“Progress is impossible without change,
and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.”
~ George Bernard Shaw.
I am waking up this morning in the Big Easy, city of sin, city of jazz. I came in for a conference, and so far have not seen any sin, or heard any jazz! And this evening I fly up to New York which confirms me as an official jet setter! Unfortunately the jet part of that phrase required me to sit for 2 hours on the tarmac yesterday, packed solid with over 150 other sweaty passengers as we waited for thunderstorms to pass through Houston and let us lift off and be on our way. It wasn’t helped by being seated almost in the last row (hence, close to the lavatories)! But I read my book and thought positive thoughts.
In the lead up to this exciting, jam-packed weekend, I confess that I wasn’t full of eager anticipation. The New York part of the trip is one of jollification and reunion, as another chapter of my high school alumni associations celebrates forty years of contributing to the wellbeing of our alma mater. But the N’Orleans part of the trip was a little more challenging. Part of being in school is doing research, writing papers, trying to get published, and making oral and poster presentations. For me it was the last of these that brought me to New Orleans and caused some trepidation. On the scale of anxiety provoking activities it was not too bad, just had to stand next to my poster and take questions from interested parties. But it was my first time and thus the unknown.
I have always envied those people who live their life in the present moment; going with the flow, shrugging their shoulders at adversity. I have been working on that, trying to stop over-thinking and over-anticipating all of the things that can happen. It is good to plan, to prepare and to make sure you have done your best. But there comes a point when you are obsessing over mostly inconsequential things that don’t impact the big picture.
Learning to practice what you preach requires practice. Changing habits of a lifetime takes discipline and commitment. It is far easier to slip back down the well-worn paths of worrying things to death. And as you worry and imagine you hunch up your shoulders and give yourself a severe headache! Or you send your stress levels up to the stratosphere and before long you have given yourself hypertension!
Yesterday while being forced to practice patience on a rainy runway, I knew that even if I did not get to the conference on time, it would not be the end of the world. Life would go on, there would be other opportunities. Our ego usually places us in the center of the world, which leads us to believe that everything revolves around us. Thankfully the truth is that there are far more important and significant things happening all the time! And so I consciously made sure that my shoulders were relaxed, enjoyed my book, and let those things that were out of my control take care of themselves.
It is not always easy to relinquish control, to accept that there are many things that are beyond our manipulation and power. The serenity prayer which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous asks for the wisdom to be able to tell the difference between those things we can change, and those things we have no control over. I often see students beating themselves up over poor performance in tests. How much time have we wasted over the ‘shoulda, woulda, couldas’? It is a far better use of your time to ask yourself ‘what have I learned from this?’ and try to figure out what you need to do to prevent it from happening in the future.
My lesson this morning comes from the Big Easy, a city known for its exotic mix of cultures. It reminds me of Port Royal, another place where buccaneers hung out; where the history of Europe and Africa (and Asia and China) crashed and gave rise to something new. Driving past the elevated tombs and mausoleums, ugly reminders of death in the midst of life, I reflected on the city’s tragic past. I could not see the ravages of Katrina, but I heard the cries of those lost and displaced souls. The wailing horns and minor keys of jazz music carry the tears of broken hearts and dreams. The spicy food holds the memories of home for generations of the displaced. These are people who remind us that life is short: eat good food, listen to good music, and when you die, have a lively N’Orleans band to lead your funeral procession!
Have a wonderful weekend Family! If you want to make big changes in your life, you have to start with your mind, practice daily, and when all else fails, go with the flow! For those who are heading to New York this weekend, see you soon!