Today is October 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you striving to live the width of your life?” Diane Ackerman, American poet, essayist, and naturalist known for her wide-ranging curiosity and poetic explorations of the natural world proclaimed “I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
We so often get caught up in living a long life we forget to live at all. Navigating the chaos requires one to widen life as much as possible.
Ackerman’s observation resembles an adage of unknown authorship “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.”
Both Evan Esar and H.L. Mencken are often given credit for this phrase but the earliest and closest match comes from the union periodical The Stonecutters’ Journal in 1924 where it published the following unauthored proclamation:
You Cannot Control
You cannot control the length of your life, but you can control its width and depth.
You cannot control the contour of your countenance, but you can control its expression.
You cannot control the other fellow's opportunities, but you can grasp your own.
You cannot control the weather, but you can control the moral atmosphere which surrounds you.
You cannot control the distance that your head shall be above the ground, but you can control the height of the contents of your head.
You cannot control the amount of your income entirely, but the management of your expenditures is altogether in your own hands.
You cannot control the other fellow's annoying faults, but you can see to it that you yourself do not develop or harbor provoking propensities.
You cannot control "Hard times" or "rainy days" but you can bank money now to boost you through both.
Why worry about things you can't control? Get busy controlling the things you can.
For those who navigate the chaos, they strive to live the width of their life. Since the length of life is unknown, those who navigate the chaos strive to get the most out of their limited time. If one is lucky enough to grow old, say over 50 as an example, it is important to remember the adage “getting older is inevitable; getting wiser is optional.”
In his October 2, 2021, Psychology Today article "Getting Wiser in Our Later Years," Dr. John Amodeo wrote “As you age, are you finding the time and presence to be available for life? Or are you plagued by a gnawing sense that your life is not as meaningful and fulfilling as you’d like it to be?” If your life is not as wide as you would like it to be, how often do you recognize you have time to engage with life more fully? Do you subscribe to the belief: “I would rather be completely exhausted from the hard times which breed success...than well rested from achieving nothing.” If you are merely resting how wide do you think your life can be?
Navigating the chaos means developing the width of your life regardless of its length. Doing so is hard work and over decades can be exhausting. As Amodeo noted “it often takes decades of experiencing the full array of what life offers—times of agony and ecstasy, loss and gain, breakdowns and breakthroughs—to have tasted life in its various flavors and draw lessons from a life fully lived.”
In his September 3, 2022, article "4 Steps to Successfully Start a New Life Chapter" in Psychology Today, Robert Taibbi discussed the width of one's life by examining the process of moving from one chapter of our lives to another.
Taibbi wrote “Life continually guides us towards what we need to learn; mistakes are lessons to carry forward if we believe they are. Stop and take stock of all you’ve learned so far to facilitate closure and smooth your transitions. There are important lessons about relationships, your strengths, weaknesses, and passions embedded in that divorce, that failed novel, those college years, and that lifetime of work. These can be the new foundation for this next chapter; your personal wisdom can be the ballast to keep you upright in the choppy waters ahead.”
To help you enhance your ‘personal wisdom’ as you widen your life, today’s reflection involves the following questions:
How often are you pursuing goals that will help you widen and deepen your life?
How often are you maintaining a strong position on your expression and response to your life situation?
Are you so consumed by the opportunity’s others are given that you completely miss out on your own?
Are you trying to control the weather or the moral atmosphere around you?
How often do you manage your expenditures so that they do not exceed your income?
Are you so preoccupied by the annoying faults of others that you are blinded to your own shortcomings?
How often are you banking money away for "hard times" or "rainy days?"
How often are you worrying about things you cannot control?
How often do you reflect upon the lessons from a life fully lived?