Constructive Living

Notes

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understanding is unimportant compared with doing.

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The goal is not to ignore or suppress feelings, but to accept them as they happen to be at the moment . . .  and then to get on with doing what is sensible and mature anyway.

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The mature human being goes about doing what needs to be done regardless of whether that person feels great or terrible.

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Knowing that you are that kind of person with that kind of self-control brings all the satisfaction and confidence you will ever need. Even on days when the satisfaction and confidence just aren’t there, you can get the job done anyway.

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We change only by changing the now. That is all we have to work with. What I do now is me and molds who I will become tomorrow. Make no mistake, there is no other time. The whole rests on what I do now.

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The principle is: Feelings are uncontrollable directly by the will.

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second principle: Feelings must be recognized and accepted as they are.

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Feelings often arise out of situations that can be changed. And then the feelings too will change.

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The third principle is closely related to the second: Every feeling, however unpleasant, has its uses.

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fourth principle: Feelings fade in time unless they are restimulated.

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The fifth principle is: Feelings can be indirectly influenced by behavior.

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The more control we develop over our actions, the more chance we have of producing a self we can be proud of.

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We are responsible for what we do no matter how we feel at the time.

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My guess is that picking up the papers will help develop the other-centeredness that my young friend needs. The doing changes the attitudes. The service alters the suffering self.

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The first step in changing reality is to recognize it as it is now. There is no need to wish it were otherwise. It simply is. Pleasant or not, it is. Then comes behavior that acts on the present reality. Behavior can change what is. We may have visions of what will be. We cannot (and need not) prevent these dreams. But the visions won’t change the future. Action—in the present—changes the future. A trip of ten thousand miles starts out with one step, not with a fantasy about travel.

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So if you become discouraged somewhere along the way while giving Constructive Living an experiential try, I have a suggestion. Simply note that you are discouraged and remember that being discouraged is a feeling. That’s interesting; I’m discouraged. Already you have some distance from your discouragement. Next resolve to accept that feeling as it is and not waste time struggling with it directly. It’s all right (though unpleasant) to be discouraged. Next try to figure out what’s causing the feeling and what the feeling is signaling you to do about your present reality. In other words, there may be something that needs doing in your world that you can do. And one result of the doing might be that the discouragement will go away. Don’t, repeat, don’t take action in order to get rid of the discouragement. Take action to change what needs changing. Take action to respond to your situation. Let the discouragement take care of itself.

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to recognize it and say to myself something like “Hmmmm, isn’t that interesting. Here comes shyness again. Now what needs to be done?” At that point my attention shifts from me to the situation in which I find myself.

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That’s what maturity is all about—not feeling confident all the time but doing what needs doing regardless of your feelings. Incidentally, the shy feelings will eventually fade—you just won’t have time for the self-indulgence of noticing them. Ym’ll be too busy living.

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Feelings follow behavior.

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At any rate the slight upturns can be ridden like waves to higher, more pleasant feelings if you move with constructive activity. Some mornings we wake up a bit more energetic than others. These mornings provide the initial foothold; but, remember, the ultimate goal is to do well no matter how we feel. Therein lies a long-term purpose worthy of a mature man or woman.

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every situation, every moment, provides the opportunity for self-growth and development of your character.

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What you are doing now, what you will do five minutes from now, and tomorrow, and next week, will prepare you for this final circumstance of living.

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sei no yokubo—literally “craving for life.”

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exercise.

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start on long walks

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Next we work on cutting down rest periods during the day. The circumstances of daily life vary from person to person. Some people need more sleep than others. But a short break each morning and afternoon is sufficient rest during the day. Whenever possible, I take a thirty-minute nap in the afternoon and wake, without an alarm, refreshed and alert.

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After an exercise program is under way, my next suggestion is to work hard. At the office, the assembly line, the school, or at home,

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The next step is to use our newly found energy for other people.

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We start with a surprise present and a secret act of service each week.

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Next, each evening Ralph is to make a list of what Mabel did for him during the day and also the troubles he caused her.

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Essentially, then, these are my suggestions for keeping a marriage in good running condition. Each spouse gives up part of his or her life for the other. Acts of service deserve words of appreciation. In a healthy marriage the air is filled with communications of politeness and gratitude. What can I do for you now? What do you think about this? Do you know how important you are to me?

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Put simply, the general idea is to accept your feelings as they are and focus on behaving intelligently in the situation at hand.

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Thanking others, serving them, showing consideration for their convenience more than my own, writing thank you notes, buying token gifts, smiling your appreciation, offering the courtesies of speech—these acts do not merely reflect gratitude but generate it when it is weak.

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“Behavior wags the tail of feelings

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I was well along in my anthropological training before someone pointed out to me that we aren’t molded by society at all. Society doesn’t force us to do anything. Society, like neurosis, is just an abstraction. It’s a useful concept for sociologists and for folks

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Constructive Living, in addition to training us for daily living, is part of our training for the moments of dying. We are living, after all, even while dying.

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Whatever expression of gratitude he chooses he must quickly get on with the writing. To get distracted by this issue is to succumb to a greater moral failure. He owes the world his novel. Given to him from nothingness (God, karma, whatever) he must not allow it to wither through his inactivity.

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First the husband must accept his annoyance as part of his reality. Then he must decide what needs doing about the reality of noise coming from the kitchen. Exploding at his wife might simply lead to resentful pot banging tomorrow. Telling her about the problem, asking for her cooperation, seems a more sensible way of getting done what needs doing.

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As Morita noted long ago, the opposite side of a crippling obsession with the self is a healthy turning outward to the environment, a losing of a self in constructive activity, an appropriate merging of the self with the situation at hand. It’s almost a matter of definition. Where is your focus most of the time? Is it turned inward or is it turned toward the flow of reality that washes over you?

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Let us be honest here. Constructive Living offers a lifestyle of worth and dignity. But this mastery of life grows slowly, painfully, and only with effort. It requires attention, patience, self-discipline, honesty. It asks you to face your feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, to check out your purposes, large and small, to guide your own behavior, whatever the pain, in constructive directions. It advises you that when you fail, you must try again and again. It is in that very exertion, in that strain toward impeccability, that the suffering self is lost and a triumphant lifestyle is gained.

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On the inside there are uncontrollable feelings and sometimes controllable thoughts. On the outside is the external world: neither controllable nor just in any obvious way. The only area of control, then, is the area of behavior—disciplined behavior.

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The regularity I see in other people is based strictly on their behavior. I need project no such concept as character or personality to explain their actions. One who does committing things is truly committed while acting. One who does courageous things is truly courageous while doing them, regardless of what he or she feels at the time. Consistency and truth, then, lie in behavior. It is “real” in a unique way. It displays itself in a way that links the internal and external. It ties flux to flux with the knot of choice.

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Furthermore, it is reassuring that, like feelings, the results of my behavior lie outside the sphere of responsibility.

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The emphasis in Constructive Living is on the doing itself. The rewards for teaching and research and writing are in the quality of the activities themselves, not in the end results. We hold purposes and goals for direction of behavior, but it is the achieving, not the achievement, that is valuable and controllable.

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Whether success or failure comes, reality always brings something to be done next. Reality always presents the circumstance wherein we can sharpen our self-application to action.

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I’d like you to start by observing the percolating productivity of your mind.

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would like you to try eating, exercising, and sleeping regularly for a week. By regularly, I mean setting up a daily schedule that you follow for the whole week.

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keep a special diary for a week or more.

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The next three exercises constitute one set. They involve making a gift, writing a letter, and cleaning up your neighborhood.

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one whole day exploring your purposes.

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Throughout the day keep asking yourself “What is my purpose in doing this now?”

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This exercise gives you practice in noticing your surroundings. One of the key aims of Constructive Living is to pull your attention away from excessive self-focus and push it outward until you begin to see your self as part of your own surroundings.

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It is easier to start this exercise by yourself. Take a walk in unfamiliar surroundings. Any place will do: a forest, a park, a shopping center, a residential street, anywhere. Try to take in as much as possible. Memorize the details of this strange environment as if you were going to be examined on it the next day.

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The more we notice, the more we see what truly needs to be done . . .  and the more we act to bring about positive change in our world. That attention and that effort provide the basis for Constructive Living.

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Writing poetry

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Get through an entire evening or weekend without once sitting down at home.

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Physical activity, movement of your body, is helpful in keeping your spirits up. Rather than sitting while trying to decide what to do next, start doing something constructive. Anything at all. If there is a task that is more important for you to be doing at that time, it will pop into your awareness as you work.

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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 circumstance we are simply to note its existence and move on to what reality has brought for

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Keep on doing what needs to be done.

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

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Quit only when you’re succeeding.

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31. Feelings change like the Japanese sky. Emotions are sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny. Who can control the weather?

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*32. If it’s raining and you have an umbrella, use it. Don’t endure unpleasant circumstances that can be changed by action.

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Don’t try to shovel away your shadow. Don’t try the impossible task of trying to control your feelings by willpower.

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Behavior wags the tail of feelings.