I was recently in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, taking my family out to dinner – or trying to. The restaurant we chose was unable to seat us outside; the idea of dining inside made me anxious, and we left.
Trying to dissipate the anxiety, which I found lingered, we took a drive. Not to anywhere, we just drove. And we happened upon an Elk Refuge – at least, that was what the sign said, we didn’t see any elk, not a one. But we did see all the beauty of nature, down the narrow road we took.
We found not only beauty, but a sense of peace – and at just the right time.
That is serendipity in a nutshell – finding something wonderful you weren’t looking for. Maybe you were looking for something else altogether, maybe you weren’t looking for anything at all – but what serendipity does is find you – if you are open to receive it.
I’ve written in the past of the value of deep focus, and I stand by that. But we can’t maintain that intensity all the time.
Deep focus is sort of a closed state – and needs to be – think of closing your office door to shut out distractions. But we need openness in our lives, as well – and if we open ourselves, we may find something wonderful. Maybe even an idea to focus deeply on!
I’ve been reading a book lately, called Mastery, by Robert Greene. While I contemplated my experience at the Elk Refuge as a topic to write about, I came upon a section in the book called, “Serendipity,” which was possibly almost too serendipitous.
One of the “Masters” Mr. Green writes about is Louis Pasteur. In 1879, Pasteur researched cholera in chickens, preparing cultures of the disease to work with. But other projects interrupted him, and the cultures sat untouched in his laboratory for some months. When he was able to resume his chicken cholera research, he injected the cultures into chickens – and, to his surprise, they all recovered easily from the fatal disease. He thought his cultures must have lost some measure of their virulence over time, and obtained new varieties of the cholera.
When he injected the new cultures into chickens – the ones he has already given the old cultures to, and new chickens – well, the new chickens all died, as he’d expected. But – and this he had not expected – the chickens he’d previously injected with old cultures all survived.
Now, this was not the first time such a phenomenon had been observed, but no-one before had taken that observation further. It was Louis Pasteur who was open enough to realize that he had, by chance, by serendipity, discovered a brand-new medical practice – immunization against disease by the administration of the disease itself, in very small doses.
And then he went to work again, and focused.
So, while we all can use better and deeper focus, we also need openness to what chance offers us – and the vision to take what we’re offered and run with it.
Think of all the vaccines we had to get as children. Of the new vaccines our children get that we didn’t. And of all the vaccines yet to be.
And let’s take a moment to honor the pioneering mind of Louis Pasteur, who was open and alive to the possibilities which had serendipitously arisen.
How have you experienced serendipity in your life? What have you found, and what have you done with it?
Please click here to email me directly – I would love to hear your stories.
Until next Wednesday –