Recently, my Mom retired from work after over 25 years as a teacher and school director. At the retirement party I went all out and wore a tie and was one of the few people there who did. It really wasn’t necessary to dress up that much but I wanted to honor her in this way. She has devoted a big portion of her life to this so it was important to me. I wanted to “frame” this situation for what is was: a big deal.
One important lesson I’ve learned in life is this: everything needs to be framed. If it’s time to relax, turn everything off and relax. If it’s time to exercise, exercise. If it’s time to work, then get to work. Decide ahead of time, which takes a little effort and planning. If you are having dinner with friends or family, make an effort to connect with them. That’s why you’re there. The list goes on, but framing is important. Why am I doing this? What is the goal? Who gets to define success? What does winning or “success” look like? Many other similar questions could be asked to frame your life.
Most of the time, we don’t take enough time to do this. Everything should be framed. This takes some time. In order to frame something, there has to be a coherent narrative, which doesn’t exist in the modern world, so we are often just floating along being manipulated by various marketing schemes, memes, the media, and the culture to behave in certain ways. We all succumb to the “story” around us, no matter how irrational it may be, because so few people, including myself, ever question it. And we hop from one story to another, and mistake this for a story we chose to be part of. I always raise an eyebrow when I hear someone say that someone else is “successful” because I know so many people who seem successful but unfortunately don’t feel that way. Success, or winning, is elusive if you don’t frame it clearly.
I’ve written extensively about the fact that consumption is a primary narrative arc, or story, (probably the narrative arc) of American life: Go to school. Why? To get a good job. Why? So you can buy things. Why? So you will feel good, or “successful”. Who gets to define success? We do, the peddlers of consumption, not you. Why? So we can make money off of you and so you will never really feel successful and you will have to keep spending. Go into debt even. Why? So you can buy more. And this frame continues until we retire, worn out and exhausted. What happened to all the years?
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with consumption. But this narrative arc of consumption, or story, is proven to lead to nowhere. It’s just a circle that keeps closing in on you if you aren’t careful, especially when debt is involved. If you have a good bit of money, maybe you can keep your head out of water and survive. For most of the rest of the USA, this debt-fueled narrative arc is a terrible way to live and leads to depression, divorce, stress, compulsive eating, and spiritual decay. Some other frame traps, or “stories”, people fall into are the pleasure arc, the emotions arc, the travel arc, the experience arc, the family arc, and so on. I know all of these stories because I’ve tried them all! These things are great, but they don’t make for a completely integrative story.
Where this all leads is to first principles, to the beginning. Going back to a few years ago, when I started writing Movement & Meaning, and even years before that, I was forced to deeply examine and think about human life for a long time. I always knew there was more to fitness and sports than spandex, pep rallies, 6 pack abs, yoga classes, and body fat testing. I wanted to make sense of it all, and understand how and why exercise was so incredibly powerful for helping people with mental health issues. Pondering, studying, and reading about the brain and human life and movement over many years led me from physiology to anatomy. Then anatomy led me to biology, biology led to me evolution, evolution led me to history, history led me to politics, politics led me to philosophy, and finally, philosophy led me to theology. This is where my research started to come full circle.
Theology, or the study of the source of creation, is now leading me back to philosophy and the other sciences. I never thought this would happen, but theology, after all, is called the “Queen of the Sciences.” I’m right in the thick of working this out, but it’s become much clearer and I have a clear “framework” now. Things need to be framed, remember. No don’t worry, we’re not going to get into religious dogma on this blog. I like Wendell Berry’s idea of health, and the way he connects it back to the root word- healing. I had previously used the word Ikigai, the Japanese word, to describe our reason for being. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, harmony, wholeness, or completeness is a good word too. Healing is health or wholeness, by connecting with the creator and the purposes we are here for. This is the ultimate integrated frame. This is science that makes sense.
So back to the morning. Maybe you are not completely happy with something going on in your life. Maybe you are. Maybe you’d rather have this or that. Regardless, we are where we are, as cliché as it sounds. We have to take it one day at a time, and set the frame. Reality is the frame. This is the story. We have to accept the reality of creation but to do this takes effort and we don’t want to do it. It’s so much easier not to.
What are we here for? Our lives mean something and we are here for some great purpose. I don’t mean great as in writing a symphony or starting a business, though you may do something like that. I mean a great purpose as in recognizing the gift of creation, of reality itself in the moment. This type of theology is not that complicated. We wake up in the morning and recognize the integrity of things, like ourselves, and others, the beauty in all of the created world, and this framework, or story, changes the way we see the world. In a way, this is like waking up. Once we set the frame, then we can move on to other things like values, goals, projects, habits, productivity tips, and so on. Otherwise, those things don’t mean much.
Let’s win the day by framing it. Let’s frame everything into something that makes sense instead of floundering around. If we’re going to set sail, we have to have a port to sail from and this is our port. Creation is a gift and a miracle and to be valued and recognized as the story of our day. This is consciousness. I experienced this through helping with and experiencing the spirit of Special Olympics but I had a hard time recognizing it or articulating what I was learning at the time. Recognize the story you’re in and accept the role you are in, at least for now. Maybe you will decide your current role or place in life is not right for you at some point and it truly may not be, but for now we have to come to terms with the way things are. This is the beginning of health and where healing begins.
Maybe even more important is to realize that not everyone is going to buy into your story or want to participate. That’s ok. Just accept that they are living in a different story. It doesn’t mean that you are better than them, or that you shouldn’t tolerate them. It’s OK for them to be there with you even though their frame is different. You may even be good friends. You can’t force anyone to do anything and there’s no need to judge them or be angry with them. You can invite them into your story, but they may not be open to it. You and I have plenty to do on our end anyway.
You will, however, meet many fellow travelers who share your story, and you can enjoy their friendship and company. *If you need to, dig out the Lord of the Rings Movies and re-watch them. These magical stories of Tolkien show the value creation, friendships and companions, and a coherent narrative plays in our lives. It took me a long time to understand this, but hopefully it will help you bypass a lot of pain and confusion that I went through. Everything needs to be framed.
This is an example of how to frame the day. Remember, you define success according to your story. It’s fine to want to make a lot of money, or buy a boat, or anything else, as long as your story makes sense and you know what winning is. I don’t do this every day, but most days my routine looks like this. You can pick some of these or find your own framing techniques that work for you. Eventually, these things work themselves into your subconscious and change you.
- Make up the bed.
- Say thank you for a series of things I have listed out which I’m grateful for.
- Pray for those in need and our country- the poor, mentally ill, the sick, the injured.
- Say the Lord’s Prayer.
- Read inspiring literature or sacred readings 5-10 minutes
- Meditate 10 minutes with a mantra and deep breathing. You can use scripture or a word, or just breathe.
- Count from 100 backwards as fast as I can.
- Say the alphabet backwards.
- Do some voice exercises I learned to develop resonance and improve pronunciation.
- Review the day’s schedule and write out 1-2 things I have to achieve for the day.
- Drink 2 cups of coffee.
If you frame the morning with a coherent narrative, a story that makes sense, your life will have meaning. “Success” will be doing whatever it is you are doing to the best of your ability, whether it’s reading, or working at a restaurant, or training, or speaking, or managing, or teaching, or anything else. “Success” will mean:
- Deciding what you believe about life, and what story you’re living in
- living out the values revealed by your story, or frame, or narrative arc
- setting the goals which reflect your values
- accomplishing the projects which will help you reach your goals
- instilling the habits which will make your projects feasible
- as a noble byproduct turn you into a virtuous human being, winning self-respect, the most important respect of all
Creation is the gift that frames the day, and wakes us up from our slumber, and prods us on when we don’t want to be prodded. It makes demands on us that we would rather not acknowledge. Creation, if we let it, ignites the willingness for us to do and be who we need to be. In order to win the day, you have to win the morning. Win the morning and you win forever.
Special thanks to RJ Snell and his work, Acedia: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire and Alasdair Macintyre for his classic book After Virtue. I highly recommend these works for a follow up study to this essay.
My coaching format follows the format laid out here and in the essay:
Creation matters and makes demands of us > Values > Goals > Projects > Habits > Virtues.
Contact me for further information or speaking requests.
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