I was re-reading the other day, a great Romanian poem by Mihai Eminescu, called “Gloss” about the art of living and conscious living.
He wrote in 19th century about the “Power of Now”, the consequences of no material attachments, what does it mean to have a clear thinking, how to trust your inner wisdom and how to enjoy life by living a conscious life, in the present moment without fears and ego rewards. All these ideas, are promoted right now by a lot of spiritual teachers. So, what’s new?
By reading all these concepts, I realized that he was right: “All is old and all is new”
But if all is old, it means that we don’t renew? If yes, how can we direct that? Can it be controlled?
In 1964, the prolific social science writer John W. Gardner published Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society(public library) — a forgotten book of extraordinary prescience and warm wisdom, which rings even timelier today. It’s a must-read as much for entrepreneurs and leaders seeking to infuse their organizations with ongoing vitality as it is for all of us as individuals, on our private trajectories of self-transcendence and personal growth.
Gardner explores what it takes for us — as individuals, as a society, even as a civilization — to cultivate the capacity for self-renewal so vital to countering “the dry rot produced by apathy, by rigidity and by moral emptiness,” which often comes with attaining a certain level of complacent comfort or success. Referencing his previous book, Excellence — an equally prescient exploration of the educational system, its promise and its limitations, and the role of high standards in cultivating character — Gardner writes:
“High standards are not enough. There are kinds of excellence — very important kinds — that are not necessarily associated with the capacity for renewal. A society that has reached heights of excellence may already be caught in the rigidities that will bring it down. An institution may hold itself to the highest standards and yet already be entombed in the complacency that will eventually spell its decline.”
But a society’s renewal depends on the individuals’ renewal, my renewal, yours, the rebirth of each one of us.
“If a society hopes to achieve renewal, it will have to be a hospitable environment for creative men and women. It will also have to produce men and women with the capacity for self-renewal… Men and women need not fall into a stupor of mind and spirit by the time they are middle-aged. They need not relinquish as early as they do the resilience of youth and the capacity to learn and grow.”
The renewal of societies and organizations can go forward only if someone CARES. Apathy and lowered motivation are the most widely noted characteristics of a civilization on the downward path.
Gardner later adds:
“Everyone, either in his career or as a part-time activity, should be doing something about which he cares deeply. And if he is to escape the prison of the self, it must be something not essentially egocentric in nature.
Institutions are renewed by individuals who refuse to be satisfied with the outer husks of things. And self-renewal requires somewhat the same impatience with empty forms.”
But how do we find our “stem cells” how do foster our capacity for renewal?
Here are some ideas that I cam out so far:
1. Keep up your VITALITY.
Exercise often, try new things every month that make you go out of your comfort zone.
2. Surround yourself with children.
This will remind us how easy is to be curious and open to new experiences.As we grow older, we become rigid, limited in our thinking guided by old patterns and experiences that don’t allow us anymore to feel alive.
3. Try for a while a FLUID thinking.
Allow yourself to be flexible in your beliefs. Question your beliefs and check again their validity. One easy way to try this is by getting a PAUSE with your partner when you are about to have a fight. Just before saying “you’re always doing this…., always late”, take a deep breath and be open to listen the reasons of that behaviour.
Gardner said that “Each acquired attitude or habit, useful though it may be, makes [the infant] a little less receptive to alternative ways of thinking and acting. He becomes more competent to function in his own environment, less adaptive to changes.
All of this seems to suggest that the critical question is how to stay young. But youth implies immaturity. And though everyone wants to be young, no one wants to be immature. Unfortunately, as many a youth-seeker has learned, the two are intertwined.”
4. Do every week something that simulates your creativity.
Try drawing, writing, painting, any other crafting activities. Who know? Maybe you can find other hidden talents.
Henry Miller’s had a memorable observation: “all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis”.
One prerequisite for self-renewal, Gardner argues, is self-knowledge — something all the more relevant today, when we’re so busy being productive that we neglect to be present, lulling ourselves into a trance of doing as we forget to be, becoming absent from our own lives. Gardner writes:
We can keep ourselves so busy, fill our lives with so many diversions, stuff our heads with so much knowledge, involve ourselves with so many people and cover so much ground that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within… By middle life most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.
The individual who has become a stranger to himself has lost the capacity for genuine self-renewal.
Renewal is not just innovation and change. It is also the process of bringing the results of change into line with our purposes. When our forebears invented the motor car, they had to devise rules of the road. Both are phases of renewal. When urban expansion threatens chaos, we must revive our conceptions of city planning and metropolitan government.
Frozen as we are by the idea of change, we must guard against the notion that continuity is a negligible — if not reprehensible — factor in human history. It is a vitally important ingredient in the life of individuals, organizations and societies. Particularly important to a society’s continuity are its long-term purposes and values. These purposes and values also evolve in the long run; but by being relatively durable, they enable a society to absorb change without losing its distinctive character and style. They do much to determine the direction of change. They insure a society will not be buffeted in all directions by every wind that blows.
A sensible view of these matters sees an endless interweaving of continuity and change.
The only stability possible is stability in motion.
As we mature we progressively narrow the scope and variety of our lives. Of all the interests we might pursue, we settle on a few. Of all the people with whom we might associate, we select a small number. We become caught in a web of fixed relationships. We develop set ways of doing things.
6. Related to self-knowledge and of equal importance to our capacity for self-renewal is cultivating our capacity for love, as well as our capacity for friendship.
“Love and friendship dissolve the rigidities of the isolated self, force new perspectives, alter judgments and keep in working order the emotional substratum on which all profound comprehension of human affairs must rest.”
I hope this article will be a good reminder and a support for you in your journey in looking at a familiar world with new eyes.