A Seasonal Tale

I hate winter. Since winter doesn’t care whether I hate it or not, the only change I can make is in my attitude. That’s why this month’s newsletter is a cheerful seasonal tale about having fun and being in the moment.

Do you like winter? Let me know; I need all the help I can get. You can always reach me at messages@cmbarrett.com

Of Mice and Mindfulness

As winter approaches, I find myself thinking about the story of the grasshopper and the ant. Like many fables, it has a moral message. The grasshopper, a lazy creature, spent the summer idling in the sun while the industrious ant gathered and stored food for the winter. The grasshopper laughed at the ant and continued along his carefree path, only to starve during the winter while the ant snacked on his stored food.

Modern Ants

Many of us were raised in societies in which ant behavior is rewarded and grasshopper behavior punished. If you came home with homework, you had to finish it before you could go outside and play. If you worked hard in college, you’d get a good job, unlike the bad grasshoppers, who were too busy having fun to decide on an academic major, let alone a career.

Some of us may believe that if anything good happens without a great deal of effort preceding it, you can’t trust the results. If, for example, you’ve ever dreamed of winning a contest, have you ever imagined winning and somehow mysteriously losing the money? (This actually happens to many lottery winners.)

Once, I was about halfway through putting together a web site when I realized that I was approaching the project in a supremely Antlike manner. I dashed to my computer first thing in the morning and would sit there for hours.

I loved the learning aspect, seeing codes work and choosing backgrounds and graphics. My overall enthusiasm for the project also contributed to my intensity.

I finally did quit for the day, though, I took the web site with me. I’d worry about the photographs needed, the next section of text to be written, or whether I’d meet my self-imposed deadline. I’d wake up in the middle of night and realize that I’d overlooked a link. I worked like a good Ant, and I was very impressed with my industry, but I was also experiencing a lot of anxiety.

Who Am I?

Deepak Chopra has said that we are human doings, not human beings. Rather than having our actions stem from our deepest sense of self, we allow what we do to determine who we are. Our sense of self becomes a matter of performance based on certain inflexible ideas.

We weren’t born with these ideas. As beings who realize that we need to survive, we search for those beliefs that seem most likely to help us live. Then we forget that we chose these beliefs and view them as rules that inhibit our ability to experience life joyfully and spontaneously.

Food for the Soul

Once there was a young mouse named Fritz. He, like the grasshopper, was a pleasure-loving creature who spent the summer dashing from one interesting place to the next without a care in the world. From time to time, he ran into the other mice, who paid no attention to glorious beams of sunlight or the fragrant breath of a breeze, so busy were they gathering and storing crumbs of food.

“Fellow mice,” Fritz said one day. “Why are you always so busy? Take a moment to look at the sky; waggle your whiskers and smell the flowers.”

The other mice ignored Fritz, all except a spokesmouse, who said, “Don’t you know that winter is coming?”

Fritz was baffled. “What’s that?”

“Cold and snow, and no food to be found anywhere. You won’t be dancing and prancing around then. You’ll be hungry, but we won’t.”

Fritz nibbled on a seed and then darted away, laughing at the morbid fantasies of creatures too busy preparing for a future that might never come to enjoy the pleasures of the moment.

Winter did come, and Fritz did get hungry. Drawn by the smell of food, he crawled into the burrow of the other mice.

“And what do you think you’re doing here?” asked the spokesmouse. “Why should we share the food we worked hard to gather while you were being lazy?”

Fritz had an idea. “I’ll tell you stories to while away the long winter night. I’ll tell you what the bees and butterflies say to the flowers and the tales the birds tell of lands beyond the sea.”

The mice began to draw closer, their eyes bright with curiosity. Even the spokesmouse looked interested. “Do you have a lot of stories?”

“Countless,” Fritz said, knowing that if he ran out of real ones, he could make them up.

He told them of birds’ journeys to the jungles of Africa and tropical islands, about the messages of love bees carried from flower to flower, and the ancient history of the forest that was inscribed onto the bark of trees. With each story, the mice drew closer, and soon they were all quite warm and cozy.

They had the most wonderful winter any mouse could remember, and when spring came, each one went up to shake Fritz’s paw. That spring and summer everymouse took out some time to play and sunbathe and listen to the gossip of plants and trees. Fritz, inspired by how they’d learned to mix work and play, learned that gathering seeds had its own rewards.

The next winter they each had a story to tell, and they all passed the season in comfort and joy.