“Stand still. The trees ahead and the bush beside you are not lost.” Albert Einstein
I found this quote when I was doing my last blog entry. I love it. I also find it an interesting quote for its author. You may know that as brilliant as he was, it has been speculated that Albert Einstein had a learning disability, was dyslexic or autistic, though some biographers dispute this.
His son, Hans Albert, says Einstein described himself as learning differently, being slow to begin talking. “He told me his teachers reported he was mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” True or not, one story I heard was that in his later years he routinely got lost trying to get from his college to his home. That idea made me rethink this quote as perhaps as real as it was philosophical. Sailors can tell you that sometimes we need landmarks to find our bearings.
On the other hand, I love the idea that when we are lost we may just need to stand still. So often, when I am troubled, I spin and spin in my mind. I think and rethink the problem, stuck in the maelstrom as my mind circles faster, but no nearer to an answer. It is at these times that I need to stop and reorient myself, reconnect to the solid things in my life, accomplish something routine, hug my husband, play with my dog, take a walk, read, or listen to music. I need to stand still. Often, when I shelve the issue in my mind and give myself a rest, a clear answer appears fully formed in my head as if by magic.
Of course, those of you who like mythology know this is exactly how wisdom (Athena) springs forth from Zeus‘ mind, fully formed, a creation of thought. Still, I am not being metaphorical, just honest. Worry, stress, anxiety can keep us stuck, at least they do that to me. Giving ourselves permission to set them aside can lead us readily to the solution we seek, once we are no longer mired by these impediments.
Perhaps the reason for this is that when we feel lost, it’s because we have become disconnected from the solid anchors, the bushes and trees with deep roots, in our lives. Wandering, without a connection to our solid foundations, we fear disaster. We freeze. Remember medieval maps? At the edges of them was a warning: There be dragons. There, there in the unknown, there is danger. On the other hand, when we test our new ideas, new directions, or unsolvable problems, against our foundational truths, our rooted wisdom, we feel safe and can see our way forward even into the unknown.
You see, as much as I need those bushes and trees, I also fear becoming too tethered to old ways of doing things, weighted down by those very anchors, unable to change directions or thoughts. So, while it helps to stand still to get our bearings, ultimately we have to move. Perhaps that’s down the well-worn track to the safe harbors of our lives, perhaps in a new direction, onto a new course, or exploring paths we’ve contemplated before but not dared to take.
Another quote of Einstein’s captures this clearly: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”
I don’t know if you are feeling safe and cozy on your well-worn life paths, or exploring the idea of starting a new adventure facing the dragons. For me, life has always required a combination of the two, a constant balancing act: the tried and true versus the new; the creative balanced with the concrete; solid principles as a counterweight to unfettered and inspired imagination. I want to sail toward the edges – but I don’t throw away the maps!
Einstein solved problems by looking at things in ground breaking ways, finding solutions others refused to dream existed. Yet, the balance to his creative brilliance was being able to observe patterns that existed, complex but solid as trees. and see in them unifying principles. It is as if he started by standing still and watching the trees and bushes, perhaps in ways no one had seen before, observing how the branches moved, how life, birds and bees and bugs, moved through them. Then he created a new path, one of his own making, by integrating what he observed with the “wisdom” that formed in his brain.
So my friends, today I urge you to follow Einstein’s lessons whether you find yourself standing still, or feeling lost, or trying to move forward in a new direction. Hold tight to your roots, check out the lessons in your trees, and go play with the dragons. Life is the best adventure there is.