Did you know…
… that today is National Frog Jumping Day? The origins of this celebrated day come from Mark Twain’s short story about a betting man and his pet frog. National Frog Jumping Day brings awareness to different kinds of frogs and their impact within our ecosystem. Trivia fans: The South African sharp-nosed frog can jump over 130 inches, which may not sound like much at first except when you realize that is approximately 44 times the length of its body!
Today’s Inspirational Quote:
“For myself, losing is not coming second. It’s getting out of the water knowing you could have done better. For myself, I have won every race I’ve been in.”
— Ian Thorpe
From Winnie the Pooh
March 3, 2021
Lovable, huggable Winnie the Pooh has long captivated audiences with his jolly laugh and zest for life (and honey). But this sweet bear and his beloved buddies do more than entertain fans with tales from the Hundred Acre Woods. The characters navigate life’s ups and downs, with helpful advice that’s relevant well beyond Christopher Robin’s neighborhood.
It all starts with author A.A. Milne. The mastermind behind the original four-volume Winnie-the-Pooh series is renowned for his children’s stories — his gentle Pooh Bear gave rise to a wildly popular franchise beloved around the world, with the help of Walt Disney’s animated films and television shows. But Milne was also an intellectual writer and deep thinker, which is reflected through the abiding wisdom of Pooh and his pals.
Milne graduated from the University of Cambridge, and wrote his first play, Wurzel-Flummery, while serving in the British Army’s Royal Corps of Signals during World War I. He went on to make a name for himself as a playwright and, later, a novelist. All along, his calling as a children’s author was taking shape — and it’s largely thanks to his own son, Christopher Robin Milne, proud owner of the sweet little stuffed bear audiences worldwide now call Pooh.
From the first Winnie-the-Pooh book in 1926, Milne and illustrator E. H. Shepard took Pooh and his pals through many of life’s twists and turns, much to the despair of eternally gloomy Eeyore. Through it all, Pooh, Piglet, and the Hundred Acre gang showed readers how to cherish life’s best moments and navigate through the worst of them. Almost 100 years later, this Hundred Acre wisdom couldn’t be more relevant.
You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.
– Pooh, “Pooh’s Little Instruction Book”
As Pooh “notes” in his little instruction book, life is about more than cozying up in our favorite corners, or staying in our safe spaces to avoid the unknown. Putting ourselves out there leads to new experiences, important lessons, and valuable friendships we’d never form staying safe at home. There’s a dazzling, enriching world just waiting beyond our comfort zones, if we’re brave enough to leave our corner of the forest.
If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.
– Christopher Robin, “Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin”
This sweet conversation between Christopher Robin and Pooh is relatable, and even tear-jerking, for anyone who has experienced loss. The young Christopher Robin wants his best friend Pooh to know that if they were ever to be separated one day, Pooh has everything he needs to carry on and fulfill his dreams. It’s a lesson for us all. While our loved ones may be gone, their spirit and memories live on, and the strong bonds we’ve built make us braver, stronger, and smarter than we realize — just like Winnie the Pooh.
You find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.
– Pooh, “The House at Pooh Corner”
He may be a silly old bear, but Pooh was onto something with his knack for collaboration. In chapter six of The House at Pooh Corner, Pooh came up with a new game. But like most ideas, the game didn’t blossom until he shared it with others. In this case, it took Eeyore joining in for Pooh’s little game to take shape. This lesson extends well beyond lighthearted fun; the more we share our ideas and collaborate on our work and dreams, the better we can see and understand them ourselves.
The things that make me different are the things that make me me.
– Piglet’s song, You’re the One and Only One, “Welcome to Pooh Corner”
As Piglet and Eeyore sing a duet about individuality, this line strikes a chord. Differences set us apart from each other; they fill our world with vibrancy, variety, and beauty. We need all people, from all walks of life, to use their unique skills and personality traits to make this world a better, creative, and inspiring place. Because, as Piglet concludes, “If everybody were like everybody else, how boring would it be!”
They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.
– Eeyore, “The House at Pooh Corner”
Cautious and nervous Eeyore worried a lot about life, but deep down this donkey knew that anxiety would only get him so far. Life’s mishaps don’t wait for us to feel prepared. Ready or not, accidents hit us full force — and to be fair, that’s not all bad. Acknowledging that accidents will always happen means we can stop overanalyzing the risks. We should resist the temptation to keep endlessly planning and preparing but never getting started, because at some point, procrastination is simply fear of failure in disguise.
Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.
– Pooh, “Pooh’s Little Instruction Book”
If only Pooh knew how relevant this advice would become — especially to the parents of Winnie the Pooh’s youngest fans. Western society praises the go-go-go work ethic, but “always on” does not lead to a life of happiness. When we take time to unplug, close our emails, and simply look at the world around us, we can connect with ourselves on a deeper level. In fact, while staring into the ocean may feel like doing nothing, this kind of “nothing” is one of the most enriching and gratitude-building experiences on the planet.
A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.
– Eeyore, “Winnie-the-Pooh”
It’s no secret that Eeyore is prone to sadness; this makes him the perfect case study on why we should treat everyone with kindness. We never know a person’s backstory, or the troubles they’re currently navigating. It’s best to treat each person with a dose of compassion, thinking about how we can help them instead of how much we have going on in our own lives. Even the tiniest bit of consideration and thoughtfulness could make a world of difference for someone else — whether it’s gloomy Eeyore who needs a pick-me-up, or the taxi driver who’s burnt out trying to make ends meet for their family.
We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.
– Eeyore, “Winnie-the-Pooh”
On the surface, this may sound like another one of Eeyore’s pessimistic musings, but Pooh’s buddy is right. The sooner we know and accept our limits, the sooner we can find happiness and contentedness — and it all starts with removing “should” from our vocabulary. “Should” is one of the most dangerous words in the English language. If we dislike doing something but feel guilty because society tells us we “should,” we’ll forever feel less-than or inauthentic. Eeyore’s simple statement reminds us to ditch the guilt, dig deep, and understand what you can do, especially the things you enjoy. .
And he respects Owl, because you can’t help respecting anyone who can spell Tuesday, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.
– Rabbit, “The House at Pooh Corner”
Rabbit was perhaps the most intelligent of Pooh’s pals, but that wasn’t always a good thing. Sometimes Rabbit judged his neighbors for their silly ideas, or put them down because he knew better. Over time, though, Rabbit realized that smarts aren’t everything. He saw how Christopher Robin respected Owl deeply, despite his mistakes. And this lesson — to respect everyone, mistakes and all — is more than advice for Rabbit; it’s a reminder for us all.
Photo credit: Claudio Testa/ Unsplash
About the AuthorStephanie VermillionStephanie is an Ohio-based writer and photographer who’s never met a slice of pizza she didn’t like — or inhale.
* Magic, persistence, imagination and more [ https://p.feedblitz.com/r3.asp?l=178162455&f=1081591&c=7659493&u=5102652 ]
Magic first: Acar and the folks at Penguin are offering a limited-edition deck of special cards to go with The Practice. It launched today.
Persistence: Today is the 200th episode of my podcast Akimbo. I don’t blog about it here often, but wanted to thank my producer Alex DiPalma and thank you for listening as well. It’s a labor of love, and it’s also among the top 1% of all podcasts. You can check out episodes here and transcripts here and subscribe here. That’s years and years of weekly audio, via the magic of podcasting.
Imagination: Jacqueline Novogratz and Tim Ferriss talk about her new book on Tim’s podcast this week. Hearing two of my friends so thoroughly talk about work that truly matters is a wonder, and I encourage you to check it out.
And more: Erica Dhawan’s book on digital body language just arrived, and it’s a salve for exhausted Zoom users (all of us). Steve Wexler’s new book on data visualizations, charts and graphs is worth checking out when it ships next week. And the blog and book and podcast that will change your life the most is the one you create.
Go make something.
|This is Brain Pickings midweek pick-me-up, drawn from my fifteen-year archive of ideas unblunted by time, resurfaced as timeless nourishment for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here — it’s free.) If you missed last week’s edition — Kierkegaard on our greatest source of unhappiness and its antidote — you can catch up right here. If my labor of love enriches your life in any way, please consider supporting it with a donation – all these years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours, made many personal sacrifices, and invested tremendous resources in Brain Pickings, which remains free and ad-free and alive thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: THANK YOU.|
FROM THE ARCHIVE | Getting Out of Your Own Light: Aldous Huxley on Mind-Body Integration and How You Become Who You Are
Aldous Huxley (July, 26 1894–November 22, 1963) endures as one of the most visionary and unusual minds of the twentieth century — a man of strong convictions about drugs, democracy, and religion and immensely prescient ideas about the role of technology in human life; a prominent fixture of Carl Sagan’s reading list; and the author of a little-known allegorical children’s book.
In one of his twenty-six altogether excellent essays in The Divine Within: Selected Writings on Enlightenment (public library), Huxley sets out to answer the question of who we are — an enormous question that, he points out, entails a number of complex relationships: between and among humans, between humanity and nature, between the cultural traditions of different societies, between the values and belief systems of the present and the past.
Writing in 1955, more than two decades after the publication of Brave New World, Huxley considers the stakes in this ultimate act of bravery:
What are we in relation to our own minds and bodies — or, seeing that there is not a single word, let us use it in a hyphenated form — our own mind-bodies? What are we in relation to this total organism in which we live?
The moment we begin thinking about it in any detail, we find ourselves confronted by all kinds of extremely difficult, unanswered, and maybe unanswerable questions.
These unanswerable questions, the value of which the great Hannah Arendt would extol as the basis of our civilization two decades later, challenge the very “who” of who we are. Huxley illustrates this with a most basic example:
I wish to raise my hand. Well, I raise it. But who raises it? Who is the “I” who raises my hand? Certainly it is not exclusively the “I” who is standing here talking, the “I” who signs the checks and has a history behind him, because I do not have the faintest idea how my hand was raised. All I know is that I expressed a wish for my hand to be raised, whereupon something within myself set to work, pulled the switches of a most elaborate nervous system, and made thirty or forty muscles — some of which contract and some of which relax at the same instant — function in perfect harmony so as to produce this extremely simple gesture. And of course, when we ask ourselves, how does my heart beat? how do we breathe? how do I digest my food? — we do not have the faintest idea.
We as personalities — as what we like to think of ourselves as being — are in fact only a very small part of an immense manifestation of activity, physical and mental, of which we are simply not aware. We have some control over this inasmuch as some actions being voluntary we can say, I want this to happen, and somebody else does the work for us. But meanwhile, many actions go on without our having the slightest consciousness of them, and … these vegetative actions can be grossly interfered with by our undesirable thoughts, our fears, our greeds, our angers, and so on…
The question then arises, How are we related to this? Why is it that we think of ourselves as only this minute part of a totality far larger than we are — a totality which according to many philosophers may actually be coextensive with the total activity of the universe?
Illustration from You Are Stardust
At a time when Alan Watts was beginning to popularize Eastern teachings in the West and prominent public figures like Jack Kerouac were turning to Buddhism, Huxley advances this cross-pollination of East and West. With an eye to pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James, who was among his greatest influences, he considers the notion that our consciousness is the filtering down of a larger universal consciousness, distilled in a way that benefits our survival:
Obviously, if we have to get out of the way of the traffic on Hollywood Boulevard, it is no good being aware of everything that is going on in the universe; we have to be aware of the approaching bus. And this is what the brain does for us: It narrows the field down so that we can go through life without getting into serious trouble.
But … we can and ought to open ourselves up and become what in fact we have always been from the beginning, that is to say … much more widely knowing than we normally think we are. We should realize our identity with what James called the cosmic consciousness and what in the East is called the Atman-Brahman. The end of life in all great religious traditions is the realization that the finite manifests the Infinite in its totality. This is, of course, a complete paradox when it is stated in words; nevertheless, it is one of the facts of experience.
But this deeper and more expansive sense of self, Huxley argues, is habitually obscured by the superficial shells we mistake for our selves:
The superficial self — the self which we call ourselves, which answers to our names and which goes about its business — has a terrible habit of imagining itself to be absolute in some sense… We know in an obscure and profound way that in the depths of our being … we are identical with the divine Ground. And we wish to realize this identity. But unfortunately, owing to the ignorance in which we live — partly a cultural product, partly a biological and voluntary product — we tend to look at ourselves, at this wretched little self, as being absolute. We either worship ourselves as such, or we project some magnified image of the self in an ideal or goal which falls short of the highest ideal or goal, and proceed to worship that.
Huxley admonishes against “the appalling dangers of idolatry” — a misguided attempt at communion with a greater truth that, in fact, renders us all the more separate:
Idolatry is … the worship of a part — especially the self or projection of the self — as though it were the absolute totality. And as soon as this happens, general disaster occurs.
Illustration by Giselle Potter from To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays — Gertrude Stein’s little-known alphabet book.
Nearly half a century before Adrienne Rich lamented “the corruptions of language employed to manage our perceptions” in her spectacular critique of capitalism, Huxley argues that the uses and misuses of language mediate our relationship with the self and are responsible for our tendency to confuse the deeper self with the superficial self:
This is the greatest gift which man has ever received or given himself, the gift of language. But we have to remember that although language is absolutely essential to us, it can also be absolutely fatal because we use it wrongly. If we analyze our processes of living, we find that, I imagine, at least 50 percent of our life is spent in the universe of language. We are like icebergs, floating in a sea of immediate experience but projecting into the air of language. Icebergs are about four-fifths under water and one-fifth above. But, I would say, we are considerably more than that above. I should say, we are the best part of 50 percent — and, I suspect, some people are about 80 percent above in the world of language. They virtually never have a direct experience; they live entirely in terms of concepts.
It’s a sentiment triply poignant today, in an era when the so-called social media rely on language — both textual and the even more commodified visual language of photography — to convey and to manicure our conceptual perception of each other, often at the expense of the deeper truth of who we are. To be sure, Huxley recognizes that this reliance on concepts is evolutionarily necessary — another sensemaking mechanism for narrowing and organizing the uncontainable chaos of reality into comprehensible bits:
When we see a rose, we immediately say, rose. We do not say, I see a roundish mass of delicately shaded reds and pinks. We immediately pass from the actual experience to the concept.
We cannot help living to a very large extent in terms of concepts. We have to do so, because immediate experience is so chaotic and so immensely rich that in mere self-preservation we have to use the machinery of language to sort out what is of utility for us, what in any given context is of importance, and at the same time to try to understand—because it is only in terms of language that we can understand what is happening. We make generalizations and we go into higher and higher degrees of abstraction, which permit us to comprehend what we are up to, which we certainly would not if we did not have language. And in this way language is an immense boon, which we could not possibly do without.
But language has its limitations and its traps.
Much like Simone Weil argued that the language of algebra hijacked the scientific understanding of reality in the early twentieth century, Huxley asserts that verbal language is leading us to mistake the names we give to various aspects of reality for reality itself:
In general, we think that the pointing finger — the word — is the thing we point at… In reality, words are simply the signs of things. But many people treat things as though they were the signs and illustrations of words. When they see a thing, they immediately think of it as just being an illustration of a verbal category, which is absolutely fatal because this is not the case. And yet we cannot do without words. The whole of life is, after all, a process of walking on a tightrope. If you do not fall one way you fall the other, and each is equally bad. We cannot do without language, and yet if we take language too seriously we are in an extremely bad way. We somehow have to keep going on this knife-edge (every action of life is a knife-edge), being aware of the dangers and doing our best to keep out of them.
This, perhaps, is why David Whyte — as both a poet and a philosopher — is so well poised to unravel the deeper, truer meanings of common words.
Illustration by Giselle Potter from To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays by Gertrude Stein
The root of our over-reliance on language, Huxley argues, lies in our flawed education system, which is predominantly verbal at the expense of experiential learning. (A similar lament led young Susan Sontag to radically remix the timeline of education.) In a prescient case for today’s rise of tinkering schools and mind-body training for kids, Huxley writes:
The liberal arts … are little better than they were in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages the liberal arts were entirely verbal. The only two which were not verbal were astronomy and music… Although for hundreds of years we have been talking about mens sana in corpore sano, we really have not paid any serious attention to the problem of training the mind-body, the instrument which has to do with the learning, which has to do with the living. We give children compulsory games, a little drill, and so on, but this really does not amount in any sense to a training of the mind-body. We pour this verbal stuff into them without in any way preparing the organism for life or for understanding its position in the world — who it is, where it stands, how it is related to the universe. This is one of the oddest things.
Moreover, we do not even prepare the child to have any proper relation with its own mind-body.
Long before Buckminster Fuller admonished against the evils of excessive specialization and Leo Buscaglia penned his magnificent critique of the education system’s industrialized conformity, Huxley writes:
One of the reasons for the lack of attention to the training of the mind-body is that this particular kind of teaching does not fall into any academic pigeonhole. This is one of the great problems in education: Everything takes place in a pigeonhole… The pigeonholes must be there because we cannot avoid specialization; but what we do need in academic institutions now is a few people who run about on the woodwork between the pigeonholes, and peep into all of them and see what can be done, and who are not closed to disciplines which do not happen to fit into any of the categories considered as valid by the present educational system!
The solution to this paralyzing rigidity, Huxley argues, lies in combining “relaxation and activity.” In a sentiment that calls to mind the Chinese concept of wu-wei — “trying not to try” — he writes:
Take the piano teacher, for example. He always says, Relax, relax. But how can you relax while your fingers are rushing over the keys? Yet they have to relax. The singing teacher and the golf pro say exactly the same thing. And in the realm of spiritual exercises we find that the person who teaches mental prayer does too. We have somehow to combine relaxation with activity…
The personal conscious self being a kind of small island in the midst of an enormous area of consciousness — what has to be relaxed is the personal self, the self that tries too hard, that thinks it knows what is what, that uses language. This has to be relaxed in order that the multiple powers at work within the deeper and wider self may come through and function as they should. In all psychophysical skills we have this curious fact of the law of reversed effort: the harder we try, the worse we do the thing.
Two decades before Julia Cameron penned her enduring psychoemotional toolkit for getting out of your own way, Huxley makes a beautiful case for the same idea:
We have to learn, so to speak, to get out of our own light, because with our personal self — this idolatrously worshiped self — we are continually standing in the light of this wider self — this not-self, if you like — which is associated with us and which this standing in the light prevents. We eclipse the illumination from within. And in all the activities of life, from the simplest physical activities to the highest intellectual and spiritual activities, our whole effort must be to get out of our own light.
Illustration by Lizi Boyd from Flashlight
The seed for this lifelong effort, Huxley concludes, must be planted in early education:
These [are] extremely important facets of education, which have been wholly neglected. I do not think that in ordinary schools you could teach what are called spiritual exercises, but you could certainly teach children how to use themselves in this relaxedly active way, how to perform these psychophysical skills without the frightful burden of overcoming the law of reversed effort.
The Divine Within is an illuminating read in its totality, exploring such subjects as time, religion, distraction, death, and the nature of reality. Complement it with Alan Watts on learning to live with presence in the age of anxiety and the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh on how to love.
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ALSO, A CHILDREN’S BOOK BY YOURS TRULY:
AND A SMALL, DELIGHTFUL SIDE PROJECT:
You’ve got to do it by yourself and you can’t do it alone.
Martin Rutte – Speaker-Author
Did you know…
… that today is National Odometer Day? Take some time today to learn a little bit more about the odometer! Without odometers, how could we track the progress we have made? Odometer Day was created to remind people to check their odometers and take better care of their cars.
Today’s Inspirational Quote:
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
— Yogi Berra
|WORD OF THE DAY|
|1Offset the effect of (something) by countering it with something of equal force.|
|Examples of Countervail in a sentence “The dentist hoped the new toothpaste would countervail the candy’s effect.” “As a skilled debater, Andy was familiar with countervailing arguments.”|