Oh, human blindness! How long, how long shall it be before this dust is removed from our eyes? For although, as far as we ourselves are concerned, it seems not to be bad enough to blind us altogether, I can see some motes and particles which, if we allow them to become more numerous, will be sufficient to do us great harm. (Teresa of Avila: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Four)
There are few instant tragedies and few instant successes. Most of our lives are the product of daily actions solidified over time as we turn choices into habits through repetition. Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And “Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.” To ensure we spend our days well, we must have a schedule because: “A schedule defends from chaos and whim.”*
Most of our chronic problems begin as minor issues or what Teresa calls “dust in the eyes”. I now have the opportunity to see the cumulative effect of people’s choices over several decades. I’ve watched the “dust in the eyes” become blindness. I’ve seen marriages destroyed one “insignificant” fight at a time. I’ve seen people alienate their friends and co-workers with one defensive move or one harsh word after another. I’ve seen people ruin their health one bite at a time. They believe their current situation is the result of unfortunate “events” or someone else’s fault and deny the cumulative effect of their choices. They now believe even minor course corrections are impossible. What began as “dust in the eyes” has become blindness.
Teresa says the “dust in the eyes” should be a warning to take action. We assume we’re dealing something insignificant so why worry. After all, it doesn’t seem “bad enough to blind us altogether”. But it can — and it will. She says, “I can see some motes and particles which, if we allow them to become more numerous, will be sufficient to do us great harm.” But it doesn’t have to leave us blind. I’m also happy to report that some have made course corrections even late in life with profound results.
Let me leave you with four tips:
- Wisdom, in part, is our ability to see how our present actions compound over time.
- It’s rarely too late to make course corrections in your life.
- New habits must start today, not tomorrow.
- Schedule your most important activities.
For more on this topic
*Annie Dillard: The Writing Life: HarperCollins Publishers 1989