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A daring life or nothing

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

A daring life or nothing

Scott Miker

There is a famous quote by Helen Keller that says, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”  This quote has a lot of meaning in my life and I have referred to it quite a bit for motivation. 

But I think the simplicity of this quote leaves a vagueness and openness to interpretation.  At times this seemed to provide me motivation to take a chance on something.  Other times it seemed to follow the discontent mindset that always needs more in order to be happy. 

I also refer to the Tao Te Ching quite a bit.  Regarded by many as the wisest book ever written, the Tao takes a different approach and instead calls out life’s paradoxes.  By showing the dichotomies and the fact that opposites exist together, it becomes an insightful look at contentment. 

In my favorite chapter in the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29, it says:

            “Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
            I do not believe it can be done.

            The universe is sacred.
            You cannot improve it.
            If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
            If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

            So sometimes you are ahead and sometimes behind;
            Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
            Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
            Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

            Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excess, and complacency.”

This powerful verse seems to contradict the Helen Keller quote and emphasizes the importance of the space between adventure and nothing.  That subtle middle ground may seem insignificant at times but it can also have enormous meaning in our lives. 

In Maximum Brainpower, by Schlomo Breznitz and Collins Hemingway, the authors talk about the benefits of change but also the dangers of stress associated with change.  They spend quite a bit of time looking at both sides and then provide insight into their particular view by highlighting research by Hans Selye.

“Hans Selye, the pioneer in stress research, was fond of showing everyone a series of photographs of two candles.  In the first photo, the candles are the same height and thickness; neither one is lit.  They have the same potential.  In the second photo, one candle is tucked away in a far corner of the room, barely giving off any light from its lit wick, while the other is next to the window, with lots of air fueling a brilliant flame and wax running down its side.  In the third photo, the active candle is finished, used up, while the candle in the corner still slowly burns, only half consumed.”

This represents a very powerful metaphor for life.  If we live our life as intense as possible with constant challenge and change, it will likely lead to a shorter life.  If we play it safe we may have a longer life but it won’t feel as intense and exciting.  The peaceful, long life may seem boring to most but it might also seem like nirvana for others. 

The authors then provide their point of view, “Balancing between change and stress on one side and stasis and peace on the other presents to us an important choice.  We should all consider a vote for change.  The cost to us in terms of stress is more than balanced by an improved quality of life.  Change helps us become more cognitively fit and adds spice to what might be an otherwise drab existence.”

I believe if Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching could respond, he would be in stark disagreement with this assessment. 

Are we, as a society, willing to forgo peace in order to create unnecessary change and excitement in an attempt to improve the quality of our lives at all cost?  Suddenly peace on earth seems impossible if people will feel peace is boring and worthless. 

But I don’t have an extreme view of either side of this argument.  I can see both sides of this.  Both sides present great cases.  What do you think?  Do you agree with Breznitz and Hemingway?  Do you see value in the peaceful subtle aspects of life like Lao Tzu?  Or is there value to including both in the ebb and flow of life? 

Or maybe we should stop judging situations all together and just realize that whatever happens to come our way has pros and cons and we should take whatever comes our way as a gift, rather than something we need to judge.