“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.” ~ Wumen Haikai (1183-1260)
Have we made life unnecessarily complicated? Sometimes our lives have been taken out of our hands, and we struggle to get back to that place called peace. Back to the place where we have if not control, at least choice. Peace is not just a hangover from the hippie days of yore: imagined for some; reality for others. It is the thing we strive for no matter our age or walk of life.
I am not necessarily talking the language of the 60’s where “Peace, man” was the de rigeur phrase of the day, but I no longer deride the movement as I may have back then. In 1975 I had an English professor who wore a brown leather belt with a buckle that depicted a large silver peace sign. Every day. He taught semantics (and to this day I am not sure what I learned). But I remember thinking at the time that he was passé—clinging to something whose time had passed. I have now come to the realization that though the topic he taught was unbearably boring (to me) he wore his belief, if not on his sleeve, at least on his belt. And that is admirable. He was willing to put himself into a niche and stay there.
But does the eternal search for peace, or its many derivatives—calm, quiet, harmony, serenity, goodwill, and of course the end of war, have a time limit? I think not. Back in the 12th and 13th century, Wumen Haikai (originator of the above quote) believed in peace as the thing that unclouded the mind, the thing that burst through unnecessary things to the realization of “the best season of your life.”
And just what is “the best season of your life”? I am of the theory that right now is the best season, because it is the only one we’ve got. Sure we have past memories—some good and some bad, and we have the future, which is uncertain at best–and worst. As with most humans I have a suitcase full to brimming of issues, troubles, and worries. But I also have a backpack full of wisdom learned, coping mechanisms, and things that ease my troubled mind. And it is from that backpack that I find some peace. Not all the time. But sometimes. And while I would like my suitcase to be flung from a ship sailing at sea, or a plane flying over the horizon, I wonder if I would enjoy the moments of peace without the discord.
At this point in my life I would like to think that I no longer need the contrast between peace and discord in order to discern one from the other. But lessons learned sometimes need refreshing. Christian McEwen in “A Day So Happy” sums up how I feel quite succinctly. He says:
“It seems possible to me that our culture of speed and confusion, busyness and overwhelm, has reached just such a state, and that the time has come for the quick double-flip of transformation, from greed to gratitude, from isolation and depression to community and calm.”
Gratitude is a trendy word oft-cited today and one that I, for one, am getting tired of. Yes, I know I should be thankful for the things I have—appreciate them and be happy that I am not out on the street pushing around a shopping cart with all my belongings. On the other hand, perhaps I should not grow tired of this trend, but instead embrace it and use it. I think that so often we become tired of something when we are reminded of it too often. But if you think about it, does gratitude ever really go out of style? And if we take the time to enjoy the flowers of spring, the autumn moon, the cool breeze in summer, and the snow in winter—tangibles that are available to all of us, are we not taking part in the best season of our lives?
Peace, man. High five. Cheers. Fist bump.
love this–thank you Audra….
“The world as a whole needs a good laugh.” – Candace Payne
Unmitigated joy. Sheer, pure, absolute, unadulterated, total, utter and complete joy. I have found a living breathing example of this type of joy and it is in the person of Candace Payne, or Chewbacca Candace as I have dubbed her. She has become an internet sensation with over 1.34 million hits. And I understand totally. I could watch her again and again and again. And I have. If you haven’t, run don’t walk to some computer somewhere (or any number of other hosting venues) and check her out. I think she has already “broken the internet” as they say.
Candace was on a shopping trip to find a pair of yoga pants to work out in. For some reason she could not find a pair so in order to allay her disappointment she went looking for some toys for her kids. A box with the Chewbacca (Star Wars character) mask literally tapped her on the shoulder (okay she kind of bumped into it) and when it did, it let out its signature roar. Well, that was enough for Candace, who did not know the mask had sound effects.
She bought the mask, but not for her kids. For herself. And she decided to share her find with her internet-web friends from her car in a parking lot. Waiting to pick up one of her kids, she made good use of her time posting her video.
Her preface to donning the mask explained that it was a birthday present to herself that she was going to enjoy before her kids confiscated it, and though she does make some noise about it being hers, she knows in her heart of hearts that it will not be hers for long. She fumbles with the box for a few minutes trying to get the mask out of the confines of its cardboard and plastic jail (which I am sure had some of those annoying plastic straps holding it in place) asking her “audience” to be patient and that the wait would be worth it.
Well, the wait was worth it. Taking her glasses off so she could get the mask on her face, she started to laugh. And when she got the mask on, she laughed. Then she illustrated how the mask of Chewbacca would make its signature growl when she moved her mouth; and she laughed. For a while all we hear is her infectious laugh studded by Chewbacca’s occasional growl. And that is it.
But it is her laugh—joyous and infectious that makes the video so watchable. I am convinced that whoever coined the term “cute as a button” had someone like Candace in mind. She is pleasant looking and happy. We need to bottle her happiness. We need to run her joyful video beside the morning, afternoon and evening news that spreads the horrors of our world nonstop. She has become the darling of Good Morning America—featured Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with personal interviews on two of those days. Candace has become a sensation and I could not be happier about it.
The young mom of two says that the best part of the whole phenomenon is being able to “share joy with people.” She told Robin Roberts on GMA that the stories shared from “one mama to another” made the whole thing worthwhile. She said that she heard from a mom that her autistic child who had not laughed in months loved the video and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Sometimes this “vale of tears” needs “tears of laughter.” There is no question that sometimes we are given challenges we cannot meet; things that cannot be immediately overcome; and unfair hands are dealt. We need weapons or implements in our tool boxes to cope. One of those ways of coping is through laughter. It has been said many times over that “laughter is the best medicine.”
There are times when laughter feels like a foreign concept. Joy eludes us. It is during those times that we need someone like Candace to remind us that there are good things in life; silly things in life; happy things in life. And if a Chewbacca mask worn by a young mom with a great laugh makes us forget our woes for a while, I am a willing participant.
I will not tire of Candace and her delight in the frivolous which turns out to be not frivolous at all—but a beacon for the world-weary. We all need to find the thing that delights us—we all need to find our Chewbacca mask.
I am currently reading a book called “Browsings” by Michael Dirda. It is a compilation of some fifty columns he wrote for a literary journal called The American Scholar. In those columns he talks “about bookishness”. I gravitate towards books that compile columns, most likely because I write a column and wonder how others who do the same, accomplish that goal. Dirda is like me in many ways. First, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I won $22 in the lottery a few months ago. He is a man of letters and accomplishment and has read a lot of the classics. I have a few letters after my name and I have read a lot. I do not think we have the same letters after our name, but maybe. He said in one of his columns that there were times at school when he did not shine. I had some of those times too.
At the end of the book, he writes a goodbye column. In it he reflects on the reasons why he is saying goodbye. And it is comforting to know that this man of distinction (he has written for The Washington Post, the New York Review of books, and had several books published—just to name a few of his accomplishments) has some dark moments when it comes to writing. He gives several reasons for giving up the column: time, money (even though The American Scholar was prestigious it did not pay a lot and he admits to have “low-grade champagne tastes”), and worry. He says that in coming up with a weekly column, “More and more….I worry that my pen has gleaned my teeming brain and that what I produce is weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.”
I suffer from that same worry. Weary, stale, and flat are not the goals of columnists, but they are the things that niggle us in the night. And during the day. And when we sit down to write. But we must cast away those thoughts or we will be left sitting at our desks in front our computers, and yelling at anyone who happens to breathe a bit loudly in our presence because we cannot come up with an idea for this week’s column. (I think this may have played out on this very premises a few minutes ago—my husband left in a bit of a huff for work, and I have the distinct impression that I am the impetus of his huff.)
Anyway, back to Dirda, and away from my personal drama (something I am going to have to make up for later). In reading his columns I come away feeling just that little bit stupider. Not less intelligent—okay maybe a bit less intelligent, because reading some of his offerings took every little bit of concentration I could muster. Not because he was boring—but because some of his writings are at a level I find challenging. Not to mention the array of books he has read, and I have not. Perhaps you are sensing a bit of jealousy here? Perhaps….but it is a good jealousy if there is any such beast.
Dirda is addicted to used book stores, and the reason he needs more money is to feed that addiction. I understand. I love book stores of any kind, all shapes and sizes, no matter where located. I have somewhat erratic tastes when it comes to books—and depending on my mood and current interest I tend to be very “whimsical” in my choices. I collect Canadian authors, Canadian poets, local self-published authors, and cookbooks (which I read more than I cook from). I hate romance novels but love romance when it is part of a good story. I love family sagas, memoirs, and almost any book about Paris. And if an author combines a good story with good cooking and recipes, I am in heaven. I used to love mysteries but have moved away from that genre for some reason—though I am still open to a good suspense novel. I have read self-help books up the ying-yang and many of them contain something worthwhile; I read about spirituality and spirits; but horror and sci-fi are not books I am liable to ever open.
Dirda seems to read everything. One of the things I plan on doing with his book is to mark it up with no discretion. Underline the books I want to read, asterisk the books I should read, and proudly covet the books I have read that he appreciates.
Dirda says that “None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it.” His advice, which I am going to follow is this: “….see what catches your fancy on a bookshelf….(g)o on—be bold. Be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous.”
*Bibliophilia: the love of books
Thanks to David for Lab Girl:
Spring speaks of new beginnings, and what symbol of new beginnings is more laden with meaning than the humble seed? But it is not so humble. I will spare you the scientific definition of a seed as it is multi-layered and to my right-brained self, a little bit too complicated. But the seed itself, according to the author of Lab Girl, Hope Jahren, is patient and brave and holds hope for the future in its tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) self.
Her ode to the seed seems to be in direct contrast to the instructions you receive on those little packs of radish seeds or carrot seeds, in that many do not have an expiry date. She says that some live for thousands of years before deciding that it is time to flourish. Within each seed there seems to be a time capsule awaiting launch. Here are some of Jahren’s observations, which I found totally fascinating. She says:
“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things are required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance— to take its one and only chance to grow.”
I love the idea that a seed needs to be convinced “to jump off the deep end and takes it chance”. Are we not a lot like that seed? One day we are merrily going about our routine everyday business, then without seeming rhyme or reason we are off on a new adventure and we are going in a new direction. I have often wondered what it is that finally precipitates change. Are we governed by “some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light” that “makes us jump off the deep end” to change? Or is it the “many other things” that Jahren does not define that encourages us to leave one aspect of life behind in order to choose another?
She tells us that “A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting. Their waiting differs, however, in that the seed is waiting to flourish while the tree is only waiting to die.” If we are bluntly truthful, I guess we are all like the old oak waiting to die, but in the meantime we bud, blossom, and bloom, not in a vacuum, but in a vast world of pain and joy, anger and laughter, hurt and comfort.
I love the contrast in the size of seeds. Did you know that a coconut “is a seed that is as big as your head” that can float “from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and take root on a Caribbean Island”? But, an orchid seed is so tiny, that “one million of them put together add up to the weight of a single paper clip”. Sometimes I feel as big as a coconut seed; sometimes as small as an orchid. But it is not the size that matters; it is the final outcome. And they both flourish differently—one providing sustenance; the other beauty.
I do not know why the Lab Girl’s observations about seeds hit me so profoundly today. Perhaps it is the medication I am using to keep my knee pain at bay (I am only on Tylenol 1 so that can’t be it unless the dregs of the other heavy duty meds are still in my system-lol).
She says that sometimes when scientists are in their labs they “simply scratch the hard coat and add a little water and it’s enough to make almost any seed grow.” Minds much more brilliant than mine could equate this with scratching the surface of the hard coating many of us have cocooned ourselves in. Adding something like love and care and respect can make us burst forth and do cartwheels, or at least smile a little and accept life as the weird and wonderful, awful and great thing it is.
According to Jahren, “under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.” She tells the story of a lotus seed which had been waiting in the peat bog in China for two thousand years. Finally coddled into growth, she noted that “this tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future”. I guess that is where we are at: stubbornly keeping up the hope of our own future.
The picture is not flattering
The face looks like a wrinkled pancake
With a nose
Hello to a future that no longer depends on pretty
Guess I had better work on my personality
Birds bravely chirp,
Emerging buds shiver.
Blooms take cover
from the sharp cold ~
Spring momentarily put on hold…..