Mindfulness and Meditation

Operator Manual

Like the low idle of an engine,
we work best when kept at a consistent hum.

A minor agitation inspires us to make changes, improve, drive forward.
But when flooded with gas,
we choke, we stall.

In order to keep your vehicle running smoothly,
perform regular maintenance,
operate regularly and
don’t allow to overheat.

Repurposed Life

A Re-lesson of The Road Not Taken

We have all heard this poem by Robert Frost. “I took the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference.” A triumphant call to action to go against the flow, to be an individual, to get off the beaten path, and follow your dreams!

I’m here to tell you (or remind you), that this is bullshit.

That is not what this poem is about. It is about choices and indecision and unknown consequences and never getting a do-over on the choices we make. Once we choose a path, it’s the road not taken that is a mystery, sometimes even a regret, yet we spend our lives convincing ourselves and others that we made our arbitrary choices with deliberate intention, and the outcome was clear from the beginning based on the condition of the path.

Let’s re-read this poem with a new perspective. We’ll also see that this change does not diminish the value of the story, but instead puts a human perspective on a task we must endure daily. While the answers are not always clear in the moment, it’s in hindsight that we find the true meaning and purpose of our decisions.

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Here we come to our choice. The writer stands paralyzed trying to peer into the future and down the path.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
Even though we always thought one of these paths was less traveled, the writer here can’t really make up his mind. He ultimately tells us here that both are about equally worn.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
No one was there to guide the writer or give him any clarity about his choice.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Finally, a decision, but with instant regret for once the choice is made, you can never go back to that fork again.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
We own our choices and they become part of our story. Whether we made them on a whim or with painstaking care, we convince ourselves that it was always the right choice, for we can never go back to the road not taken….

Special thanks to Katherine Robinson, at the Poetry Foundation who provided an outstanding interpretation of this poem after my flawed historical recollection of the poem was not lining up with what I was reading.

Repurposed Life

Hamilton – why we love this musical.

On the evening before our exciting trip to see Hamilton in Chicago, I sat and listened to my family debate the merits of the man, Alexander Hamilton and whether or not he should be admired.

Hamilton was certainly not the model portrait of a historical figure we should admire. He was an arrogant, hot-head who let his pride, his mouth and his actions lead to not only to the demise of his career, but also to his and his own son’s untimely death (who died defending his name in a dual – ironic foreshadowing to his own demise). Hamilton, in short, is no great role model to present to our kids.

While he contributed greatly to the establishment of our government and the economic foundations of our nation, there is a reason he has stood in the shadows of Washington and Jefferson in our history books and memories until now. He simply was not the most influential player and he didn’t do much for his reputation either.

However, despite all of this, for some reason we have become obsessed with this musical, and subsequently this man. Why?

I’ll freely admit that I have not read the Hamilton book by Ron Chernow on which Lin-Manuel Miranda based his script (it’s on my list, but you know… life). But whether conveyed in the book or just in Lin-Manuel’s imagination, what is presented in this musical is not just the story of a founding father, but also the story at the heart of us all. It is a story of self doubt and of pride. A story of longing to belong, and to make a name for ourselves and to leave a legacy. It is the story of mistakes, of missed opportunities, and of disappointing the people we love.

Why I think this story is so compelling is that it truly presents the humanity of these figures that seemed only to be stoic marble statues of indifference taught to us in our history books. It is what I have always loved about history, which is understanding that these figures are all people just like you and me. Flawed, yearning for meaning and for acceptance, trying to find their way in this crazy, confusing, messed up world.

Hamilton, our “hero” spent his eàrly life longing to be a somebody. In his military career, he wanted nothing but infamy as a commanding general, but alas, he was held back from reaching his goal by his mentor and leader, Washington. You see and hear, in the music just how many times Hamilton asks to be given a command only to be disappointed over and over by Washington. How many of us have also aspired to one position or another at work, only to be told we are “not ready” or our “skills are needed elsewhere”?

Burr, our “villain”, is presented as a brilliant and successful man, in his own right; but he is constantly overshadowed by the workings, opinions and flamboyant declarations of Hamilton. He struggles with self doubt and jealousy his entire life. I challenge any one of us to not name the person at work or on social media who seems to be living the perfect life we want or gets the promotion, house or opportunity you thought should be yours.

Other characters, Jefferson, Madison, Angelica, Eliza, even King George are plagued with almost childish frustration when they don’t get what they want or can’t pursuade others to think the way they do. We may not throw temper tantrums, but so many of us can go to a dark place in our minds when the world is not turning in the way we expect.

Even the stoic George Washington is shown to be beaten down by the hardships of war, politics, and the heavy burden his role as a leader has had on him. I can think of few individuals who, by the time of their retirement, are not ready to lay down their banner, set aside the burden of responsibility and wander off into quieter pastures.

These are the struggles of us all, the story of our nation and the stories of our lives. Lin-Manuel has presented to us the humanity on which our nation was founded. He has presented the mistakes and the pain and the poison as the pillars on which we try to build better lives for our sons and daughters, to show them our follys to try to prevent history from repeating itself.

The meaning of this show, I contest, really has nothing to do with Alexander Hamilton. He just serves as the character through whom the message is transported. It could just as well have been about any number of historical figures or even some fictional character in Lin-Manuel’s imagination. But what it tells us and teaches us is that we are not alone in our ambition, our toil, our longing, our fatique. It tells us to rise up, to not throw away our shot, that the world is wide enough and that someday you’ll blow us all away.