I recently heard a great story about perspective that I will paraphrase here.
View from the toll booth
A man was approaching a line of tollbooths on the freeway in San Francisco. He began to dread the most mundane, sometimes depressing kind of interaction that you get with someone stuck in a toll booth. Yet when he rolled down his window, he heard loud music playing. Upon arriving at his lane’s booth, he noticed the man inside dancing energetically.
“What are you doing?” asked the man in the car as he pulled up.
“I’m having a dance party,” replied the dancing man.
“What about them?” he asked pointing to the other booths, each one inhabited but a much less excited person.
“They’re not invited,” he answered, smiling. “You know what I see when I look at these other booths? Vertical coffins. These people show up every day alive and well, then die inside their booths. When they leave for home, they have as much energy as a corpse.”
“What’s different about you?”
“I think of it like this. I’m going to be a professional dancer, and these guys are paying for my training. I get to dance here all day with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge. What more could I ask for?”
This kind of perspective is priceless. You could have the highest paying job in the world, live in the nicest house, have an amazing family, and yet still find something wrong with what you’ve got. There is always something lacking, something better out there. In contrast, you could be in a situation that very few people envy and see everything great about it.
Past and Future
Many of you reading this will know that I’m not a fan of dwelling on the past. We have a tendency to spend too much time thinking about how great things were way back when or how it all could have been better if only we had done something differently. This attachment that our ego mind has to the past is usually unhelpful and sometimes unhealthy. Yet if we ignore the past we are, as they say, doomed to repeat it. So it is of course important to recognize where we’ve come from and be able to learn from it, as well as appreciate it.
This is a perfect time of year to think about the things and people in our lives that we are grateful for. This is what perspective gives us. We can be grateful for our past, present, and even our future. As you look back on this previous year, be honest. What could you have done better? Also recognize what could have gone worse. If you have any imagination, you’ll probably find plenty in both categories. Now allow yourself to be thankful for everything that happened, exactly as it happened. Take any useful lessons with you; let go of anything that there is to let go of. Be here now.
True perspective causes us to live powerfully in every moment.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.
-Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure