Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In 2014, opening to possibility and Lebenskünstler

2013 was a ride on a comet, a treasure chest with the key left in the lock, a new galaxy found, a banquet with endless delicacies. It rocked, rolled, raced, and spun like a top. My mind was focused, inspired, on fire. I was pushed, pulled, tugged, charmed, and challenged. I got used to being surprised. My heart was won and warmed. I don't think I've ever laughed and smiled as much as I did this year. I liked the feel of that. I logged 50,000 miles in travel and a million miles in mental ground covered.

All that happened because, back in 2012, I said "yes" instead of saying "no" to something I'd turned down before because it wasn't practical or on my agenda. Opening up to that possibility set in motion people, experiences, prospects and returns I could never have predicted. And once in motion, my year snowballed, pulling in more adventure and opportunity at every turn. New ideas, new clients, new friends, new vision.

Don't get me wrong. I have, at this point in my life and career, great boundaries, and saying "no" is a necessity when I feel as if I'm being asked to give (or give up) more than is right for me. I've still got a business to run, family duties, relationships to keep up, hobbies to pursue. The to-do list is firmly ensconced in Evernote, and my rational side is still my strongest muscle.

But I've thrived this year by exercising the yes of possibility, the kind that appears to bend away from your plans, your list, your agenda. The best decisions I made this year were those that combined mind and heart, rather than just one or the other. It's a tenet drawn from ancient philosophy, where the concept of mind/heart as one is central. Late in the year, I came across this article about one of the most popular courses at Harvard, which teaches ancient Chinese philosophy to strengthen students' openness to opportunities not on their plan:
Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains. If what excites a student is not the same as what he has decided is best for him, he becomes trapped on a misguided path, slated to begin an unfulfilling career. Puett aims to open his students’ eyes to a different way to approach everything from relationships to career decisions. 
Being me, that all put me in mind of Auntie Mame's line, "Life is a banquet and most of you poor suckers are starving to death."

My gift of the year in 2013 was someone I almost didn't meet. Because both of us did something we weren't quite sure we were wise to do, it changed my life and work profoundly. I'm glad I never got to find out what the rest of 2013 would have been like without him. He gave me a word for that ideal state of seizing the day and possibility: Lebenskünstler, or the art of living--approaching life with the zest and inspiration of an artist.  I like that, and what Nelson Mandela said: "There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

I usually spend time at year-end assessing the year that's closing and sketching out the one about to open. For 2014, I want revolutions instead of resolutions, love instead of lists, change and chance instead of tried and true. I want to find interesting paths and hallways, and take them where they will lead. I have a book to write. I want to find cracks and crevices, nooks and crannies, gaps and great, wide open spaces I can explore. Let the year ahead be a boxful of paints and a banquet hall loaded with food and a walk on a never-ending beach, the wide horizon just ahead. Having had a taste of it in this year, I don't intend to starve in the next.

I hope you'll join me at this banquet, whether we are working together, laughing together, or exploring something new. Happy new year, indeed!

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