Sitting outside a restaurant the other night, I chatted with a friend who was once a regular contributor to this magazine. “Have you been writing lately?”
“No. I don’t have anything to say.”
We talked for the next few hours as we walked the streets of Chapel Hill.
As I sit here, in the morning sun, I am aware of how much I want to say. And words seem as distant as the long-awaited rain.
I search for the transcendental alchemy that will transform ideas, impressions, conversation into articulate rows of type. I usually begin thinking of the next column as soon as I finish the last one. I jot down snatches of wisdom, mark pencil checks beside brilliant passages in books, systematize my thoughts as I run or write. And every month I go through the same ordeal . . . everything that I have considered writing has a deadness about it. I begin anew, wondering what do I really want to say and is it worth saying?
Occasionally I meet new people who greet me with something akin to: “I read your stuff in The Sun and I really like what you write.” And I feel pleased with myself. This labor has not napped blindly between folded pages but has entertained and perhaps even stirred someone. I try not to fool myself. This is as much a chore of my ego and brain, a discipline nurtured by pride and responsibility, as a creation of joy and service. And wise friends would say “So what?” But when words come as difficultly as weeding my garden on 100 degree days, I momentarily wish that no one had said that they enjoyed what I write or they were disappointed when this column didn’t appear last month.
If I write this for you, the “reader,” and not for myself, then it does become a joyless exercise in self-discipline. Fortunately, I have begun to adopt joy as a requisite for my activities. And if I can’t wade through my fear, hurt, laziness, tiredness, resistance to where the joy is, then whatever “needs” to be done won’t be done. Since this world seems to be a product of our perceptions as much as it is anything else, I have chosen to perceive life in a way that will give me as much enjoyment as possible.
Anytime that I’m not enjoying life is an opportunity to reorder my perceptions so that I can enjoy whatever is happening. When I choose (Don Juan says “indulge”) to feel sad, mad, lonely, depressed or whatever form of misery that I happen to prefer in that moment, I still have the opportunity to enjoy myself not enjoying. In this process, I acknowledge both the frailty and paradox of being human. I do have hurting reactions to what I perceive as painful situations. Moods do seem to arise and take control of me as if my life had nothing to do with what I feel. I try to experience whatever I’m feeling: I know that repressing emotions for a “higher” philosophy is a dangerous and ineffectual way to take care of myself. I also try to let go of my bad feelings as soon as I have experienced them. I find little pleasure in mucking around in my pain or rage or fear.
Hannah Baggins wrote in last month’s Sun: “Joy is continually washing away the boundaries of self. I may center my living in resisting that spark of joy, that movement beyond the known, or I may become interested in the possibility of allowing. Allowing myself to become undone.”
Life, for me, has become an opportunity to acknowledge and transcend my unenjoyable ways of experiencing life. Often, I create what happens; always, I create my reactions to what happens. Although the world frequently gives me “gifts” that I do not consciously want, the choice becomes mine as to what I do with these gifts. I am learning to appreciate the inevitable burdens and pain of being alive. I am trying to fit them into the attitude, a lifestyle, that I do need to experience whatever I’m experiencing. I need this because I am attached to some conception of what life is and how I should be treated (such as people shouldn’t get angry when I’m trying to be caring). Or I need this because I could not or would not understand what she was feeling yesterday when she was feeling afraid. Or this is happening for some totally unknown reason, but I’d rather enjoy than feel desolate.
And a necessary part of enjoyment is gratefulness. “Thanks life, for throwing me out of this tree and covering me with scrapes and cuts. I’ll be more careful next time.” “Although I’m really hurting since my husband/wife left me, thanks for this opportunity to learn to love and depend on myself more.” Life keeps showing us its impermanence and the incredible strength that is necessary for us to live joyful lives. If we allow ourselves to thank life for the many “inconveniences” and discomforts, and the small amount of agonies and deprivation that we are given, then we open ourselves to a vast wealth. For the beauty and magic of life are immense . . . and we can only experience what there is if we are receptive.
Thankfulness is a way of being both receptive and assertive. We are receptive as we allow the many exquisite forms of life to penetrate our armor of expectations and past experience. Every time that we appreciate what is happening to us, our hearts open to feel a little more, and we expand beyond our previous selves. If we resent or bemoan our fate, we stop growing as we trade infinite possibility for self-absorption. A person who regrets life’s gifts feels him or herself a victim of the meanness of life. A person who prefers to be appreciative acknowledges his/her power in enjoying and benefiting from everything that happens. Loving life seems the only truly enjoyable way to live. And what else is life about?