This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
Billy Collins, from Nine Horses
Where can I find Joy? It can be found where ever I look, if I have eyes to see. It can be found in the smallest of details, in the grandest of wide skies. It can be found in my here and my now as I look out of the window to the limbs of the apple tree, a single leaf at the tip of a branch waving bravely in the breeze like a yellow prayer flag.
As a contemplative photographer I have found many occasions where the overwhelm of depression can be halted, at least temporarily, by adopting Brother David Steindl-Rast’s simple gratitude practice of ‘Stop. Look. Go.’ (He explains it in a short film here.)
Kristi Nelson, Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living at gratefulness.org, expands on each of these directions:
We STOP to connect with the deepest truths, principles, and concerns of our hearts; to breathe and become grounded in our bodies and in our awareness. By seriously slowing down, even for a moment, we can become cognizant of the intense privileges and blessings of being awake and alive. Claiming the gifts of our lives is not an indulgence. Instead, by accepting and appreciating what we have, we are reminded of what we have going “for” us that many in the world do not. Gaining this perspective allows us to shine more brightly with a sense of possibility and responsibility to improve life for others, in the ways that we can …
We LOOK in order to notice our surroundings, available opportunities, and to recognize the resources, tools, and passions with which we can make a difference. “Looking within” helps us to be more connected to a sense of purpose and our fundamental principles, and therefore to be less scattered and reactive. Standing firmly in the sacredness of our values, and clear about what we love and cherish, we can better stand our ground with integrity and resolve.
When we look outside ourselves, we recognize that we are not alone; we are one among many who care, and are part of a long history of activism and change. We can gain inspiration from remembering that through ongoing, collective action people have always made a difference. With an expanded gaze and perspective we are able to learn from those who came before us and those who surround us, and can find the hope we need, in ourselves and each other, to do what we feel called to do.
Grateful for democracy? Uphold it.
Grateful for diversity? Protect it.
Grateful for our Earth? Care for it.
Grateful for freedom? Defend it.
Grateful for love? Spread it.
Grateful for justice? Fortify it.
Grateful for community? Nurture it.
Grateful for peace? Live it.
Finally, we GO. When we actively take a stand for the things for which we are most grateful, our actions are “sourced” differently. Committed to that which we most deeply treasure, we uncover reserves of energy, vigor, and clarity that can fuel and sustain our activism, and sustain us as we act. Actions which arise from grateful awareness can be more creative, relevant, effective, sustaining, and meaningful.
In his book The Reality Slap ACT therapist Russ Harris repeatedly asks the reader what it is they want to ‘stand for’ in the face of the sensed gap between the very real feelings and circumstances of this present moment, and the ideal place where they want to be.
What do I want to stand for? As I write this, on a day where my legs are struggling with seizures, I want to stand for hope – even when it feels like the thinnest filament of silver thread connecting me to the Hope. I want to stand for joy. I want my story to stand as a wobbly bridge, a bent pipe, between those who feel lost, alone, and the One who invites them into Belonging. I am an imperfect scarecrow of a signpost, but I want to stand up and claim joy as present in my now. I want to practice stop-look-go, and invite others to do the same.
Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,
harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And
even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.
‘The First Green of Spring’
stand for this. iPhone image.