One of my favorite quotes is from W.H. Auden.
Thou shalt not sit with statisticians nor commit
A social science.
Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose between the chances, choose the odd:
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.
The last stanza, as many scholars will tell you is a nod and wink to Reverend Sydney Smith who handed off this football coach-like advice: Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God.
W.H. Auden was a brilliant and bold writer who was known to make few compromises in his art or in his personal life. He was also no football coach.
As a social scientist and a manager I couldn’t agree with him more about with whom to sit or socialize although I have found many anthropologists to be witty drinking buddies.
I part ways, however, with Auden and the Reverend Smith about taking the short view although I’m all for living in the moment without being hamstrung by the past I can’t change and the future I don’t know.
It has been taking the long view, however, where I have developed a profound understanding, and yes, sympathy, of people, events, and even organizations. By taking the long view, I back up from the situation, take a few mindful breaths, and discover what I perceived as black and white is really more variations of grey. With grey comes empathy, recognition of the ambiguity of life, and, hopefully, acceptance and peace.
Some people may appear not to be capable of taking the long view like the elderly and the dying, but having spent time with the elderly and dying, they, too, even in their suffering are thinking about the future and most often, the future that doesn’t include them. They are thinking about their legacy. That is if they are conscious and are still able to navigate their fate. Here is an opportunity for the rest of us who are not as aware of the slippery slope that is life, to watch or help and learn.
Living in the moment, on the other hand, is liberating and can be a goal of a Yoga practice. Listening closely to instructions, not anticipating, and focusing on every movement and breath allows us to transcend the monkey brain that all of us grapple to control.
Like a Yoga practice, Mindfulness is challenging and liberating. Mindfulness is a therapeutic approach composed of the three key interdependent elements of:
2. Of present experience,
3. With acceptance.
By becoming aware of the minute details of every activity like eating, walking, and even breathing, many of my clients, especially those plagued with anxiety, will find a peace that had been eluding them since their injury. I tell them: By slowing the breath, the heart and the mind will follow.
Short view or long view, the act of living deserves observation and appreciation.
David Henry Thoreau famously said: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Believing that to be true, how can we spend so much of our time hating one another? Yet hate and fear appear to be the motor driving many people’s ambitions and relationships with others. My experience has taught me that life is fragile and needs to be handled accordingly. The Yogi Emily Dickinson observed: To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations.
I do love those New Yorker cartoons.