Friday, August 28, 2009

In Common Hours

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will experience a success unimagined in common hours.
-- Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau wrote those words 160 years ago but some things never change. The granddaddy of the self-help movement, Thoreau finds himself quoted by everybody from Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra. What makes his words so perennial? Why do we still hear in his voice our own best inner wisdom?

As each generation struggles to re-imagine and redefine the meaning of success the fundamental hunger to improve our lives remains. We want to let drop all that is unessential. We want to uncover our authentic being. Success has little to do with account balances and the approval of the herd. We know that now. But we want to grow. We want to move out of scarcity and into abundance. We want to expand into our highest vision for ourselves. We want to shed all of our limitations and surge up in the world as we were meant to be – genuine, strong, humble, masterful, generous, joyous and free. How on earth are we going to do that?

Thoreau suggests that we first simply advance confidently in the direction of our dreams. Stop waiting for your life to begin. It already did – a while ago. Start moving forward. Do something. You don’t have to know what all the steps are. Just take the next step. And find a way to embody confidence. Stop making excuses like I’m too old, I’m too young, I don’t have enough money, I’m too busy, I don’t have enough time, I will look foolish to others, it’s too late, I’m not qualified, I’ve waited too long, I’m not ready, I’m too disorganized, it won’t work. Stop basing your decisions on meticulous calculations of everything that might go wrong. Cultivate the eyes to see opportunity where others see problems. How do you become confident? You just throw a switch. Simply choose. And get clear about the difference between confidence and arrogance. Confusing the two is fatal. Arrogance is a false sense of entitlement based on an exaggerated sense of self-importance. It is often pathologically competitive and overtly hostile. Confidence is kind. Confidence is simply expecting good things to happen. No one else needs to lose so you can win.

Thoreau is talking about a deeply spiritual and intuitive process. This isn’t about pointless acquisition of material wealth. This isn’t about mindless ladder climbing or Machiavellian power grabs. This isn’t about proving your critics wrong. This is about manifesting and cultivating your highest good and your deepest dream – the dream in which your life is grounded in love, shaped by service, illumined by joy, buoyed by creativity and flowing in boundless abundance – a vision far grander than any fear-based fantasies of wealth and power born in the shadow of scarcity and nurtured by the wounded ego.

To this end, Thoreau then suggests that we endeavor to live the life we have imagined. In other words, move out of the realm of imagination and into the field of action. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be more compassionate, practice kindness, especially when you least feel like it. When caught in the grip of fear ask yourself what would a courageous person do and then do that. To endeavor is to move confidently through the unfolding process of intention, action and realization. Want it, do it, be it. If you want to be a singer, sing.

Thoreau was a deeply spiritual man though he had little patience for religion. Thoreau’s theology, if it can even be called that, was a kind of pantheism – the idea that the entire cosmos and everything in it is an expression of divinity. This means that, according to Thoreau, you’re just as likely to access divine wisdom in a snow field as you are in a sacred text. It also means that each of us, in our essential core, is in perpetual partnership with the generative, divine intelligence of the universe. That is why his formula for success works. Your own highest good is already trying to come into being, with or without you, and sometimes in spite of you. We need only cooperate with it by disengaging from our fearful, worried minds and moving forward with optimistic confidence. By embodying the qualities today that we someday hope to have we cheat time and bring into the eternal now the truth and beauty of our highest nature. Be what you are. Let everything else drop. Move calmly and confidently toward your highest vision for yourself. If you do, you will experience success unimagined in common hours.