The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
With the publicity and public service announcements about Suicide Awareness Month filling time and space these days, and other special interest groups claiming attention because their conditions sometimes result in suicide, September has been a rather dark month. The information provided is very important, and the conditions and their potential result very serious, but I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the bad news. I thought it might be nice to talk about finding tendrils of joy that make life worth living. I believe it has a lot to do with attitude.
Many of us are involved in the lives of others, and learn about the difficulty in people’s lives. Some personal turmoil is inescapable, some is not. We cannot help illnesses—our own or those of other people. We tolerate the extreme thoughts, expressions and behaviours of others, no matter how much they grate on our most tender feelings. It is rare that to meet someone who had a genuinely good day, or has something to look forward to that doesn’t involve making or spending money.
More and more people are living as if they’re trying to get Life behind them (which has suicidal overtones itself). They give the impression that nothing (and no one) is more important than what is on their personal dockets, and they must get it done! Their lives are a writhing mass of complexities and (dis)stress, and relief often costs $20 a bottle, or $300 an hour. They leave behind a trail of hurts, disappointments, broken promises and betrayed trusts. The better qualities of their natures are blunted or hidden because ‘I have to do this.’
The sad thing is that they behave as if they were very important, (although no more so than anyone else), and that even they do not believe it themselves. ‘I have to get this.’
Recently I fell under the sway of a teacher who has been showing me how things can be done with joy. She is a charming and captivating young lady, aged nine-almost-ten, who I collect from school and bring home every afternoon. As we walk, she keeps an eye out for birds and small animals, which she is thrilled to see. She enjoys dictating nonsense into the translation programme on my mobile phone, and then playing it back in Japanese, Greek or Russian. (Did you know the Japanese for ‘nanny-nanny-nanny’ is ‘uba-uba-uba?)
Homework requires fuel, preferably something noisy. I help her with her school exercises as she crunches away. Our greatest fun involves her maths homework. Every day she has twenty-six mathematical problems to solve. We have our own version of the television game show. She must solve the first twelve problems on her own. This is the ‘qualifying round’ for which there are no prizes. At question thirteen, I adopt my smarmiest voice and say, ‘For the solar-powered elephant scrubber, an assortment of Squishies, and the trip to Disneyworld, answer this question: What is 3 + N +2 = 14?’ She knows what the best prizes should be, and has won more priceless jewellery than Royalty ever owned. This has worked very well, but I still have no idea what a Squishy is.
There are occasional ‘conflicts’, which we resolve in a dignified manner—we make faces at each other until one of us says something poignant, such as ‘I can see up your nose!’ We have a giggle and move on. Many great people have spoken against silliness and frivolity, especially in adulthood, but it seems to me they have forgotten how desperately important silliness and frivolity are. (This is perhaps the reason grandparents enjoy their grandchildren so much—now they have the freedom to be silly once again.)
John Milton wrote that the mind is a place in itself—our attitude will determine whether we are in Heaven or in Hell. I think we often find that true in young children—in the midst of a flood, a child will find a way to play. We look at children and say they have not yet learnt responsibility and discipline. Might it be that they have not yet forgotten the freedom of childhood, as we have?
We don’t have to roll on the floor, say silly things, or talk to stuffed animals in funny voices. We can look within and find that dormant element so often expressed by artists, actors, and other people with overt creative talents. We might live longer, but even if we don’t, we’ll enjoy it more. We can retain many of the things important to us and still have fun with the natural wisdom of the inner child. It’s a question of balancing discipline and indulgence. We cannot live without both, and in my experience, we treat people as gently or brutally as we treat ourselves.
While you are contemplating how you might apply this wisdom to your own life, feel free to look up my nose.
Bring a Squishy.
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