with doctoral level skills in “No” as a hero.

I’m giving a workshop this week for the Connecticut Bar Association on life balance. Last week, as I was getting ready for the workshop, I saw a colleague of mine, Sandy, in the courthouse.

Sandy called out to me across the hallway, “Walt, I hear you’re giving the seminar on life balance.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Are you coming?”

Breathlessly, because Sandy is usually breathless and in a hurry, she replied, “No, can’t, have no time.”

We both chuckled about how ridiculous that sounded.  But however ridiculous it may have been, it is, for most of us, not only irony but truth.

We have no time to get balanced because we’re so out of balance. And breathless.

Saying “no” might help.

Most of us want to please others and be seen as affable.  If we get asked to contribute in some way to a church or  school or community event, most often our knee-jerk reaction is to say yes. And  if we dare say no, it’s not without some chagrin and guilt.

Parents are particularly prone to “yes.”  We’re hard-wired to want the best for our kids.  We’re hard-wired to want to see them happy.  Most of the time, in our minds, the “best,” or what we think will make them “happy,” is to say “yes” to whatever the request is.  Even when saying “no” may be the “right” response.

Helping professionals are especially at risk.  We get paid to come to the rescue. And coming to the rescue feeds our sense of self-worth.  The more we say yes, the more meaning and significance  we feel.  Even when saying “yes” places us at risk for divorce, depression, and burn-out.

Not only that, saying yes, being busy, is “in.”

How often during the course of the day does this occur?  “How are you?” you ask someone.  “Busy,” they reply.”

Busy is a badge of honor.  Busy is good.  If you’re not busy, something’s wrong!

How would it be if someone were to ask you how you were and you were to respond, “Languid.” “Bored!” “Been laying about.” “Haven’t had a thing to do in weeks!”  You’d get a look that might suggest you were on crack.

You gotta be busy.  Because to be busy is to be important.  To be busy is to have worth.

The problem, of course, is that by continually saying yes, we become stretched too thin, over-extended. Depleted.  Worth-less.

I really like the Pareto Principal. It’s also called the 80/20 rule.

Tim Ferriss in his provocative  book The 4-Hour Work Week, says, “When I came across Pareto’s work one late evening, I had been slaving away with 15-hour days seven days per week, feeling completely overwhelmed and generally helpless.”

Overwhelmed and helpless ring any bells?  I know that I am susceptible to this!

“Faced with certain burnout or giving Pareto’s ideas a trial run, I opted for the latter,” Ferriss says.  “The next morning, I began a dissection of my business and personal life through the lenses of two questions:

1. Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?

2. Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?”

What are the 20% of the customers or clients that give you 80% of the headaches? Get rid of them. What is the 20% of your work that gives you 80% of your joy? Focus on it.

Who are the 20% of people who produce 80% of your happiness, who support and encourage you?  Who are the 20% who  cause the 80% of your angst?

You get the idea.  We all take on too much.  And much of what we take on is at the margins.  Get rid of what’s not working.  Do only what is.

Say no more often.  Say yes only to what is essential.  Say yes to what brings joy.

Robert Frost wrote, “good fences make good neighbors.”  Our boundaries matter. They protect us and make us whole.

By eliminating whole bushels of stuff from our life, we open expanses of time that allow us to rest and renew.  To reclaim our sense of purpose. Our sense of wonder. Our creativity. Ourselves.

By saying no to what’s not working, we dissipate busyness, we open ourselves to the richness and fullness of life.

By saying no, we say yes.

Today’s piece marks the 52nd entry in my blog Journeys on the Edge. During the fourteen months that I have written, I have had hundreds of readers, comments and emails.  For all of these, I am grateful. Thank you.  At one level, this is a selfish undertaking:  the things I write about are the things I think about and struggle with.  At another, it is a labor of love: it is my hope that my rambling thoughts might benefit others in some small way as we travel this Great Journey together.  In the words of the poet Constantine Cavafy, may your way be long.    — Walt Hampton

Racing The Sun

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnameable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.

Lao-Tzu

I looked up at the overhead monitor for the tenth time in as many minutes.  The little icon of the plane hadn’t budged.  It would be a long seven hours.

We were flying west from Ireland.  American Airlines graciously displayed the world map, our intended route, and the position of the plane.

I noticed that the display also marked the divide between night and day.  As we flew west, I could watch the dark creep up behind us.

It tends to do that.

We mark the fall equinox this week, that day when the light and dark are fairly matched. Darkness will overtake us soon.

I’m not fond of the dark.  Although some would argue that I am affected generally, I admit only to the seasonal variety.  As the days grow short, I fight to keep my mood from darkening too. The morning runs become more challenging.  It’s harder to jump into new projects after dinner.

I understand the need to hibernate.

But I forget sometimes the need to celebrate.

Autumn is a time to do that.

In the spring, we plant.  In the summer, we cultivate.  In the fall, we enjoy the harvest, the fruits of our labors.

This is the rhythm of things.  In nature.  And in our lives.

I have such a tendency to tick off goals.  And then move on to the next one without ever stopping to appreciate the effort, savor the moment, reflect on the journey, enjoy the accomplishment, celebrate the success.  Mount an expedition to Aconcagua: check. Summit Denali: check.  Marathon training: check.

Ireland marked a wedding anniversary with the most wonderful partner I could ever imagine: check.

And the countless smaller joys: stimulating work, healthy and successful kids, a wonderful staff, spectacular friends, a beautiful home.  Check, check, check and check!!

How is it that I can get so busy, so tunnel visioned,  that I pass all these things by like Burma-Shave signs on the highway, like mile markers on the interstate?

Celebration is such a core component of our lives. I suspect that we have done it for as long as we have been aware of our humanity.  And seen, albeit dimly, our connection to divinity. In cave dwellings. In great cathedrals. Around our tables. That need to celebrate is part of our DNA. And yet the demands of our daily lives cause us to forget. Or so deplete us that we cannot know our joy.

It is time for Autumn. It is time to harvest what we have sown and cared for.  To stop. To appreciate. To be grateful. To celebrate with the bounty that belongs to each of us. I know it is for me.

My photography mentor Galen Rowell was fond of saying that there is an intensity at the edges of things: earth and sky, land and sea, night and day.  At this autumnal edge, I want to be intensely grateful.

We landed in Boston.  The shadow of darkness had overtaken us.  But in the morning, the sun came up again.  It always does.


“Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”

Edward Abbey

Where The Fudge Leads

This is best done in a darkened kitchen well after the hubbub of the day.  Have a ready “explanation” for what you’re doing.  Maintain plausible deniability at all times.

The materials required are: a fresh half gallon of fudge ripple ice cream, and a teaspoon. (It’s also handy to have the daily newspaper nearby so as to appear preoccupied with current events.)

With the teaspoon, follow the fudge.  Sometimes the ripples peter out.  But sometimes they end in a jackpot: a vast reservoir of chocolate fudge.

You never know.

Ripples are like that.

I love Success Magazine.  I purchased a gift subscription for a business colleague thinking it might be helpful for him as he builds his business.  He thanked me for it and I know that he enjoys it.  Several months later, he told me that his wife, who suffers from depression, came upon the magazine and found many of the articles inspiring and uplifting.

An unexpected ripple.

Many years ago, a seminary classmate began the practice of paying for the order of the person behind her at the Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-Thru. And ignited a movement of generosity that grew like wildfire.

A random act of kindness.

Ann writes a tough no-nonsense blog entitled Things Momma Never Taught Me. Some of her friends have found it a bit “much” because of some of the “heavy” topics she’s handled. The mom of one of these friends discovered one of Ann’s pieces and found it comforting as she grappled with the terminal illness of someone close to her.

An unintended consequence.

I’m a big fan of a wonderful blog called Little Things Matter by leadership expert Todd Smith. “Every little thing you do, or don’t do, is noticed,” says Smith.  And impacts others in ways we cannot possibly begin to imagine.

I’ve always thought the “Butterfly Effect” to be an elegant and intriguing theory. Based upon the work of Edward Lorenz, a chaos theorist, the term is a metaphor for the initial conditions in a physical system that have the capacity to effect massive change.

According to Lorenz, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a distant tornado. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the entire chain of events would be different.

A little bit like the notion of karma in Buddhist teaching. The law of karma says only this: “for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.”  Our actions have consequences. All of our deeds shape the past, present and future.

I never cease to be floored when something I say or do in passing and without intention “means” something to another.  And chastened when something inadvertent has caused hurt.

With mindfulness, we have the capacity to impact so many lives as we move through our days. A smile, a small deed, a kind word can lift the spirit and alter the trajectory of someone’s day. And in turn make a difference in the lives of countless others.

The image often used is the pebble tossed in the ocean.  The wavelets washing up on shores beyond our view.

Little things do matter.  Wherever the fudge leads.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

Four Wheelin’

He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

— Nietzche

It was like a Giant Slalom course.

Careening back and forth, I deftly avoided the holes and the heaves in the road.

“I think I’d take it a little slower,” Dave said from the back seat.

I smiled at him through the rear view mirror and pressed the accelerator a bit harder.

It was late winter and Jefferson Notch Road was a combination of ice and snow and rutted rock. Perfect for my all-wheel multi-purpose trusty reliable Outback.

Until I saw the branch a bit too late.  And swerved.  And caught the icy patch. And landed in the ditch.

Ten miles from the main road without cell phone coverage.  Late in the day. Without much prospect of another passing car.

“Landed” would be a euphemism for impaled, upended, kinda screwed.

As September looms, I am aware of my propensity to careen.  The lazy days of summer seem to nurture a sense of healthy aimlessness in me.  But as they give way to the fall, there is a return to schedule and routine.  Greater portent. Obligations and Expectations and Commitments.

The days packed full, one ebbing into another.  Labor Day becomes Columbus Day becomes the Holidays.  Life lived in a particle accelerator.  Full and satisfying.  But also stupefying in its blur.

Lived without a lot of presence. Or much appreciation for the moments granted.

Buddhists speak of our precious human existence.  Of our unique potential for enlightenment. But how much of it we miss by failing to show up. By failing to hold in awareness all that we have been given. One moment careening into another, evaporating like drops of water on a hot griddle.

My most important summer read was Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.  I was so moved by Frankl’s capacity to be in touch with beauty and dignity and purpose even in the most horrific of circumstances.  How is it that he could appreciate the watery soup and morsel of bread when in the comfort of my suburban banality it is a chore to remember the sauteed shrimp I had last night? How is it that he could find goodness and decency in the prison guards who persecuted him when I sometimes struggle to find such qualities even in those I love? How is it that he could find hope as his friends were led to the crematorium when I find bleakness in something as transitory as the failing daylight? How is it that he could marvel in a sunset through the barbed wire when sometimes I cannot even remember to look?

Frankl reminds us of our power to chose.  In every moment.  To chose: to cherish every fragment of time. To appreciate every opportunity. To hold dear to beauty.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I was brought up short this week by a quote passed on by Tony Robbins: “Somebody is in the hospital begging God for the opportunity you have right now. Step into your moment.”

It is so easy to step over the moment, through the moment, under the moment; but never to dwell in the moment.  Failing to recognize the richness of the opportunities that stretch before us. Right here, right now. Forgetting to appreciate the countless blessings that our precious human existence brings.

Even as I mourn the loss of a beloved pet and grapple with the looming tuition bills and wrestle with the countless commitments of a new season, I want to chose to see beauty. To careen less. To avoid the ditch.

Dave was right.  It would be better to take it a little slower.

It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.

— Victor Frankl