Great quotations are like fine wine matured over time

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 27, 2007

“The secret to winning is to refuse to lose.” Cochrane coffee companion Denis Champagne shared this quotable piece of wisdom with me a few years ago as his philosophy as a sports coach. Many of you have sent me some of your own favourite quotations and reasons for them.

But before getting into them, I’d like to paraphrase Denis’ statement, as follows: The secret to staying refreshed is to refuse to burn out.

That seems to be the point of a beautiful e-mail just in from long-time Calgary coffee companion Barbara Cameron, Manager, Patient & Community Relations, Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Like so many in high-pressure administrative roles, Barb constantly runs the risk of burning out, a risk she refuses to give in to. Commenting on our past two columns on “licence to still,” she wrote:

I OFTEN TAKE a 20-minute power nap after a stressful day at the office in the cancer centre. When 20 minutes aren't available during office hours or at home, however, I practice the "Full-Stop Moment" I learned some time ago in a management workshop. 

When I'm all choppy inside, can't see the needs under the surface, or just plain need to quiet my world, I take a Full-Stop Moment – I take my mind to a quiet place.  In that moment, I permit my thoughts to travel to a shaded glen where sunshine, filtering through the trees, casts sparkles on the water rippling over stones in the nearby brook. Occasionally I sit quietly, sometimes in quiet prayer. 

Try it! While the external turmoil may not have disappeared, you are inwardly refreshed and better able to meet the next moments ahead. 

—Barbara Cameron, Calgary

GOOD ADVICE, Barb. I used to follow this practice myself in my university days, and it really works. My favourite one-minute mental holiday was beside a still mountain lake reflecting a snow-capped peak, the scent of pine in the air, the sound of small forest critters scampering among the trees. Now that you mention such “Full-Stop Moments,” I think I’ll return to that practice.

Which brings me back to the topic of quotations, beginning with a particularly germane statement by the Dalai Lama, brought to my attention by West Coast coffee companion Cath Meadows:

"So, let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities – warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful – happier."

In that sense, then, even contemplating an entry in our quotation collection can provide something like a Full-Stop Moment. After all, as someone once said, “You are what you collect.”

This formative value of great sayings is what prompted former ATB Cochrane Branch manager Rob Rollingson to begin his own collection. (See my column of Sept. 22, 2004.) He treasured the insight of 19th-century British statesman and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, who said:

“All of us encounter, at least once in our life, some individual who utters words that make us think forever. There are men whose phrases are oracles; who can condense in one sentence the secrets of life; who blurt out an aphorism that forms a character, or illustrates an existence.”

Such universally-wise words do not necessarily demand of us either an acquaintanceship with the vast libraries of the world or a front-row seat at profound lectures. Oftentimes we need look no further than a merchant’s blackboard for inspiration.

Take Bentleys Bookstore in Cochrane, for instance. Behind the cash register this month is chalked in an observation by the 19th-century British novelist Charles Kingsley:

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”

In the view of our Mumbai, India, coffee companion Raj Patwardhan, such quotes “are like an aged wine, a refinement of philosophical and practical thinking matured over time.”

Speaking of India, our linguist/scripture-translator friend Barbara Hollenbach, whose hobby of collecting and organizing quotations got us started on this topic (June 6), has a special fondness for Rabindranath Tagore, poet and philosopher. “Tagore has a lot of things right,” Barb says. I’ll close this week’s column with one of her favourite quotes from this early-20th-century Nobel Laureate:

“My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O Master Poet, I have sat down at thy feet.  Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.”

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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