Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Living Dexterously

Nearly 2,000 years ago Epictetus, a former slave turned philosopher, said, “It is my business to manage carefully and dexterously whatever happens.” Now that is a philosopher worth listening to. On a practical level, what that means is that when the milk spills instead of falling into the dark Pit of Illusion, simply ask, “How can I dexterously deal with this spilled milk?” Of course, to do that we first need to know what dexterous means. A close synonym is the word clever, and it means “showing skill, cleverness, or resourcefulness.”

The beauty of this approach is that as you approach the spill you find yourself excited about the challenge rather than whining from deep in the Pit something like, “Poor me! I’m a scullery maid who has to clean up everyone’s messes!”
With the mentally dexterous mind-set that Epictetus advises, you approach the spill in your most sophisticated Sherlock Holmes manner. “Let’s see,” you say to yourself. “How can I have the most fun with what has happened?” And then you look for possibilities like Sherlock looked for clues. You could bring in a few cats to lick it up. You and the children would have fun watching. You could make a game out of it—set a stop watch and see how fast you can clean it up, or give everyone a rag and a bowl and see who can mop up the most milk and squeeze it into their bowl. You could play in the milk for awhile—take off your shoes and squish the milk between your toes. You could float a rubber ducky on the puddle. You could splash in it. You could sing as you mop it up letting the sound of swish and drip be percussion to your song.

Remember Living in Truth is all about dealing with what is. While pouring the milk, it is fine to admonish yourself, “I should be careful and not spill the milk.” But if a mistake happens and the milk spills, the simple Truth is that it is spilled. That’s what you now have to deal with. No amount of “I should have been more careful,” or “What a waste” or “I am so stupid” or “Why did I do that?” or any other negative thought is going to undo what has been done. All you do with those thoughts is make yourself miserable; you create unnecessary pain. But if you manage the situation dexterously, you can have a lot of fun. You create joy in the present moment and that joy feeds your soul with sheer delight.

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