How Important is it?
My son tracked mud through the house.
Someone left the TV on all night.
Inflation is out of control and the stock market is falling again.
My boss is such a jerk.
That knucklehead just cut me off.
Nothing is going my way today.
Any of these thoughts ever enter your mind? They often attack mine and if not dealt with, they can hijack my entire day. They get in my head and create unrealistic expectations for everything and everyone I come in contact with. They lead me into behaviors that hurt the people I love the most.
But how important are they – really?
How important is it are four little words that when put together to form a question, can radically change the way we interpret our world around us. Especially when faced with life’s little (or really big) challenges.
I recently explored one of the most awesome places on planet earth – the town and surrounding areas of Mammoth Lakes, California. It sits on the eastern slope of the central-southern Sierra Nevada mountains, just outside of Yosemite National Park. I am grateful to be able to visit awesome places like this all over the world.
The word awesome is often used to describe something as “extremely impressive or daunting, inspiring great admiration, apprehension or even fear”. Mammoth was certainly impressive! But for me, the word awesome has an even deeper meaning:
To cause or induce awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence and smallness.
A feeling of smallness? Hold on a minute. This goes against everything we are taught in society today. We are supposed to step into our power and revel in our greatness.
And this is also true. There is a paradox here.
As important as I am at times – as a husband, as a father, as a financial advisor, as a writer – in roles that deeply affect other people, I can often find myself thinking I’m bigger and more important than I really am. And my behavior sometimes reflects that. No one likes a big shot. But everyone I know seems to really admire the one person they know who lives life on life’s terms – where even the most painful experiences seem to come and go with acceptance – without suffering.
Standing in the midst of 500-year-old trees staring at 12,000-14,000 foot mountain peaks with Amie, Lucas, and Miles reminded me how small and relatively insignificant my life’s challenges really are. It’s not to dismiss the fact that sometimes life can get really hard. But even in the really hard moments, I am humbled in the presence of these geological giants – that my life and my challenges are merely a blip on the time continuum of the universe. These places, where I am inundated with awe – are helping me do the hard things in life better by giving me a proper perspective.
How important is it that a someone cut me off pulling into the parking lot and took the spot I was waiting for?
I can easily get bent out of shape over something like this and project my anger on everyone else I come in contact with throughout the day. But standing on the shores of Convict Lake staring up at 13,747-foot-tall Mt. Morgan asking myself that question (how important is it?) gives me a much different outcome.
It’s not important at all. I found another spot.
How important is it that my sons left the kitchen a mess? It’s not important. I have too many friends who have experienced the death of a child and would give anything to have their child leave them a messy kitchen just one more time. Perhaps my sons will clean the kitchen up sometime later today. Maybe they won’t. Maybe, just maybe, I can ask them to clean it up instead of stewing about the mess all day and risking something nasty coming out of my mouth.
How important is it that inflation is off the charts and the stock market is falling? Standing next to Mt. Morgan sure made it feel much less important than the cable news networks want me to believe. Of course, losing money is unpleasant. Paying $142 to fill up my gas tank is painful; and it’s not sustainable. These money worries can cause a great amount of pain AND suffering.
Pain is inevitable – suffering is optional.
I find myself suffering much less from the pains in life as a direct result of experiencing awe as often as I possibly can. Awe helps me to accept the things I cannot change – acceptance does not mean I have to like these things – but there are choices I can make as a result of these pains. I can drive less and walk more if paying $142 for a tank of gas is something I do not like. In general I can be more intentional about how I use my money in times like these. Yes, this can lead to difficult choices, but I do not need to suffer because of them.
Experiencing a daily dose of awe helps ease suffering. It creates the space for me to pause and ask “how important is it?”. For most of the things that irritate me, the answer almost always is, “it’s not”.
If you’re fortunate enough to live on the west coast, awe exists in grand fashion around every corner. But no matter where you live, awe can be found anywhere.
It can exist in a cloud formation at sunrise – a thunder storm in the distance – listening to birds sing in the morning – or at night under the stars as you hear the rowdy chorus of chirping crickets. I can experience awe standing in the middle of New York City looking at the massive skyscrapers standing tall around me. Awe can exist on a crowded city bus if you close your eyes and get lost in your mind, picturing the most beautiful thing Mother Nature has ever shown you.
Awe is everywhere if you intentionally look for it.
When I surround myself with the beauty and grandeur of Mother Nature, it has an almost immediate affect on my relative importance on this earth. It makes my problems smaller. It makes me smaller. It right sizes me in a way that (my family and my co-workers tell me) makes me more pleasant to be around.
If you’re experiencing emotional pain that is causing great suffering, it is a very heavy load to carry. I feel you in the center of my heart. I hope you are able to ease your suffering by finding a little awe in your life.
Through a new daily emotional pain prescription called Awe, you can find the space to ask yourself “how important is it?”
If you get quiet enough, regardless of the noise around you, the right answer will come.