It’s my belief that the great ideas of literature, religion and philosophy are—at their core—really about the same things that your life is about and my life is about.
It’s all about the wonder and mystery and pain and joy of being a person in the world.
Albert Camus expressed this well in the following quotation. (Please forgive the ‘genderness’ in the quote. By “man” he clearly means “person”.)
“Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirrings of life and hope. Some will say this hope lies in a nation, others in a man. I believe, rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and words every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. Each and every man on the foundation of his own suffering and joys builds for all.”
A couple of responses.
“If we listen attentively, we shall hear…the gentle stirrings of life and hope.”
There is so much noise in the world, so much uproar—on TV, online, in schools, churches, politics. But where in all that noise do we find something to nurture the heart?
As T.S. Eliot wrote:
“Where is the knowledge lost in information? Where is the wisdom lost in knowledge?…Not here. There’s not enough silence.”
Maybe what we need is not more noise…but more silence. More quiet awareness.
Maybe the choice we face is this: to be in the world as one who is merely adding to the noise…or to be one who listens attentively…listening quietly to his or her own life…listening carefully to others…listening for what truly matters in life.
“Each and every man [person] on the foundation of his own suffering and joys builds for all.”
I think Camus is suggesting that the quiet, thoughtful listeners are the ones best equipped to stir up life and hope in themselves and others. And that your quiet quest to be alive and aware adds something significant to the world. As poet Mary Oliver wrote:
“It is a serious thing to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world.”
How do we get access to the wisdom we need in life?
Read a lot of books? Frown and use big words? Make important pronouncements on the issues of the day? Adopt a serious, pensive attitude and perhaps grow a beard?
Thoreau suggests a different approach:
“Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to wisdom, but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness.”
Here’s what I get from his words:
This is the wisdom of turning loose…of getting over ourselves and getting out of our own way…of pouring ourselves completely into the projects and relationships and even the problems that come our way.
It’s the wisdom of living and working all-out instead of half-way. It’s the wisdom of giving and loving and forgiving freely instead of holding back…for the more we give, the more we get back.
And then there’s the wisdom of…
This is the wisdom of keeping our inner child alive…of learning to laugh and be playful… of living in the present.
I took my three-year-old granddaughter out to get french fries, which she loves. As we sat there enjoying them, she suddenly announced, “This is the best day of my life!”
I asked, “Iris, why is this the best day of your life?”
She said, as if it was obvious, “Because it’s today.”
Pretty wise, isn’t it?
“If I don’t make a lot of noise and toot my own horn, I’ll get passed over. I’ll miss out.”
It’s tempting to think that sometimes.
But aren’t we usually more impressed by those who let their actions speak…without making a big fuss?
In funeral elegies, you never hear anyone say: “He always talked about how great he was!”
Baltasar Gracian gave this advice:
“Make the least ado about your greatest gifts. Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
And Mark Twain said:
“Noise doesn’t count. If it did, you’d have to believe the hen layed an asteroid instead of an egg!”
Gracian is suggesting: “Let your life do the talking. Put your life and actions out there and let them speak for themselves.”
Which raises the question: “What is my life saying?”
One of the most hopeful lines I’ve read recently comes from Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore:
“My world that flourishes carries my worlds that have failed.”
Failure is human. It’s a part of every life, without exception. Failure doesn’t disqualify us; if it did, everyone would be disqualified.
The question is how to carry our failure, setbacks, disappointments.
I know from bitter experience: failure is too heavy to carry by itself. It’s too heavy if we carry it only by the handle of resentment, or denial, or guilt, or anger, or feeling disqualified.
Trying to carry failure by these handles could crush us.
But there is another handle we can use to carry—and even benefit from—failure. It’s the handle of flourishing life.
Imagine that you’re down, depressed, or just bored. Suddenly you get a surprise visit from your best friend! Or a loved child or grandchild walks into your house!
The effect is electric. Everything is different. It’s like a resurrection.
We’ll never be successful either fixing all our failures or denying them. We’ll never outgrow failure.
Instead: the more the failure, the more we go for joy, for compassion and forgiveness, for thoughtfulness, for courage, for aliveness—for the things that make our world flourish…not in spite of failures, but with an assist from our failures.
This paradox is captured well in a quote from the book, Life That Loves To Happen…No Matter What Happens by Landon Saunders. He comments on the words from Tagore:
“The surprising paradox is that only by reaching down into our ‘worlds that failed’—down to where Soul meets Life—are we able to find our ‘world that flourishes’ and reach up to where joy meets the present.”
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