It’s early morning. I sit at my computer with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. From the vantage point of my study, I see flowers in bloom, watch the leaves on the tree as they rustle in the breeze, hear the chirps of young birds, and spy an occasional visit by a humming bird to the feeder. It’s moments like this that I recall the words of Emily in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town: “O Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize.”
Indeed, life is a gift marked by wonder. It is nothing less than a profound mystery that life as we know it exists at all. Most of the universe appears to us as empty, void of anything. Yet, on our far-flung planet in a minor solar system that’s part of a galaxy a great distance from the center of the cosmos, life continues to evolve in rich and awe-inspiring ways. The life we experience on Mother Earth should be enjoyed and savored rather than wasted on what often amounts to humanity’s petty preoccupations with power, wealth, and esteem.
Yet, there is a very real paradox about our experience of life. As amazing as life can be, the actual lives of many people are characterized by pain and suffering. Living can be a torment that is devoid of hope. Perhaps the Buddha said it best: “The world is filled with suffering.” Or, to quote Scott Peck’s first line from The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.”
Life’s difficulties seem too many to number, including war, domestic violence, and self-mutilation. People are often trapped in cycles of poverty while the wealthy are frequently lost in cycles of addiction. Despite Earth’s riches, people die each day of starvation. Those well fed are often frustrated by failed hopes and dreams. Yes, the world is full of suffering.
While many writers and coaches suggest that we image success and prosperity to counter life’s difficulties, positive thinking does little to solve the systemic problems of the world that result in the hardship of many. Indeed, the rich become richer, adding to their own self-alienation, while the majority of the people of the world suffer various forms of deprivation.
Sometimes it seems as though people who lead care-free lives, spontaneously skipping from moment to moment, embody something for the free-spirited approach that relishes life’s wonder. Yet, it may also seem to those locked in pain that such people are shallow and superficial. On the other hand, those beaten down by pain who have given up hope may appear equally out of touch with life because they are locked in the oppression of pain.
I have no solution to what seems to be a fundamental dichotomy about life: that it is an awe-filled wonder to be savored and that it is also marked by pain and suffering for many. Instead, I have come to accept that both dimensions of being alive are equally true. Life presents us with both wonder and misery. Some appear to encounter more of one than the other. Often, the difference between those with an easy life and those whose lives are marked by drudgery appears to be nothing more than an accident of birth.
I cannot be either fatalistic or pessimistic about life’s difficulties. Instead, it is my belief and hope that we each take opportunities to savor life’s goodness and wonder. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl explains the importance of experiencing wonder in life in his classic text Man’s Search for Meaning. One illustration he offers is of a woman dying in the medical clinic of one of the Nazi death camps. From her window, she sees the branch of a tree. The woman tells Frankl that the tree communicates to her, “I live.” It is in communion with this tree that she passes from this life after the brutality of the prison camp.
For me, Frankl’s illustration of this unnamed women touches the heart of what it means to lead a spiritually based life. Even in her suffering, and facing death in a desolate place, she understands that there is more to life than what appears. The story of this unknown woman serves as inspiration to look beyond the pain of life to find something that touches the heart.
The lesson for me is simple: whatever peace, joy, or fulfillment I may experience in life or in my spiritual practice is not just for me. Instead, these positive dimensions of living are for others and for the planet. Wonder at life is meant to inspire us with gratitude for living. Such gratitude invites us to find ways to enable others to share in life’s wonder as a source of healing and wholeness.
Perhaps it was the great Rhineland mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, who said it best: “All creation is a symphony of joy and jubilation.” If this is true, could it be that the best thing we can do is to dance to this joyful music while inviting others to share in the jubilation?
And so, again this morning, I sit at my computer and occasionally gaze out my window seeing flowers, trees, and my humming bird friend. It’s all a wondrous symphony. Will you dance with me?
© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.