Recently, I heard a speaker named Tom Perry give the following counsel:
“Those of us who have been around a while…have recognized certain patterns in life’s test. There are cycles of good and bad times, ups and downs, periods of joy and sadness, and times of plenty as well as scarcity. When our lives turn in an unanticipated and undesirable direction, sometimes we experience stress and anxiety. One of the challenges of (life) is to not allow these stresses and strains to get the better of us, (but instead) to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be.”
As I travel around the United States and take note of how various individuals and organizations are coping with the challenges brought about through these troubling times, I have noticed that those who are most unaffected by the economic downturn, and are maintaining the sort of optimism Perry talked about, are those who have pared their lives and institutions down to their core values and needs. They have lived within their means, with a clear focus on what matters most. They have spent a lot of time in Quadrant II (back when times were booming), and prepared for the eventual downslide (which is always inevitable, if not precisely predictable). To these people, it is easier to reach out and help others, because their own fundamental needs are already met.
I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, in which he describes his 2-year experience at Walden Pond, near Concord, MA. He lived alone with no calendar and no clock, trying to simplify his life down to it’s basic needs. Contrary to popular belief, he did not live in isolation. He made daily visits to Concord, and frequently had guests over to his small cabin for lively conversation. Explaining his sabbatical, Thoreau said the following:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Near the end of his life, Thoreau was asked if he had made peace with God. His response was “I wasn’t aware that we had ever quarreled.”
As I ponder Thoreau’s lessons from Walden, and plan ahead for the future, whatever that future may bring, I believe that I too will “confront only the essential facts of life”, and do without some of the Quadrant III things that seem so compelling at the time, but really have nothing to do with what matters most.
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