I seldom do what I’m about to do, which, I hope, will make what follows jump out at you and grab your bathrobe.
The list below is not mine: it is excerpted from a piece written by a brilliant young woman, Maria Popova, reflecting on ten years of writing a truly wonderful, literate newsletter called Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings is absolutely fabulous, marvelous, fascinating, intellectually stimulating, captivating and engrossing. It is a compilation of, and reflections on, a wide variety of articles and books and interviews that is utterly, well, all of the above.
Did I mention that I love it? That it’s the ONLY newsletter I choose to receive? If you have never heard of it, I strongly encourage you to go immediately, if not sooner, to brainpickings.org ; you’ll be exposed to people and ideas that you might not seek out on your own, but which will captivate, stimulate and give you hope and creative excitement in an age of typing squirrel GIFs. Brain Pickings is meaningful nourishment for your mind and your soul.
Please enjoy these “fluid reflections for making a solid center” from Brain Pickings.
(*Please note that I have edited this down slightly from the original.*)
1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
…we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates … It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.
…Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
3. Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
4. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken….
5. When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity….
6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy… the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. …Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.
9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. …which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.
10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself … and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite. Cynicism…is a contracting force… It is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive… Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.