Words to (Really) Live By

I love me a good lifey quote.  When there’s one that stops me in my tracks and gets under my skin I often write it down in my journal.  Writing it down feels like a silent activation from the page to my brain.   Of course the next day there is a new page with new thoughts and chicken scratches along with the demands of life that bury what came before.   On the rare occasion I look back over my journal, I re-encounter many of those inspirational quotes and think, “Oh, yeah. That was good.” but when I scan for evidence on how I’ve actually applied it, it’s almost always underwhelming. 

Activation of a good word in the flow of everyday life needs more than a ball point pen.

I have this ring a dear friend gave me a year ago inscribed with a verse from the Bible (Philippians 4:8) that speaks to our thought life. It says, “Finally brothers and sisters whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  That’s a lot of words to get on a ring, folks.   So tiny is the writing that it’s been easier to commit the thing to memory.  Aside from my wedding ring, I’ve had no consistent jewelry habits.  I can’t even manage a regular watch.   But even though this ring is nothing particularly special, I’ve mysteriously found myself wearing it almost every day for the past year.  

Wearing it feels like a kind of armor.  I instinctively touch it whenever I feel my thoughts going down a rabbit hole of negativity and the good quote activates.  It’s been a gentle, real-time reminder in the flow of life that there are many other things – at least 8 other things with a wide open “whatever” preceding them -  I can choose to be thinking about.  Although I’m still not sure I’ve had any riveting noble thoughts.  The real benefit however is when the new thinking spills over into modified behavior.  It may sound silly but I’ve noticed how the mere twirl of my ring can re-center me at the precise moment I feel on the verge of popping off into complaint or cynicism.  Not every time (obviously) but enough to be detectable.

This little piece of silver around my finger has been more instrumental in applied living than anything I’ve written down in my journal.  I imagine some people have tattoos for a similar reason.  It’s probably why I still remember putting on the Armor of God – which included a shield and a breastplate! - from my days in Sunday school.

We have an enormous capacity to remember things but our reflex to access those things in stressful situations could do with some reminding.  It’s got me thinking about the method of loci, the memory technique whereby you place information to be remembered at a point along an imagery journey route.  Typically the technique to remember something like a list of groceries uses a route through your house and you associate each room with a piece of information to be recalled at the store.  I always felt like that was a dumb example because why would anybody go through the mental gymnastics for something they could write down on a list.  I can remember milk.  Remembering to Be Kind Always, like while driving or on Facebook, needs nudging.

It made me wonder though if instead of the mental mapping of our house we used our bodies to remember important things.  If we took my ring example and expanded it.  Since we already carry our emotional lives in our bodies why not use our bodies to carry back signals to our brain.  So rather than associating “front door with fruit hanging from the chandelier”, “hallway with hamburgers” and “the powder room covered in toothpaste” we used our own body to evoke the things we want to practice. For example, when we touched our eye we might think about Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” and how our perspective impacts our whole body.  Or when we turned over our hands for the umpteenth time during the day we might hear the words of Mother Theresa, “Give your hands to serve and your hearts to love.”  Or when we trace a scar on our own body we might be reminded of the now famous adage: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  

If enough of these type of voices auto-played as we moved through the world in our bodies, I have to believe it would be detectable in our interactions.  It’s exciting to think about how many truths we can tuck away in the palace of our bodies.   I’m reviewing my journal now and making assignments.  If anyone has a suggestion for arm pit, I’m all ears.