Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

We Do What We Can

            Dignity: the state or quality of respect. I read an article yesterday claiming that it is best not to make up your bed. I suspect it was a joke, but it did remind me of a Crow custom that recognized dignity in making up your bed. When one Crow wanted to show respect when talking about an elder, they usually would say that the elder didn’t have much, but (s)he made up their bed the first thing in the morning. That accolade also went along with keeping their living quarters orderly and clean. It meant that person was worthy of respect.

            In reflecting on those notions, I realized that what they really were talking about was the art of mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to whatever we do. This is not the same thing as meditation, which is the art of paying attention to whatever we are. When we are mindful, we keep a clean living space because it is healthy and by cleaning we are mindful of what we possess. In my youth, and my children’s youth, one way we rebelled was to refuse to clean our rooms. My father was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point so that was a short lived rebellion. We would have revelry at 7am and inspection at 7:30am. Our beds had better be made in accordance with proper military precision.

            I allowed my children to experience disorderly conduct. I kept the rest of the house clean but their room could experience whatever state of disrepair they wished. All I would do is tell them that if you wanted to have a sex life you better clean up your room. My younger son is evidently proving me wrong on that, but whatever. I think that he trashes his room when I visit just to show me who is boss in his house. I think most people feel more comfortable in a clean environment, but that does not mean that clean is right and chaos is wrong.

            We all have different talents and abilities. It is self-defeating to compare ourselves with someone else. It is illuminating and raises our self-esteem to be the best we can, to do whatever we do with mindfulness and attention. I have heard many times from teachers of spiritual growth that we should pay attention to how we walk when we are walking. We should pay attention to the mundane aspects of our lives and not worry about how we are doing compared to the rest of the rats in the race. I am in the process of redefining my body and I am running more. It is comforting to concentrate on the feeling of my feet touching the ground, the air filling my lungs, the sun on my skin and the sensation of movement and not pay attention to all of the people blowing by me like I was in the slow land of a German autobahn.

            There is a saying that to be enlightened, we should “chop wood and carry water. When we become enlightened, we will continue to chop wood and carry water.” I suspect that the “becoming enlightened” part is the result of being mindful about the “chop wood and carry water” part. When we do the simplest acts the best we can, the complicated stuff will sort itself out. When we live our lives the best we can, we achieve a sense of dignity with the sense of calmness and peace that creates respect both inside and outside of our selves. This has nothing to do with power, bank accounts, relationships or information. It is simply the actions that lead to profound self-esteem. This is how we actually can disregard what other people think of us. We are being the best person we can. That is enough. I hope one day that someone will say about me, “he makes his bed well.”

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