Tag Archives: Mother Teresa

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

Can You Be Present With Your Mind On The Future?

dsc_0457“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” —Mother Teresa

Hello friend,

I recently finished a book in the Motivational/Self-Help genre. I liked it. All along, the author talked about how great I was going to be and how that greatness was going to come about. I was going to keep my focus on my goals and not lose sight of what I knew in my heart that I would become. I was going to do everything in my power to make that future of my dreams happen. It was a good (and necessary) kick-in-the-pants kind of reminder to keep planning and taking action toward my biggest dreams.

So, the book had me totally looking forward to my best self living my best life and generally nailing my future. I was excited! Then, near the very end of the book, I got thrown for a loop. The author was into the major instructions portion, where she lays out the exact habits and attitudes required to take those crucial steps forward to the life of my dreams. I was chomping at the bit, ready to soak up the wisdom. And there it was….

Just stay in the moment. Be present.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not that vexing answer! My brain began having flashbacks to this issue that I have, in all of my years and efforts to read and understand different spiritual and psychological perspectives, never quite been able to unravel the mystery of. That is, How can you keep your mind totally in the present—live a brand of “walking meditation” continually—but at the same time plan for the future and dream?  

I am a big believer in meditation and the growth that can come from simply quieting the mind and controlling the breath. And I am all in favor of stopping to smell the roses while they bloom. My kids have taught me the beauty of living in the moment.

But aren’t I supposed to be planning to improve myself and make positive change in my world? To grow, to challenge myself and others, to dream big, to plan for greatness, and to seek out the best course of action? My gut tells me that is the right thing to do. But isn’t that stuff, by definition, in the future? And isn’t the future, by definition, not the present? I am vexed!

How do I reconcile these two wonderful philosophies of life? I see the value in both, but I am just not sure they mesh as easily as the author of my recent book let on. In fact, she didn’t explain it at all. She just plopped this brilliant “stay in the moment” suggestion, which is a staple of human growth, smack in the middle of all of this talk of forward thinking, then kept right on going, expecting me not to notice the dissonance my brain started feeling immediately. Well, I noticed! And now, as Fate would have it, I really need an answer.

The owners of my day job just announced this week that we are going out of business. A few short weeks from now, I will no longer have a job. Yikes!

Amazingly, in the days since the announcement, I have not totally freaked out. I have not succumbed to the worry/fear/dread combo that I know are one of one of my options in this situation. I am pretty proud of myself for that, actually.

What has been my reaction? Basically, I have started a mad dash to get a book project and other writing stuff done as fast as possible, hoping to produce something for submission by the time I am out of work. Instead of getting bogged down by what has happened to my job or dealing directly with my shock and sadness over it, I am flinging myself headlong into the future.

But what about the present? 

That is the question that keeps haunting me. As I zip through my plans, hopes, dreams, and visualizations, I sometimes catch myself and give myself a little scolding for getting out of the present moment. That’s what the meditation and self-help books would say, right? “Just be in the moment. The precious present. There is nowhere else to be.”

But don’t they see I need a new career? In the near future! I have to plan, don’t I?

I think maybe I am trying to be too literal with the “Stay in the moment” instructions? I mean, I understand the general gist of the instruction. I have read enough books on the topic and can easily regurgitate quotes like “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present.’” The idea is not to dwell on the sorrows and regrets from your past, because you can’t do anything about the past anymore (I am pretty good with that side of it), and not to live in worry and fear for your future, because most of what we worry about is out of our hands (and often doesn’t happen anyway). Basically, regrets and fears are a waste of time and energy, and they distract you from the beauty that is right in front of you in this moment, which is the only one that exists.

So, stay present! Be here now. I get it.

I am, by nature, a rule follower. This is especially so when I agree with the rules. And I love this rule! I have reaped the benefits of it. As I said, I see the beauty of it in my children. I am a huge believer in presence and the magnificent gift that it is, both to ourselves and to the people around us. So, I try really hard to color inside the lines on this one.

This is exactly why I am so torn right now over my inclination to plan ahead for my future of joblessness. I want to follow the rule. I want to put my intentions out into the Universe and then just be present, trusting that the right thing will come my way. No worry, no fear.

Ahhhh. That is so calming even just writing the words. Present moment, wonderful moment. Om…….

But darn it, I am about to lose my job! I need income for my family! In the present moment, I have to think about my future and make plans for what comes next. I need to think about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like, specifically how my next job will mesh with my vision. My present has to be about my future! Is there a loophole for that? {That reminds me of my kids’ movie “Inside Out,” when the Sadness character glumly says about Joy’s plan, “You’ll get lost in there.” Joy responds, “C’Mon! Think positive!” Sadness, totally authentically, replies, “Okay…. I’m positive you’ll get lost in there.” The loophole!}

Seriously, in all of my years of studying personal growth, this is the one bee still in my bonnet. How do you reconcile these two animals: 1) remaining in the precious present, and 2) striving for new, better, and more in the future? I want both!

As I am writing this, I am beginning to see that maybe what my tension around this issue is, more than anything else, is that I want permission to have both. I want some expert to tell me it’s okay, that I have, indeed, discovered the loophole. I want the guru to say, “Sure, as long as your time and energy spent focusing on the future involve planning and striving for positive things rather than worrying and fearing about what will come, go for it!” Yes, I think that is it (see what journaling can do!). I guess I just need to get over my need for permission, trust my instincts, and go out and stake my claim on the future. (And then maybe meditate for balance!)

How about you? Which tense do you live in: past, present, or future? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Where do you find yourself? How much time do you spend in your past? Are your thoughts of the past positive ones—which, I suppose, is the corresponding loophole for that tense—or are they full of regret and shame? Are even happy memories just crutches we should mostly let go of in favor of the present? How about the future? How much time do you spend looking forward? Is it more about dreaming, planning, or fearing? Are you a worrier? What is there to gain from worrying? After your thoughts of past and future, how much time is left for the present moment? How good are you about staying focused on the now? Do you have any practices or tricks—meditation, yoga, deep breathing—that help you to be more present? What works best? How aware are you of the workings of your mind and which tense you are in? Are you like me and get annoyed at yourself when you recognize your thoughts have wandered too far off, especially into fears of the future or regrets from the past? Am I crazy to need a loophole in the “rule” about presence to give myself permission to plan ahead or dream of what I wish to become? What is the right balance of tenses? What works best for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is there such a thing as dreaming while being present?  

You are bigger than you imagine,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you understand your mind better, please share it. We are complex characters who could all use a little help. Blessed be.