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Photo by: Farfie
Happiness can be elusive when life is too complicated.
As daily commitments multiply, we find ourselves becoming conditioned to shifting between multiple tasks, creating lengthy to-do lists and juggling complicated schedules. When we’re not overwhelmed, we may feel proud that we can keep up with it all. It’s all part of making a living, but in the end it can stand in the way of making a life.
Does your schedule leave you time for things that bring true happiness?
These things vary for each of us, but for most people true happiness consists of spending time with loved ones and engaging in activities that reveal the richness and beauty of the world around us. [Read more…]
This morning I was writing at my favorite coffee shop when a cute Latin woman with big, bright eyes and rosy cheeks sat down at the table across from me. She pulled a sketch book out of her backpack and began looking around the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her look in my direction, study my posture, smile, and begin sketching.
We sat there next to each other for nearly three hours while she sketched and I wrote. And as I shifted back and forth, engrossed in thought, I felt a bit self-conscious. Because I could feel her watching me as she practiced her art.
But I wasn’t too worried because I hadn’t planned on talking to her. After all, she seemed completely satisfied sketching in silence, and smiling at her sketches and at all of the other people who surrounded us. I did, however, glance up a few times just to see her smile. Because her smile expressed a kind of passion I seldom see.
A few moments later another customer came into the coffee shop and let a gust of wind in the front door. The wind blew a completed sketch right off of the Latin woman’s table and onto the floor in front of me. The sketch was rather amazing. It perfectly depicted a man who looked a lot like me typing on a laptop computer.
I looked up at the Latin woman and smiled. “Who’s that sharp-looking guy?”
She giggled and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know,” she replied. “He’s just a fairy tale character.” She then handed me a few of the other sketches she’d been working on. One of them was of the barista behind the cash register and the others were of other customers in the coffee shop.
“Wow!” I exclaimed.
She sighed, smiled, and said, “Sometimes I wish that I could capture all of the world’s beauty in my sketches, but I’ve come to realize that it’s simply impossible. So capturing still-frames of beautiful moments is what I settle for.”
I told her that all of the world’s beauty actually is captured in every sketch that perceives a moment just as beautiful. And that her sketches are truly beautiful, just like her smile… because they reveal a gift and a passion to see beauty in common places – a beauty most of us overlook.
She giggled again and said, “My mother once told me that beauty occurs when time ceases to exist. And if she’s right, then perhaps my sketches are beautiful. Because, for me, time ceases when I try to bridge my perceptions with the moments unfolding around me.”
I chuckled aloud and then turned my laptop around so that she could read the words I had written just moments before: “Time ceases to exist when she engages in this moment, because she wants nothing more than the beauty this moment has to offer.”
“Who is she?” she asked.
“She’s just a fairy tale character others will read about… and metaphor for hope to me,” I replied with a wink.
She winked back, as if to prove that she wasn’t just a metaphor. And before I could even smile, I suddenly sneezed. She laughed and told me that for just a moment in mid-sneeze I looked like Tarzan, and asked if I could hold that pose so she could sketch me looking like Tarzan.
I told her that I didn’t mind holding a mid-sneeze pose for a few minutes. Because as she sketched, I got a chance to see the look in her eyes. You know the look I’m talking about… it’s the look when beauty is perceived, time ceases to exist, and fairy tale characters come to life.
My cell phone rang just after midnight. I didn’t answer. Then it rang again a minute later. I rolled over, grabbed the phone off the night stand, and squinted at the bright, glowing caller ID screen. “Claire,” it read. Claire is a close friend – a friend who tragically lost her husband to a car accident six months ago. And I figured since she rarely calls me in the middle of the night, it was probably important.
“Hey, Claire. Is everything okay?” I asked.
“No!” she declared as she burst into tears. “I need to talk… I need help…”
“I’m listening,” I reassured her. “What’s on your mind?”
“I lost my job this evening, and I’m tired, and I just don’t know anymore…”
“A job is just a job. They come and go. Remember, Angel lost her job last year and it was a blessing in disguise. She found something better.”
“I know, I know,” she sighed over her tears. “I just felt like the world was going to end after the accident… Ya know? And then my friends and family helped me get back on my feet…”
“And you’re still on your feet right now,” I added.
“Well, sometimes I feel like I am, and sometimes I feel like I’m barely maintaining my balance, and sometimes I feel like I’m falling again. And this series of feelings just keeps cycling over and over again in a loop – good days followed by bad days and vice versa. It’s just one long struggle. And I’m exhausted!”
“But you keep moving forward…”
“Actually,” she continued over more tears. “The only way I’ve found to keep myself moving forward from moment to moment through the hard times is by repeating a short saying my grandfather taught me when I was a kid. And I don’t know how or why it helps now, but it does.”
“What’s the saying?” I asked.
“Do your best with what’s in front of you and leave the rest to the powers above you,” she replied.
I smiled. Because I love pieces of inspirational prose that help people progress through even the hardest of times. And because it suddenly reminded me of a short story my grandfather told me when I was a kid – one that’s also applicable to Claire’s circumstance.
“Your grandfather was a wise man,” I said. “And it’s funny, because your grandfather’s saying reminds me of a short story my grandfather once told me. Would you like to hear it?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
Once upon a time, in a small Indian village, the village fisherman accidentally dropped his favorite fishing pole into the river and was unable to retrieve it. When his neighbors caught word of his loss, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
The following day, the fisherman hiked a mile down the bank of the river to see if he could find his fishing pole. He came upon a small, calm alcove in the river bank that was loaded to the brim with salmon. He used a back-up fishing pole to catch nearly 100 salmon, loaded them into his wagon, and brought them back to the village to barter with other villagers. Everyone in the village was ecstatic to receive the fresh salmon. When his neighbors caught word of his success, they came over and said, “Wow! What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Two days later, the fisherman began hiking back towards the alcove so he could catch more salmon. But a tenth of a mile into the hike, he tripped on a tree stump and severely sprained his ankle. He slowly and painfully hopped back to the village to nurse his health. When his neighbors caught word of his injury, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Four days went by, and although the fisherman’s ankle was slowly healing, he could not yet walk, and the village was completely out of fish to eat. Three other villagers volunteered to go to the river to fish while the fisherman recovered. That evening, when the three men did not return, the village sent a search party out for them only to discover that the men had been attacked and killed by a pack of wolves. When the fisherman’s neighbors caught word of this, they came over and said, “You’re so lucky you weren’t out there fishing. What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
“A few days later… well, you can guess how the story continues,” I said.
Claire chuckled and said, “Thank you.” Because the moral of the story was immediately clear to her. We just don’t know – we never do. Life is an unpredictable phenomenon. No matter how good or bad things seem right now, we can never be 100% certain what will happen next.
And this actually lifts a huge weight off of our shoulders. Because it means that regardless of what’s happening to us right now – good, bad or indifferent, it’s all just part of the phenomenon we call ‘life’ – which flows like the river in my grandfather’s story, unpredictably from one occurrence to the next. And the smartest choice we can make is to swim with the flow of the river.
Which means, quite simply, not panicking in the face of unforeseen misfortunes or losing our poise in limelight of our triumphs, but instead “doing our best with what’s in front of us and leaving the rest to the powers above us.”
Photo by: A. Andres
What is uttered from the heart alone,
Will win the hearts of others to your own.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This morning I was writing a blog entry at a local beach-side coffee shop here in San Diego when a young woman approached me. “You’re Marc, right?” she asked.
I looked up at her. She had piercing eyes, a pierced nose, an elegant smile… but nothing that rang a bell. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?” I inquired politely.
“No,” she replied. “But I know you.” She swiftly walked back to the table where she’d been sitting, picked up her laptop, and carried it over to me. On the screen was Marc and Angel Hack Life. “You look just like your photo,” she said in a chipper tone.
I smiled. “So you’re one of the seven people who read it.”
She blushed. “What I like about your writing is that it’s so real.”
I cleared my throat. “Real?” I asked.
“I mean… you don’t hide anything. You say it just like it is. And that gives me hope!”
“How do you know that I don’t hide anything?” I asked.
She paused, tilted her head slightly and squinted her eyes as if, maybe, to look for something inside me that she had missed before. “Well, your words seem so, so… honest.”
Her compliment was appreciated, but it didn’t feel fair. Perhaps because I’m not very good at accepting compliments, or perhaps because I’ve been thinking about honesty lately… and I’ve decided that I don’t like the word and its connotations.
“There are some things you should probably know,” I said. “If I know a picture is being taken of me, I usually make a crooked half smile because I think it’s sexy. If an attractive girl touches my arm, I flex a little bit because I think she prefers harder muscles. And if I know people are coming over to my condo, I run around like a mad man and make it spotless before they arrive, because I’d like them to think that I’m clean and organized all of the time.”
“And that’s just the beginning,” I continued. “When I write a blog entry, I’m typically only writing about the people and experiences that inspire a single sentence that moves me. For instance, in today’s post that sentence is: “Honesty is a matter of perception and intention.” The rest is just my attempt to bring that sentence to life – to show why it’s meaningful to me.”
“But can’t you see…”
“And when I want to impress someone I’ve just met for the first time, I pretend that I’m overly outgoing and fearless. And I try to say funny or profound things like, “Better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.” But it usually doesn’t come out right because I don’t really want to be funny or fearless or profound. Not right then. I just want to break the ice and introduce myself. And I want to do it without stumbling over my words…”
“Marc, this is exactly the kind of honesty that inspires me!”
“You’re missing the point. These are revelations… and they’re revealing the ruse. The sexy crooked smiles aren’t the smiles you see most often. And the blog posts rarely include the sentences that inspire them. And the folks I introduce myself to don’t see the real me, and they don’t realize that I’m nervous because I’m trying to impress them… because I want them to like me… and because…”
“Who are you trying to impress?” she asked.
“That’s not the point,” I said.
“But I want to know,” she insisted.
“This is what I mean…” I continued. “An honest person would just tell it to you straight. But I write stories about a guy who wishes he was his cat, and nights of dancing naked, and Jamaican women in ice cream parlors… and who the heck knows what will come next.”
“But you’re the guy who wishes he was his cat, right?” she asked.
I grinned. “Shhh… don’t tell anyone.”
“But won’t the new people you want to impress and all of the important people in your life know how you feel… now?” she asked.
“No,” I replied. “I don’t think they read this blog.”
We shared a long silence during which her gaze locked directly into the depths of my eyes. Finally, she said, “I think I understand better why you give me hope.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because at some point the world forgot – or perhaps never knew – that honesty isn’t about whether we make sexy smiles for the camera, mask autobiographical blog posts about our desires to be a cat, or try not to show our apprehension before meeting someone new. Rather, honesty – revelation – is a matter of perception and intention. And somebody recognizes that. And it gives me hope and makes me think.”
I smiled. “And one other thing,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m pretty sure that whoever you want to impress will appreciate you just the way you are. I know I do.”
Photo by: Toni Blay