Chapter 8: Rule Four: Letting Time Go Lightly

This looks like a simple rule to grasp. It’s about a time to change pace and relax? Wait a minute; maybe he means it’s a chance to explore the joys of bone idleness?

I think my ‘inner sensei’ – the creative part of me that wanted to write this book in the first place – must have had some purpose in mind because this is the only one of the five rules that is not centered around doing things.

What could it possibly mean?

To be honest, I’m not sure, but I always feel close to this rule when whatever I am doing is somehow already the seed of its own reward. In other words, I do not do this type of work and then expect to get compensated for it. I chose that work because the value in doing it is the only worthwhile compensation on offer.

At this point, my cynical, skeptical, ever-so-logical mind chimes in with: “Aha! So you would work for nothing? Fool! You and yours will starve, and deservedly so. Step forward yet another Darwin award contender.”

Maybe monkey mind Mark is correct? Hmm. I am going to let the time go lightly here. See you underneath the cherry blossoms.

Do Cherry Blossoms Set Goals?

If you are a wee bit weary of setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals – smart goals – then consider what the Japanese cherry blossom (the Sakura) season has to teach us about flower power spontaneity.

Lesson number one is that this personification of ‘Mother Nature’ behaves as if there is a time to start blooming and a time to finish. So, in that sense, the cherry blossom season is time-bound. It usually begins in subtropical Okinawa in mid-January, reaches Tokyo around the end of March but doesn’t arrive in the northern island of Hokkaido until the latter part of April. Through long experience and trial and error, Nature takes into account the climatic and geographic variations of the Japanese archipelago when preparing her plans for the Sakura season.

I enjoy following the progress of the Sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) in the newspapers and on television. The Japanese Meteorological Agency tracks the movements of this front across the country and people use their forecasts to help choose a suitable day for a Hanami (flower-viewing) party with friends or work colleagues. Of course, Tokyo’s most beautiful Sakura-viewing spots are well-known and get crowded with blossom viewers when the weather is good and the blossoms at their finest. It is not unknown for people to try and reserve their spot at a popular viewing area, and that might require one or more members of a group to camp out overnight. Getting that desired spot may indeed reward their persistence but there’s still no guarantee of the weather being fine.

The beautiful Sakura are something to behold and I always feel glad to see those small buds appear at the start of spring. They are coming! And when they finally do burst through in showers of white and pink, it is a time to be savored and enjoyed. And then, in less than a week, it’s all over. Sure, the blossoms will linger for a wee while until the spring rains and winds have thinned their ranks. But it’s not the same anymore. Just a few days ago families and couples and senior citizens were enjoying picnics underneath gorgeous blossoms. Now those very same spots are silent and deserted. The Sakura lie trampled and muddied and dying on the ground.

It seems to me that Nature understands her limitations! Such that they are! When the goal is met and the fun is done, it’s time to move on. For the human participants in this drama there will doubtless be other Sakura parties to plan for and enjoy. But never again will that specific combination of circumstances and people come together as they have just done. And as the years pass and the seasons turn, fewer and fewer of those happy, smiling faces will be around to witness the spectacle. So, what are you waiting for? Nature is already planning next year’s Sakura marvel and the results will be clear for all to see.

Exercise 17: If You Could

If you could do more of what you love what would that be?

Note: this doesn’t mean to do only what you love. In my experience, that mantra is misleading. However, if you can do more of what you love then time will indeed go lightly.

Goal Setting and Your Own Peace of Mind

Goal setting turns some people right off! Even people who are serious about personal development sometimes voice similar concerns. Why is that? Perhaps the goal is too ambitious for the abilities of the person concerned. And so they begin to stress and worry about never achieving it. That’s a clue to what I believe is a major cause behind the avoidance of setting goals, or of dropping them – your own peace of mind.

Peace of mind reminds me of that old children’s rhyme, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” I think that happiness is linked with how we experience and perceive life around us. We sometimes talk about balanced or well-adjusted people. These individuals seem to be living in alignment with certain values and beliefs. When these values are disregarded, peace of mind can begin to fray and unwind.

And this is not just an individual thing. Almost all social organizations depend on it for their smooth running. For example, families, work colleagues and sports teams function better when simple courtesy systems and good manners are adopted as a way to interact without upsetting others’ peace of mind.

So how does this fit in with goal setting? Begin to see your own peace of mind as a kind of inner compass. When a goal begins to upset you to such an extent that you become very unhappy and want to give it up, that may be a sign for you to examine how true this goal really is to your own values and beliefs.

Here’s an effective way to look at goal setting and peace of mind. Assume that peace of mind is indeed for your highest good. Begin to expect that inner peace and happiness will be with you throughout your life, in addition to the rich tapestry of emotions that life experiences will bring anyway.

Practically speaking, this means that you should examine each goal from the viewpoint of how it affects your peace of mind. If it feels in harmony with that peace of mind then it is most likely a worthwhile goal. If something doesn’t feel right then perhaps either you, or the goal, may need to change in some way.

Exercise 18: Seeding And Weeding In The Garden Of Goals

Goal setting for many people means making a halfhearted attempt at New Year’s resolutions in early January. Oh, they’ll vow to do their best but many soon give up. And a million self-esteems die a little on the inside. It doesn’t have to be like that. Here is a simple exercise you can use to improve the odds of success.

The first part of this exercise is ‘awareness.’ Personal development books often talk about becoming more aware – of living in the ‘now’. That’s easy to write about but what do those words mean in daily life? Let’s use the symbolism of gardening to explain this better. You are the gardener. You’re free to choose what type of garden to create. What’s your next step?

Experienced gardeners pay close attention to the environment in which they are gardening. For example, both the weather and the soil quality will strongly influence the type of grass, flowers or vegetables that can be successfully grown in a specific garden, in a particular part of the world. Gardeners know this, and work within the laws and limitations set by nature and their local environment.

In the context of your imaginary ‘Life Garden,’ this suggests that before planting any new goal seeds, you would do well to understand more about the environment they are to be planted in. This means you will need to roll up your sleeves and go stroll around your inner garden. Notice what is growing well and what is struggling. Ask yourself why that is so? Sometimes you will not get an easy answer because the reason why one flower blooms and another one withers is not always clear.

The second part of this exercise involves some ‘virtual gardening.’ Find a quiet and safe place where you will not be disturbed for at least five minutes. No TV. Mute the cell phone. When you are in this private space sit down, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Hold it briefly and then release it slowly. Never straining. Repeat this breathing cycle several times.

Now imagine you are taking a short walk in the garden of your life, as it has existed this past year. Notice the grass, the flowers, the butterflies, and the fallen leaves. You may have a favorite spot in that garden. Go there. Admire the view. Is there anything you don’t like about this garden? Some flowers you want to change? Weeds you want to pull? Dead grass that needs replacing?

You might be doing the work alone or there might be another gardener present to lend a hand. See or feel or hear those changes beginning to occur. Nature works fast here.

Now it’s time to leave your inner garden and go home. You can visit again another day. There will be more gardening to be done but you have made a good start. Relax in that knowledge.

Take a couple of slow deep breaths as before, and then open your eyes. You are done. There is no need to analyze anything about your experience. Often times gardeners just garden for the love of it. And so should you.

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