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Resolving and Relevance

December 2013

by Michael O’Brien

I’ve got some things rattling around in my brain here at the end of the year, so I’m not sure I can make sense of it, but here goes.

We live to be meaningful, I think, but that meaning seems tied to staying relevant in life.

Relevance is the hard thing.  Is it achieved? Is it given? Can we give it to ourselves without being arrogant?

How do we set our inner compass to a course and hold to that course?

Our relevance is always in flux it seems; it seems to go both high and low during the holidays. When we make the big dinner, arrange the holiday lights, find the gift and present it, welcome family and friends to our door---all these things garner the thanks and compliments of the moment, and we seem to be meaningful just then; we seem to have crafted an experience that those important to us have enjoyed. But the season, I guess all seasons, are filled with distractions; it seems especially so today. The phones and dvr’s and pushed notices and advertising all seem to crowd in to the experience we worked so hard to craft; the other commitments of our family and guests pull at them, too quickly, and our relevance wanes with each coat that goes out the door leaving us with the dishes, the bills, and the feeling that we didn’t do enough somehow.

I think faith enters here. Faith that next year they will come back like the sun does each morning even after the longest night. Maybe being meaningful and having faith are tied together somehow. But it seems faith, in the sun, in our loved ones’ abilities to fight off the distractions and be present with us is something that comes from inside us. Somewhere inside we decide we have faith in what’s next, faith in the future. I’m not sure where inside us it comes from, but it’s an important little fire to keep going.

Maybe the gatherings of Christmas, the gatherings of the little fires in each of us, are what makes the longer nights of the season brighter?

We probably all self-define or self-assess our meaning differently---sometimes by possession, sometimes by accomplishment, sometimes by accompaniment and the challenge there is keeping up, which, it turns out, we can’t.

Sustainable relevance, like faith, is maybe more durable when it comes from within, when we can  listen to ourselves, bring wisdom to ourselves, and see the beauty all around us. The compass within each of us is small and quiet, and the world around us filled with shouts and distractions telling us we must have this or we must do that or we must hang with them or, or, or,…. But the compass just quietly points at the dishes that need doing, the porch that needs fixing, the laundry that needs doing, and to the sunrise, the shadow on the snow, and the person sitting across from us. Maybe the compass reassures us that how we do our daily duties, how we listen and are with our loved ones is how we are relevant…how we are meaningful.

It takes me some time in quiet each day to hear the compass though; I tend to self distract so I can be part of the “this and that” our world of media tells me to be. It takes a bit of daily quiet to poke through the noise; an odd thing but it works for me.

It must be common that we sometimes feel a lack of success at the end of the year; we want to think we can always do more. It’s what new years’ resolutions are about I think, the quantity of things.

I saw a bit of a movie where Jackie Chan is teaching Kung Fu to a young fellow; he has the fellow hang up his coat, then drop it, then pick it up, and repeats this thousands of times. The fellow obeys but doesn’t see the immediate connection between the coat, the hangar, and the ground to his martial arts training. Chan shows him in an explosive scene where the fellow is able to ward off a flurry of blows, and when it’s over, looks at himself amazed. Jackie Chan tells him, “Coat off, coat on, it’s all Kung Fu…everything is Kung Fu.” I took that to mean life and our meaning is about “the way” more than the end, like Japanese carpenters’ tools are called “tools of the way.”

I’m hoping 2014 is about quality too. The quality of daily ways, the quality of interactions, the quality of our time with our loves. I’m thinking this is what I’ll resolve.

If I can do it, meaning and relevance will take care of themselves!

Wishing you all a meaningful 2014…. Now it’s time for laundry!

Be good to each other, look after each other during these long nights.