The renowned general Lao Tzu is quoted as having said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” although the actual translations of his words appear to differ on what he actually said. So many things can be lost in translation, and yet how remarkable is it that the words of people like Lao Tzu, Jesus, the Buddha, and others still find resonance in the hearts and minds and imaginations of humankind.
The journey of a thousand miles. The journey of 10,000 or a million miles begin with a single step. Sometimes when I think about my life journeys I recognize that they turned on a single decision, a single step. I was talking to a friend the other day about what it takes to make changes in our lives. In my experience, it often begins by making a small shift. People seem to think that they need to make major changes in their lives, they are intimidated by the magnitude of what they want to do. They look at the ten thousand miles when they really need to look at the first step, then the tenth, then the hundredth, then the thousandth. We get discouraged by the 50 pounds we want to lose, but if we could first look at the five that we can lose, it gets us headed toward the 50. I encouraged a friend who wants to lose weight not to stop eating sweets, but that instead of eating them every night to skip a night or two per week, then go every three nights, then every other night. Sometimes even though the overall goal is overwhelming, in-between goals are manageable.
Recently I challenged a friend to achieve a particular goal by the time she reaches her 60th birthday in a little over 16 months. It is doable, but feels a little daunting to her. I sent her a 17-month calendar with the starting date when I first shared the idea with her to the date of her 60th birthday. At various points along the way I put on the calendar things like, “What have I done to reach my goal today?” and “Stop circling and do some work!” She’s started taking it seriously and taking small steps every day toward her goal. She will no doubt get sidetracked and a little discouraged along the way, but I’m here to help her.
It’s funny. As I write this, I know I am talking to myself. I have things I want to accomplish, goals I am moving toward. I can get a little overwhelmed if I view them in their totality, so I have to take things as they come and make the moves, take the actions that I can. And I have to let go of the idea that I can do more than I actually can. Sometimes we take on more, say yes to everything, agree to things and have no idea if we can possibly do all the things we’ve agreed to. And so our minds are always onto the next thing before we’ve barely finished the previous one. At some point we have to stop.
At the end of the day, what do we have? This moment. Then this one. Now this one. I would do well to remember that. When I commenced this 40-day journey I began with “What was I thinking? I don’t have the energy or time to write every day for 40 days.” After the third day, I saw the remaining 37 stretching out before me and I thought, “There’s no way I can keep this up.” (This was silly because I wrote my gratitude blog nearly every day for 700+ days, but this felt different somehow.) But then something interesting happened: I stopped thinking about how I was going to write 40 blog posts and focused on writing the next one. And the one after that. Suddenly I’ve gone 10,000 miles. Not all at once, but one step, one mile at a time. And now I have one more week in sharing reflections on these 40 days.Jesus had a whole lot he wanted to accomplish and he knew he had finite time. As he neared the end of his particular 40 days I don’t think he got overwhelmed by it–so much to do, so little time and such. He remained in the moment attending to the people around him, healing them, teaching them, serving them as he had the previous three years. That’s what I need to remember to do. And so it goes for each of us.