The secret is that we have to live this life just as it is. The secret is that there is no secret that will give us the way out, or that will transform our lives like the kiss of a handsome prince or a beautiful princess. This is it. We can change what can be changed, but that will not be as much as we want it to be, as much as we wish it would be. Even when we have changed everything that can be changed, we still have to live with life as it is. We still have to make the best of it. We still have to grant concessions, make allowances, get up each day and make our way through the reality of things as they are.
There is much to not like about our lives. If we spend our time not liking it, whining, complaining, moaning, and moping about because it is so awful and we are so woe, we will miss the good when it comes along, and will not enjoy what can be enjoyed about our lives as they are. So, we do what can be done with what we have to work with to change what can be changed, and live to enjoy what can be enjoyed, while tolerating the rest; while refusing to let the rest interfere with our ability to celebrate and embrace all that is good about our lives as they are.
The bad doesn’t cancel out the good. The good doesn’t cancel out the bad. Both are true at the same time. Our lives could always be better. Our lives could always be worse. Things are not so good and things are unbelievably, wondrously, wonderfully, fantastically great—both, at the same time. What gets our attention?
I’m not talking about denial. I’m talking about emphasis. I’m talking about seeing with awareness and mindfulness how things are and how things also are, and what we choose to focus on, where we choose to live. In which world do we spend the most time? In the world of the not so good which we wish were better? In the world of the perfectly, beautifully, marvelously, right now, just as it is, right out of the box, good?
We look at a day, and what do we see? This is spiritual practice. Don’t think I’m pulling a Norman Vincent Peale on you. This is not “the power of positive thinking.” This is not making sour sweet. This is not the Lawrence Welk Dancers coming at you over the internet. There is much about our lives that is not good which we have to deal with every day. I’m saying acknowledge that and deal with it without succumbing to it; without being overwhelmed by it; without surrendering to the temptation to think that nothing is right with the world and we may as well end it now because it is only going to get worse.
Victor Frankl found men who brought meaning and hope and beauty to life in the worst prison camp experience that Hitler Germany could create. There were men in that environment who held on to the good in the midst of evil. They did not deny the evil. That evil could not be denied. They did not pretend that things were better than they were. They did not withdraw into Polly-Anna-ism, smiling sweetly, and skipping through merrily the mud and the misery. They shared their bread. They whistled symphonies and sonatas. They remembered and recited poetry. They told stories of happy times. They kept hope alive. They became the good which was missing from their experience, and brought the wonder of caring relationships to life, and transformed the world of the death camp by choosing to live as servants of light in the deep darkness of that awful night.
It’s all about what we attend, what we pay attention to, what we think about, what we see when we look at the broad scope of our lives, what we emphasize, what we choose as the center around which everything that is “us” coalesces. It’s about what we bring to life as we live through the day. What do we see? What do we say? Is our orientation toward the good or toward the bad? Are people better off for our being in the world with them? What impact do we have on the way life is lived around us?
What we do with our attention is our spiritual practice. What we spend our time thinking about is our endowment to the world. Where we place the emphasis is the legacy we leave behind. How we take a day, each day, and treat it, and treat the people in our lives is our gift to the day, to the people in it with us.
Our lives will never be as different as we wish they were. How we deal with the difference between what we have and what we wish we had is what makes the difference in our lives, in the lives of those who are with us in this place, and in the world as a whole. The way we respond to the day is the one thing about each day that is pretty much up to us. We are the gift we give to the day. Every day.