This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life is a teeny book that we return to, and give, frequently. It’s the commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. Reading it is humbling and an instant shift from default setting to compassionate mindset. Here are 229 words of essential, incredibly useful wisdom (though the whole book is a must-read):
…Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed…
It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.
It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it…
…You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
What we love most is that Wallace specifically applies his practice to dealing with irritants, of which there are many in our daily lives: technology glitches, traffic, the alienating experience of a big-box store…where it all gets challenging and where we have endless opportunities for shifting our mindset and transforming the everyday.
Hundred Waters’ Show Me Love seems like just the right echo…
You can read the whole speech here.