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Painting by Marney Ward

“There were the elemental pleasures of eating and drinking and resting, of being dry while it is raining, of getting dry after getting wet, of getting warm again after getting cold, of cooling off after getting hot. There was pleasure to be taken in good work animals, as long as you remembered the bother and irritation of using the other kind. There was pleasure in the appetites and in the well-being of good animals. There was pleasure in quitting work. There were certain pleasures in the work itself. There was pleasure in hunting and in going to town, and in visiting and in having company. There was pleasure in observing and remembering the behavior of things, and in telling about it…

..the image of a man who has labored all his life and will labor to the end, who has no wealth, who owns little, who has no hope of changing, who will never “get somewhere” or “be somebody,” and who is yet rich in pleasure, who takes pleasure in the use of his mind! Isn’t this the very antithesis of the thing that is breaking us in pieces?” — Wendell Berry

And just what is breaking us to pieces? Have we confused “getting ahead” with pleasure? Ownership? Social position? Maybe we’re about to find out.

Like you, I was brought up in a world that worships the inessentials, the superfluous things that create envy in others but that don’t add anything to the experience of being a human being. Not everybody can live a beautiful life full of simple pleasures whether they own much or little. We would much rather be flush, have possessions and money in the bank. We imagine we wouldn’t be subject to anxieties about our future survival, but it seems that after a certain point the more you possess the more you worry.

What is pleasure in living? Do we enjoy just being alive, being able to experience the pleasure of sunrise and sunset and what happens in between? Now that so many are being asked to imagine their death, the question arises — have you lived? Were there times of pleasure mixed in with the struggles and suffering? Was your life intense, beautiful, meaningful?

Now is a good time to ask some questions. Have we built on sand because we weren’t simple enough? Were our dreams centered around money and recognition, or was it founded on love and attention to the unexpected beauties of living, of which there are many on a daily basis.

This complex culture that is crashing down around our ears will be missed. Its disappearance will be lamented. Stories will be told of its riches as a fabulous era, full of wonders. But speaking of the beauties of living, will anything have gotten worse? Won’t we still have the ability to laugh and love, notice the gifts of nature, create and communicate and care for the life of the Earth?

Will we be diminished if we are deprived of our toys? Can we imagine life without our powers of travel and global reach in business? What if our life becomes more local, where the talents we have are used to take care of our planet and make life easier for our communities? Perhaps we will have a chance to create a new way of living on Earth. Maybe we can coordinate better with Mother Earth. Maybe we can take the time to notice the light within matter that the mystics describe.

Maybe this is our big chance to create that paradise on Earth that artists keep telling us about. Maybe our eyes and hearts will open and we will start to realize where and what we are.

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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