I once put all my ducks in a row
Only then realizing
What am I doing with all these ducks?!
Getting one’s ducks in a row is an idiom or metaphor that most people are familiar with, meaning that we should get our business in order. The twist in this poem is a reversal of the typical order that my poetry takes. In this short poem, I take a common phrase that is not intended to be taken literally, and then take it literally. Predictably, this leads to absurdity, and the ensuing absurd question of what am I doing with all of these ducks. Of course, the absurd question is actually a question intended to jar one into a realization that getting one’s business in order is not always the most important thing in the world, though it often seems so.
Perhaps ironically, the pervasive idea of getting one’s ducks in a row, getting one’s business in order, can be a stagnant or deadening proposition that actually kills a higher order in our lives. Life is messy. Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things.”
The question here is not whether one is for order or against order. The question here is one for a higher order or a lower order. Increasingly, my experiences in life lead me to believe that one of the most fundamental issues is achieving some clarity about following a higher order over a lower order. Again, this does not negate the value of lower order stuff, it simply puts it in its proper place, puts it in its proper perspective. Given that lower order stuff is typically more clear, concrete, and easy to see, it is little surprise that we give an inordinate focus to such things – they capture our attention (and us). After experiencing many dis-orders in my life, I have come to the realization that the best way to reorder my life around those things which are most important, those higher order things, is to practice simplicity. What I mean by this is that I need to be aware of those relatively few things in life that are most important to me. Combined with an actual commitment to these things, then I can use these few important things to better order the many lower things. More simply put, the higher should lower the order, and a few more important things should order the many less important things.
Another major reason that I see lesser things getting a disproportionate amount of attention versus greater things, is a common confusion regarding what is urgent versus what is important. Our culture value busyness. Busyness is seen as an indicator of productivity. Also, busyness is a way to avoid being seen as engaging in a cardinal sin of our culture, which is laziness. I think this confusion leads to a systematic bias that often runs over truly important things in our lives. Given the attachment to busyness, busyness actually becomes a surrogate for urgency. Thus, the confusion between urgency and importance.
Now, actually, there are many things in life that are both urgent and important. These are the most important things to which we should attend. However, there are many, many things that seem urgent that are not really that important. Likewise, there are many things that are very important but do not seem very urgent. I believe it is in these very important things that do not seem very urgent that we get lost. The Achilles heel here is that attention to these most important things that don’t seem very urgent, requires a more relaxed perspective, a broader perspective in relation to time. Most great things in life require a substantial investment of time. Also, most things worthwhile require some effort on our part. But let me deal first with the time issue (the most important thing here). This gets back to the laziness issue. Our culture reinforces the notion that relaxing our views about urgency is somehow lazy. If you are not dealing with the commonly accepted stuff that is seen is urgent, then you are viewed as lazy. This is not necessarily true. Now, while truly lazy people don’t deal with what’s in front of them, whether it is urgent or not, important or not, to deal with the important but not urgent things requires some way of being that is neither characterized by mere busyness nor laziness. This is the difficult counter-cultural work of dealing with the most important and often most overlooked stuff in our lives. It takes a great amount of discipline and work to slough off the avalanche of seemingly urgent stuff in our life in order to attend to the most important things. In fact, it is this lack of developing such discipline and boundary setting that is the more important and urgent form of laziness to address.
Laziness is definitely an issue. This gets back to the issue that most things worthwhile in our life require effort on our part. Being fully human requires a lot of effort. This reality requires that we overcome a certain lazy inertia in our lives. The status quo, the way things are, has a certain stability, momentum and inertia to it.
If we keep going the direction we are headed in, we will probably end up where we are going. However, equally true, the past is the best predictor of the future, but if you use the past to predict the future, you will always be wrong. Or more eloquently put, by Yogi Berra, “Prediction is very hard, especially when about the future.” This is because people are not billiard balls. People are not simply determined being. People possess freedom. People are subjects, not objects. Certainly, as long as people are involved, predicting the future with complete accuracy will be impossible (actually, this is true for so-called “things” as well; this involves a discussion of the inherent probabilities necessary to understand quantum physics, which I will gracefully save for another day). This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is not chaos; this is simply uncertainty. This is the way the universe is ordered. This is a higher order, not to be subjected to a lower order. This takes us full circle, back to our zealous clinging to stuff that is more concrete, seemingly certain. Our felt need to substitute certainty for uncertainty plays neatly into the hands of confusing the urgent and the important. Life is uncertain. If life were not uncertain, it would not be life. If life were not uncertain, then life would simply be a quest of learning everything and then being ordered (notice the use of the passive voice, and the same language that we reject often from the bosses in our lives) by the ultimately determinable (that which can be reduced to certainty). This would inescapably lead us to our endgame of being all-knowing and totally impotent (not free). If this strikes you as a concept of God that is rejected by the vast majority of humanity on this planet, then you must be paying attention. This so-called God that so many people legitimately reject, is not God, but the vain and enslaving-ourselves project of trying to be God ourselves. Neither can God be reduced to simply “everything.” God is more than “everything.” This concept arises out of the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between subject and object. In this case, the difference between people and things, and between God and “everything.” I hope that I’m not getting too far off course by getting straight to the heart of the matter. If you want some additional commentary on these matters, and subjects, I would suggest browsing scientific reductionism.
So, now that I have put all of my ducks in order, I can get beyond the whole “duck” thing. In the end, for all this to work well, this means having our lives ordered in a way that is consistent with what we consider to be the most important, then we must actually know what is the most important stuff in our lives. Do you know what the most important things in your life are? If so, I would suggest that you make a list of such things, and while doing this may be of the utmost importance, I would recommend that you take your time to get it right.
Now, if you really want to blow your mind, and perhaps blow the lid off your heart, I recommend meditating upon this poem from the Sufi poet Rumi:
A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you want most.
If they in any way differ
you are in trouble.