“Do not suffer life to stagnate; it will grow muddy for want of motion: commit yourself again to the current of the world.” – Samuel Johnson
Motion, or change, is the one constant in life.
We are always moving, whether it be forwards, backwards or in circles. Most of us would, I imagine, want to be moving forward – achieving something, becoming fitter, stronger, wealthier, more skillful, happier. Yet so many of us get stuck in a rut, going over the same ground like a mouse in a wheel.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” – T E Lawrence
All things start in the mind. The great cathedrals and mosques of the world, the pyramids, the modern world – cars, planes and space ships – all the wonders of the ancient and the modern worlds – they all started as ideas, dreams. The idea of a flying machine would have been astonishing to people a few hundred years ago – most people would have ridiculed such a notion – but someone dreamed about it and now planes are part of our daily life.
It is a great tragedy that so many of us allow life to crush our dreams. There was a time when we dreamed of great and fantastic things; learning to dream again is one of our most important tasks as adults. If you have no dreams, you will be like that mouse in a wheel: there may be a lot of motion, but there will be no progress.
“It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.” – Helen Keller
In his wise and witty book ‘How to Get Rich,’ Felix Denis suggests that we need to distinguish between desire and compulsion. Desire – or dreaming – alone will not get us anywhere; it is a necessary prerequisite, to be sure, but we also need to have a strong inner compulsion to make those dreams come true. If our dreams are a ship, then we need a captain to get the ship moving and to keep it going. We need self-belief, passion and commitment. Would the aeroplane have been invented if Orville and Wilbur Wright had not been driven to see their dreams turn into reality?
Set backs and failures are inevitable, but giving up cannot be an option if you want to succeed. I do not mean to suggest that life should be a struggle – in fact, I believe just the opposite. The captain of a ship is not straining to stay on course, and the more skillful the captain, the more easily and naturally he seems able to direct the vessel. But without desire, we will not have the energy to keep going, to keep moving on, even in the face of apparent defeat. We will get lost in the desert, perhaps lost in an ecstasy of dreams, and we will never see the land of milk and honey.
“The great end of life is not knowledge but action.” – Aldous Huxley
Action emerges naturally from determination. If you are determined to achieve your goals, then you will act. But there is a right way to act and a wrong way. Determination should not be equated to struggle nor, indeed, to speed. Many small actions can achieve great results – a journey happens one step at a time, and a great tower is built one single brick on top of another. The ‘dripping tap’ soon leads to a filled bucket. Lao Tzu, who lived twenty-six centuries ago, wrote ‘nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ Or, if you prefer a more contemporary quotation, I think it was Charley Brown who said ‘Nothing much seems to change from day to day, but pretty soon everything’s different.’ Wisdom, indeed.
“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.” – Henry David Thoreau
Without goals and without the determination to achieve them, we will get nowhere. But In the end, life is a mystery. We cannot know the future. So we need to be open to the natural flow of things and let life take us where it will, not fighting, not resisting. There is an intelligence greater than you or I – call it providence, call it God, call it the Tao – and we should always seek to be in concert with it. Fighting against nature is futile; working with the natural grain of things can bring great success with little expenditure of energy.
Chuang-Tzu tells the story of an old man swimming in a fierce river; he disappears under the surface, and some disciples of Confucius, who have been watching, rush to save him. However, the old man reaches the riverbank unharmed, amazing the onlookers. When asked how he managed to survive, the old man replied that he had allowed the currents to carry him, flowing with the river and not fighting against the water’s motion.
Enormous sailing ships can move vast distances carried only by the wind, and end up on strange, unexpected and yet wonderful new shores. Without a dream and a commitment to action, the ship would never have been built or set sail, but without an understanding of the natural course of nature, without setting out at the right time and following the wind and the tides, the crew would work to get nowhere.