Constructive Living Maxims

By: David K. Reynolds

also see Construction Living at Todo Institute and David Reynold's Website on Constructive Living

1. Run to the edge of the cliff and stop on a dime.

There are three key words here: run, edge, stop. When confronted by a problem in life, do what can be done to solve it (run); use every recourse in moving to the moment of solution (edge); and remain unattached to the outcome (stop). The goal is wholehearted commitment to the doing, not to the result. If we merely meander toward the solution, or if we try only one recourse when several are possible, or if we rely on "everything working out well," there will inevitably be discontent because problems do not consistently resolve themselves as we want.

2. Don't put your life on hold.

While waiting to learn the results of some action (college admission, job interview, bar exam) or anticipating some event (a birthday, a wedding, a vacation) there may be a tendency to simply get through the hours or days. Life lived without awareness not only dissipates the time, but promotes the habit of slothful inattention.

3. All I can do is...the next thing and the next thing and the next.

Moment by moment, reality brings us tasks in just this order.

4. Have it be the way it is.

Variant: Things turn out the way they do. Variant: It's not the way it ought to be; it is the way it is. Accept reality as it is. Then, if necessary, act to change your circumstances.

5. Stick it in your hara.

The hara is in the lower abdomen. It is considered by the Japanese to be the center of spiritual energy. This maxim is offered to people who act impulsively without considering the effects of their words. They are advised to put their thoughts and feelings into their hara and wait. When they have ripened or faded away, then it is time to act.

6. What needs to be done next?

Variants: Hmmmm, what needs to be done next? That's interesting; what needs to be done next? I'm feeling_____________________; what needs doing now? That's reality; what needs to be done now?

Rather than fixing on some feeling or circumstances, we are simply to note its existence and move on to what reality has brought for us to do.

7. Keep on doing what needs to be done.

This is perhaps the most frequently used Moritist maxim. It is positive, active, purposeful.

8. Symptoms are misattention.

Psychological symptoms come into existence when they invade awareness and interfere with our doing what needs doing. When attention is refocused on constructive activity, symptoms disappear.

8. Give and give until you wave goodbye.

In some relationships (the principle applies to jobs, as well) there is psychological disengagement long before the breakup. We recommend that both members give themselves to the relationship right up to the moment of separation. Sometimes the separation becomes unnecessary when this effort is put forth, but in any case there is no regret for something left undone. We aim at doing everything well until we begin something else. Then we do that well, too.

10. Quit only when you're succeeding.

When a job is boring or difficult, the person in a neurotic moment is likely to want to quit. This maxim advises us to stick through the initial discomfort and to resign if that becomes necessary only after mastering the job (adjusting to the prostheses). To change after success, rather than after failure, gives a different psychological tone to subsequent activities such as jobseeking. Above all, we want to avoid building a history of failure.

11. Many "me's."

Variant: Changeable people.

We change continuously. We all have multiple identities. One need not buy the mistaken notion that a person is "neurotic" or "weak" or "a failure" or "hard to live with." We aren't fixed rigidly into a particular character. For simplicity, we write about neurotic people, but it is merely shorthand for people in neurotic moments.

12. Every moment a fresh one.

What I did just now is already past. Whether that moment brought success or failure, the next moment is now arriving. Herein lies existential hope--not as a feeling, but as an integral part of reality.

13. Unpleasant doesn't mean bad.

Variants: Pain brings us to the present. Anxiety breeds caution and preparation. Worry provokes planning. Suffering got us here.

These maxims all point to the possibility of good in even the most unpleasant feelings. The goal in Constructive Living is not to eliminate these feelings, but to accept and even use them as signs of what needs to be done.

14. Emergency? Watch what emerges.

Even when action must be immediate there is time to notice what needs to be done.

15. Action brings experience; experiential knowledge is dependable.

People in neurotic moments tend to overplan and underact. Our imagination creates unreal dilemmas, as well as likely scenarios. We often try to understand with the intellect what can only be tested through behavior. Action cuts through fiction by producing reality-based experience.

16. Exchange yourself for another.

Variants: Go be a wave. Melt into the moment.

Self-consciousness disappears when attention is merged with reality. When the shy woman loses herself in her companion, when the beachgoer becomes the wave in which he swims, there is no awkward introspection.

17. Moldy perfume.

Variants: Suffering grows from a seed of beauty. Muck grows out of the lotus. Look for the beautiful source.

Every painful symptom emerges from a positive desire. The terrified public speaker wants to do well. The hypochondriac wants a good health and a long life. When the proper goals are lost from sight, when attention is misdirected, when improper means are employed, then symptoms appear. We must discover the positive purposes underlying our symptoms.

18. Active rest.

Rest can often be achieved by turning from one sort of task to another. Lying down can be a task worthy of attention, too, but some people try to use long periods of rest as escape from dealing squarely with their problems. Others who suffer from neurotic insomnia are advised to refrain from naps during the day and to refresh themselves through active rest. With very rare exceptions the body assures itself sufficient sleep.

19. Self-centeredness is suffering.

Selfish, self-protective, self-serving attitudes always produce neurotic suffering. Self-abandonment in the service of a positive goal always reduces neurotic suffering. Ordinary suffering is unavoidable, but self-focused suffering is unnecessary. Buddhists call it "suffering on top of suffering."

20. I wish I weren't miserable.

Misery is often associated with wishful statements beginning "I wish..." or "If only..." or "They ought to..." or "He should have..." or "Why didn't I..." and so forth. When we're miserable, we're miserable. Now what needs doing next?

21. Two kinds of "can't."

In neurotic moments we may use the words "I can't" to mean something other than "it is, in reality, impossible for me to do." We sometimes use "I can't" to mean "I won't" or "I didn't in the past" or "I'm afraid to." In the latter case we may forget which sort of "I can't" we used and wrongly convince ourselves of an actions impossibility. Only the first kind of "can't" is allowed in Constructive Living.

22. Depressed? Get moving!

Physical activity is important in most neurotic conditions. Feel like it or not, activity is a basic means of influencing emotions indirectly.

23. Flounder with full attention.

Failure provides a new set of circumstances, a fresh moment, and always something that needs to be done. Don't miss the opportunity to notice what needs doing whether you just succeeded or failed.

24. Confidence follows success.

Some people believe they should undertake a venture only after they feel confident of their ability to do it. With that attitude they rarely start any ventures. Trembling and unsure, without confidence, we give life a try. Confidence comes after we have succeeded, not before.

25. You care about what you care for.

By taking care of something, physically caring for it, a genuine interest and affection for it may be developed. Love is not only demonstrated by actions; it is developed by them.

26. Freedom through discipline.

We never know the materials and techniques of a craft until we discipline ourselves to study and practice it. Then, with increasing mastery, comes the possibility of improvisation. Life is not conducted freely or well when we have no mastery over our behavior.

27. There is always just enough time to do what needs to be done.

Why rush? What needs doing in this moment can only be done in this moment. Then comes another moment.

28. Feelings are for feeling.

Feelings aren't for explaining, for justifying, or for acting out. They are to be noticed, experienced, and accepted while we go about doing what needs doing.

29. When you're not noticing your grief, where is it?

Some people would argue that grief, or any other emotion, is stored chemically in the body even when we're not aware of it. That's like saying that the mind and the brain are the same thing. They're not. Consciousness is only consciousness; it may be influenced by the physical world, but it is never identical to it.

30. You can't make anyone else feel good.

If you can't control your own feelings, how can you control the feelings of anyone else?

31. Feelings change like the Japanese sky.

Emotions are sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny. Who can control the weather?

32. If it's raining and you have an umbrella, use it.

Don't endure unpleasant circumstances that can be changed by action.

33. Don't try to shovel away your shadow.

Don't try the impossible task of trying to control your feelings by will power.

34. Watch out for the waves!

Like the surf, the waves of reality keep on coming at us. If we're knocked down by one we must look quickly for the next in order to avoid being knocked down again.

35. Making friends with fear.

Struggling with feelings such as fear as though they were adversaries merely intensifies their effects. Recognizing them as old acquaintances, even treasuring them, allows them to fade in time without stimulating a new struggle.

36. Behavior wags the tail of feelings.

Behavior can be used sensibly to produce an indirect influence on feelings. Sitting in your bathrobe doesn't often stimulate the desire to play tennis. Putting on tennis shoes and going to the courts, racket in hand, might.

For more information write:

ToDo Institute

ToDo Institute
P.O. Box 874
Middlebury, VT 05753
Phone: (802) 453-4440
FAX: (802) 453-2458
E-mail: todo@together.net


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