I realized the other day that lately I’ve been writing quite a bit on the problems we face. It’s important to be aware of the problems. It’s the first step in solving them. And truthfully, if we don’t solve our problems they don’t tend to go away. They tend to get bigger. It’s just that there is so much more to life. We need to appreciate and enjoy life. Without appreciation and enjoyment…what is there to provide us with the desire to go on? The motivation, the will we need to face and solve the problems that threaten our health and well-being comes from our appreciation and enjoyment of life. We need it all, enjoyment and problem solving skills.
When I was young, growing up in the Bible Belt of the Midwest, enjoyment of life was not presented as a priority item. In fact, the message I got, repeatedly, was that if you were enjoying yourself you maybe better do a “sin” check to make sure you weren’t somehow imperiling your mortal soul. Does that sound like it must be an exaggeration? If so, not by much. I believe a major detraction of religions is that they so often fail to fully embrace the vital need for enjoyment that is shared by all human beings. Mark Twain satirically asked how many of us really expect to be happy for eternity playing a harp?
When we are too self-conscious, too impaired in our ability to enjoy our lives we are fodder for depression and maybe a couple other mental (and physical) illnesses. Along with the fact that sooner or later our motivation is going to be short circuited. Not a comfortable, nurturing place to be. But that is the place in which I found myself when I entered life as a young adult. However, sometimes the universe intercedes on our behalf. What I am sharing here is a fraction of a much more complicated story, but it is an important piece of what happened to lead me to better my ability to enjoy life.
I had a half-brother, Greg, he passed away a few years back. He was 13 years older than me and we did not grow up together. His mother and our father divorced and he was raised by his mother’s family a couple thousand miles from where I spent my youth. I’m told I saw him when I was very young, somewhere between 2 and 4 years old. But I don’t remember that. To my memory I met him when I was 16 and he and his wife and child came to visit us for a week or so. He was gregarious (no pun intended), had a genuine charisma and, most importantly, he was my big brother. I liked him immediately and I wanted to know the secret of how he lived so daringly, so free in the moment, so unrestrained by the fears and constraints that were so very present in my world and which I had internalized to a great degree. I was going to get my chance but not for a couple years.
When I was nearing 18 I got the opportunity to get to know him better, I went to spend the summer with him and his family in the northwest. That was a magical summer and also the beginning of a long, and sometimes painful, period of learning for me. One of the things I learned over the next few years was that Greg was suffering from a congenital developmental disability. It explained a lot in terms of his impulsivity and inconsistent mental processes. While these characteristics contributed to a more uninhibited hedonistic lifestyle they also caused him considerable pain on many occasions.
As the next few years went on life led me head-on into a major deconstruction of my values and worldview. I was faced with the disorientation and depression that accompany the early stages of a deconstruction/reconstruction cycle; when life can feel like slogging through the mud. During this time I began to see more clearly some of my brother’s strengths. The one I want to focus on now was his ability to appreciate the skills and talents of others. When we traveled together, maybe on the road or visiting a friend’s home, Greg was frequently calling my attention to some roadside attraction or display of someone’s arts and crafts. He could get quite absorbed by what I, at the time, considered the simplest and most unimpressive things.
At first I wondered if he was feigning his interest and appreciation. Maybe buttering up the person involved before he presented his sales pitch for whatever he was “selling” at that moment? But after a few exposures to his descriptions of what he saw within the creation, the creator and the creator’s process I began to realize he really meant it. This led me to begin to understand and also appreciate what Greg so effortlessly saw in the world. He had the ability to look at the smallest, plainest of creations and appreciate the time, skill and love the creator put into their project. I am not sure if it was his intention or not, but by sharing his worldview in this way he was teaching me a much finer, more open and aware appreciation of the world and people in general. It was an important part of my being able to reconstruct my internal worldview and values in a positive, life oriented fashion.
The ability to truly see and appreciate the positive, creative energy, and the products thereof, big or small, that exist in the world is a gift. It’s one that Greg shared and bestowed upon me in the process. I believe it’s an important aspect to us keeping our mental/spiritual balance in the world. I’ve written before about the “Lifeguard Principle” (Our Vital Need For Enjoyment), about how our attention is naturally drawn to what is “wrong” around us. It’s often so easy for us to see what is “wrong”. Sometimes seeing what is right can take some work. But it’s work we benefit greatly from doing. Sometimes the work involves simply slowing down and paying better attention. And sometimes we need to invest a little time and energy developing a better understanding to appreciate the beauty of life which is around us. It’s well worth it.