Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Who's in Charge?

Civilization evolves. Early peoples believed they were controlled by gods. They had no say in what happened to them. Eons later, people felt they were born to their station in life. Once a serf, always a serf. If your father was a blacksmith, most likely his father was a blacksmith, and you were going to be a blacksmith, too. (Your name was probably Smith.) God, only one this time around, could change things, but God was only accessible through a layer of priests. Throughout most of human history, a person has been only a pawn in someone else's game. Royalty, nobles, gods, and priests made the rules.

Some people refused to play the game. Buddhists strived to escape to a higher game, by looking at this lifetime as but one move in a larger game where you live many lives. Gurus drop out of the game during their lifetime by reaching nirvana, which involves an entirely new set of rules. Artists, criminals, revolutionaries, psychotics, and other free spirits rebel against the game or simply didn't understand the rules.

These are game-changing times. In the new game that began to evolve when the printing press accelerated the sharing of ideas, individuals decide for themselves the degree to which they play the game or let themselves be played. Opportunity abounds as more and more people become players.

Players are what Harvard psycholgist Ellen Langer calls Mindfulness (Langer, 2005). To be mindful is to be aware, to look at the world through multiple perspectives, and to take responsibility for one's decisions, i.e. to be a player. We all know people who haven't made this leap; they see themselves as victims and pawns. Langer calls these people mindless.

You're going to spend your entire life learning so you might as well get good at it. Embracing mindfulness is your first step. You'll need to be flexible, to look at things through different lenses, to reflect on what you see, to try new things, to run thought experiments, and to pay attention. A mindful person often cuts off the mindless auto-pilot of aimless living to follow Nietsche's advice to "Become who you are!"

This morning, there's nothing on my calendar. Busybody that I am, I use the time to mindlessly work items off of my to-do list. Or I can mindfully start by reflecting on how I'd like to feel at the end of the day. The mindful approach leaves room for new ideas, but the to-do list confines me to old stuff. Naturally, I"m going to try to face the day mindfully.

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