A Maze With No Exit

There’s a great video on youtube about this Sushi chef in New York. Customers pay an astounding price to eat at his restaurant. The seating is extremely limited and reservations are made months in advance. I believe the menu is tailored to the specific customers for the day, but I may be mistaken. It’s been a while since I watched it but the important part has stuck with me. The habits that sushi chef had shaped for himself – from arriving hours early, sharpening his knives, and prepping each dish – struck me deeply.

I watched another short documentary recently about a salt farmer in Mexico who is the only person left to keep his family’s tradition of salt making alive. He is poor, breaks his back daily, and has no intent on stopping.

I think about monks from time to time. Each day they rise early and pray. They spend time performing labor-some tasks. They thank God before each meal. Then they go back to work. Each day to them is similar in action, but unique in joy.

Advancements in technology have made information, entertainment, and communication available in a flash. Our minds are jumping every 5 seconds and have been conditioned to demand stimulation at a moment’s notice. Yet we wonder why rates of depression and anxiety continue to climb.

If you’ve ever played a video game, you’re likely familiar with the concept of playing as a single character who continues to improve his skills in order to attain his overarching objective. You retrieve plants and use them to craft medicine and food. You perform tasks and are rewarded with money. You purchase stronger weapons and your enemies are no longer as threatening. It’s fun because it simulates what real life is supposed to be – without the real work.

We can develop habits that place us in the pathway of success. If you want to improve your writing, you can study books. Or you can write. Or you can provide feedback for other writers. If you want to film a special effect you are unfamiliar with, simply type it into youtube and you will find a tutorial that suits your needs.

Each hour of every day we receive the gift of time. We can choose to spend that time developing our own character to progress toward our personal goals, or we can waste that time on consuming the products of others.

There is a generous reward provided to those who routinely devote their time to habitual improvement. The reward is not always the gift of prosperity and acclaim. The reward is found in the joy that comes from living with purpose.

When I find that I am depressed, sad, or anxious, I find that the core of my beliefs has often shifted. I fall so far into consumerism that I have allowed the thoughts, opinions, and products of others shape my worldview. At the center of my flawed belief is the idea that their is no pathway to success, joy, or meaningful production.

I often think of a study that was once conducted with mice. The mice were placed in a maze that had no way to exit. For a time, the mice tried relentlessly. They took new routes and made different turns hoping to find an exit that they had previously passed over. Eventually they stopped searching. Instead they slumped over and rested, finally learning to be content with accepting that escape was an impossibility. But the researchers performing the study waited until this point in time to finally lift a barrier and allow for a clear pathway to freedom. Do you know what the mice did? They remained sleeping, and stopped looking for the exit altogether. They remained trapped, but unbeknownst to them their freedom would have only taken a few more attempts.

Throughout life it’s easy to look back on past efforts and shortcomings and conclude that the success we desire is simply not in the cards for us. “Seek and you shall find.” Though we might not see the path we have been looking for, it does us no good to accept misery as an inevitability. We must get up, we must gather our tools, and we must get to work.

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