Thursday, October 16, 2008


My eldest son sent me a photograph one Christmas. It is early morning in the picture and the sun is just rising. Its light gilds the waters of the lake in the background, kisses the tops of the trees, and spreads a delicate gold wash on the grassy bank where my son stands, his head back, his arms thrown wide in jubilation, his feet in the steps of a twirling dance. It is the most wonderful image of welcome I have ever seen.

Imagine greeting each day this way! Why do we not? In a conversation with my daughter, we discussed the reasons we thought people cling to sorrow in the face of joy, hatred in the midst of love, greed in the midst of plenty and anger in the presence of peace.

“Fear,” she said, summing up the source of most of our woes in a single word.

When you think of what fear fosters, she is right. Turn on the news in the morning and you start your day with terror on all sides – war, a teetering economy, toxins on the loose, kidnapping and murder and high-jacking, suicides and genocides. We surround ourselves with things to be afraid of and in doing so, miss much of the joy and happiness we say we are so earnestly seeking.

Who has not had their share of sorrow, but what of the large and small joys that make up the very same days? What of the morning mist that rises on the pond, now milky white, now gold with the rising sun, now gone? What of the sound of music that can lift your soul or the kind of laughter that makes you smile in spite of yourself? What of birdsong?

What of the people you meet every day who do things of seeming inconsequence– smile when they see you, hold a door open, let you go ahead of them in the supermarket line, pay your toll on the turnpike, make a meal, bring a cup of tea, write a letter, call on the phone, hold your hand when you are sad, lend their car when yours won’t start, rejoice with you over good news?

What of the neighbor who plows your yard after he’s plowed his own and drives off without waiting for thanks or payment? What of the hero who risks his own life to save your child’s, or the strangers who come to your aid after a house fire? What of love in any of its guises? Can we not put these first, making them as important and as precious as the things that scare us?

We may be beset by woe on every side, but while we weep the sun continues to rise and set, commanded by something larger than itself. The music of the universe plays unendingly even when we are not listening. Flowers bloom and fade and bloom again. The very wind sweeps the seeds of change before it. Is it foolish to think we can choose joy, or more foolish not to?

I have placed my son’s picture where I can see it upon waking. Now, before I listen to the dire warnings of the day, I stand at the window and look out, seeing the world as a wondrous place. Then I throw my head back, spread my arms wide in jubilation and welcome the day.


Ruth D~ said...

Such a great post. And a great visual reminder in that picture. We so often look in all the wrong places for happiness. Life is in the details, and so often we overlook the little things. You are so wise!

herhimnbryn said...

Like ruth d said it's in the details and your words remind us, remind us.

Sky said...

what a magnificent and inspiring post! thank you so much for reminding me of the glorious gifts of each day. :)

Pauline said...

Ruth, I've often been dismissed as being a pollyanna, and of being naive and not recognizing the harsh realities of life. This post is in part an answer to those accusations. If I had my druthers (and I insist on it most times), I choose to be happy.

Hey HHB. Good to see you.

Thank you sky. Each day brings its own blessings - we just need to say thank you :)

Barbara said...

Does this explain why I am most creative when I'm a little melancholy? This is such an interesting explanation for why we humans often behave as we do. We may just have to learn how not to fear.

Paul said...

It's the "little" things that mean the most.

shara said...

beautiful, pauline. thank you.

Mother of Invention said...

Reminds me of that book, "Face The Fear And Do It Anyway".
Sometimes when things are going wonderfully well, we hesitate in celebration to wonder what doom and gloom lies ahead or when a shoe may drop, as if it's too good to be true for long and our good fortune must be balanced with the inevitable bad. We should just gret each day with gratitude and see our blessings as pure.

Pauline said...

Barbara - I don't know why we allow fear to loom so large. Perhaps it is a reptilian brain thing. It sure can hold us back, though.

Most of the time, yes, Paul

You're welcome Shara :) Thanks for stopping by

MOI - it's too bad that we feel the need to spoil our present pleasure with a future fear... I will never understand humans

meggie said...

A wonderful post! I think perhaps, when we are younger, we fail to appreciate the things you have written about. Perhaps we always see them, but do not recognize the significance?

Vincent said...

Yes, loved your post. But---trying to find something to argue with---I don't see that the "woes" on the news count as something to be fearful of. We cannot carry the world's troubles on our shoulders.

So I don't think it is a question of balancing that stuff with the simple things near to hand; but replacing that unreal hearsay (i.e. world news) with what is accessible to my senses as actual (rather than imaginative) experience. And that way I unclutter my emotional life; by concentrating my fear on that which actually does threaten me and my needs, and which I can do something about.

Pauline said...

I don't know, Meggie - I can remember appreciating all that even as a youngster. Perhaps it was my upbringing...

Vincent - you need something to argue with me about? (grinning)

I still maintain that we must balance negative thoughts with positive ones. They cannot cancel each other out - the negative exists even if we choose to replace it with a positive.

etcetera said...

And I argue that it is very difficult, at any given moment, to take the time to rationalize every thought, feeling, and movement. Instead, we rely mostly on our "nurturing," which is wrought with fear from the very beginning-think of all of the fears that we instill in children.

I think, generally, that people let fear guide them and do not question it. In other words, to most, the news is not hearsay, but the truth. And it sells, so it thrives.

The opposite of fear is love, which in its simplest form, is fearless. This kind of love is barely visible since most of the time, people are afraid it will disappear. Fear and love, angels and demons, yin and yang, it's the duplicity of life.

Pauline said...

I would argue, in return (though I think this is more a discussion than an argument), that if you build a base of the simple love you mention (which includes trust) by practicing joy in the moment, by making the time to recognize the good things life offers (even if, at the same time, it offers the opposite), if you make yourself conscious of life's beauty in the midst of the ugliness we insist on seeing, you will be better able to cope with the ugliness.

I would agree it's difficult and I often refuse to see the good because complaining about the bad sometimes feels so good. But because an attitude of gratefulness is difficult does not mean one should give it up as impossible, wouldn't you agree?

Vincent said...

Yes, a discussion rather than an argument. There is something I want to say about not needing to balance; about the triumph of fearless love over fear; that we are not in a position to say that "most of the time people are afraid it (love in its simplest form) will disappear".

I don't really believe that ugliness is the opposite of beauty, or the gap left when beauty takes a holiday. I'm not talking about the science or craft of "affirmation" in which you have to be careful what you say or think.

I don't think gratefulness is difficult.

But then, we are going through different stages of a trial that resembles at times the travails recorded in the book of Job.

And I would maintain - again - that we need a place to go in our lives which is completely out of the reach of world news; whether that place be prayer, meditation, hiking in the hills and valleys, or even (though this is not any kind of recommendation) drink or drugs. So that on our daily return from a place of greater truth (forget the drink or drugs I suspect there is not truth to be found there) we have the discrimination to see that the news in our own valley or mountain is enough to cope with and the rest is a ghastly wallpaper in bad taste, that can be stripped off.

Pauline said...

Vincent - discussions of this sort are always tantalizing.

I think my early morning ritual of greeting the day with gratitude takes me to the place you mention in your last paragraph.

When I spoke of balancing, I was thinking of ways to help oneself much the way you describe, taking oneself out of the mainstream, media-influenced thought train and finding reasons for gratitude that offset the negativity one finds oneself surrounded by. Just by looking for ways to be happy when one is surrounded by negative emphasis is taking that journey away and into self. To me, that is a balancing.

What do you consider the opposite of beauty?

Vincent said...

You ask "What do you consider is the opposite of beauty?"

That is a very good question, which seems to get to the heart of something. Nothing springs to my mind!

I realize that it's because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

We can ask what is the opposite of "seeing" and come up with the answer "blindness" and it works literally and metaphorically.

Logically on the same basis the opposite of beauty would be something like "inability to see beauty". But I'm not working on the sterile logical wavelength here: something more intuitive and mystical.

So using "mystical logic", to coin a phrase, I would conclude that the opposite of beauty is distraction.

This is in tune with etcetera's declaration that the opposite of fear is love.

It works both ways. The opposite of distraction is beauty. The opposite of love is fear.

And what I meant to say earlier about etcetera's statement that "most of the time people are afraid it (love in its simplest form) will disappear" is this: that anything we assume about what goes on within other people is nothing but assumption, based on the formula "other people must be like me". It's a sensible basis, but it doesn't prevent me looking at a stranger in the street and seeing an incarnation of the Divine.

And so when I myself am fearless, the street can be populated with fearless love.

And so as you say in at the end of your post, Pauline,

"I stand at the window and look out, seeing the world as a wondrous place. Then I throw my head back, spread my arms wide in jubilation and welcome the day."

Perhaps I find myself in furious agreement with you after all. (forgive me, it is only through arguing that I seem to understand what the other person was saying in the first place)

Pauline said...

furious agreement - what a wonderful way to put it! I had a mentor once who said, "Arguments happen when people don't have enough information. Discussion happens when people are open minded and willing to exchange information."

You are so right when you say we assume others see the world as we do. I like the notion proposed by author Richard Bach that we all live in our own worlds. We have access to others' worlds but because all worlds exist in our minds (that's where our interpretations form) we see everything in terms of our own experiences. I am not denying the physical world but as you point out, whether we see it as beautiful (a judgement) or not, depends on the lens through which we are looking.