“Don’t worry so much about all the things you’re thinking. I’ve learned a different way of thinking; instead of getting wrapped up in my thoughts full of fretting and contradictions and worry, I’ve learned to just appreciate my thinking as it comes and goes.” -Norman Fischer, abbot San Francisco Zen Center
I gotta hand it to my parents’ generation. Baby Boomers, it seems, aren’t satisfied with blending into the background as they age. Instead, they are resolute in their continued efforts at life- at living, at offering their insight and experiencing each day as something new to be cherished and to be learned from.
Though America has long been known to shun aging in all of its forms, perhaps we’re at a tipping point; a place where finally those among us with the most experience have a platform to share their wisdom.
It falls to us ‘younger ones’ (however young or not our years may reflect) to listen, to assess our own ever-evolving lives, and to accept that we- all powerful in our careers and family lives and spending power- may not, in fact, have all the answers… now, or ever. Perhaps that’s the secret of it all.
I’ve witnessed myriad blogs, articles and books devoted to the concept of offering advice to one’s younger self. Lessons learned through lives lived oozes from the pages of some of my favorite new readings (check out Arianna Huffington’s latest Thrive to see what’s on my bedstand currently). And just this morning, as if on queue from my own readings and inner-thinking, KQED’s Forum featured an hour-long program of ‘What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self’.
As I sat in my car at the delayed red light, I turned up the volume and listened to the words of wisdom spoken from 40 and 50 and 80 year olds to only themselves. No lectures. No judgments. Just reminders of love and introspection that comes from experience.
“Relax,” said many of the show’s call-in participants, famous and otherwise. “Things will happen as they happen.” And, “Follow your passions. Even if you can’t make any money off of them, do them anyway.” (I like to think this blogging thing falls into that latter category).
One woman’s advice to herself was particularly poignant for many where I reside in Silicon Valley- an area swarming with youth and excitement but always tempered with an air of uneasiness, expectation and stress.
“I spent my 20s being a good girl, being a graduate student, working hard to please my bosses, to climb the career ladder and do what I thought was expected of me,” spoke a woman from San Jose whose thick Indian accent offered such calmness. “But I was plagued by analysis paralysis. I was on the linear part of life back then. I wish I had written to myself reminding me that I should not have stewed in misery, spending too much time over-thinking things and living for others.”
The abbot of San Francisco’s Zen Center, Norman Fischer, spoke eloquently about minding to the little things in life. Cleaning, gardening, cooking… these are things that youth often relegates to chores and dismisses them as something where no meaning can exist. But Fischer reflected that in fact meaning exists in everything that we put effort into, from our relationships and friendships to the things that make up our days.
He then closed with his final piece of advice to his younger self, which dealt with what so many others have articulated so well… with many words and with few. Our thoughts dictate our lives. When we dwell on the negative (something I recently wrote about), we do a great disservice to all that we might have accomplished.
“Today, I can discriminate between a thought that can be beneficial and a thought that comes from confusion; I don’t need to be thinking about the latter,” said Fischer, a man whose spent the better part of his life living, reflecting and meditating. “To be able to tell the difference between a thought that is useful and noble and a thought that comes from our confusion is worthwhile to learn how to do. Relax around your thoughts- don’t be pushed around by them.”
As a thirty-something, these remain lessons I’m still learning. And however painful they may to acknowledge- to suck in- to gulp down- to confront inside- they deserve my attention. Not because someone told me to do so, but because one day I too may write an ‘Advice to my younger self’ piece. In fact, I think I’ll start one now.