I have a friend who works with clients who suffer unimaginable difficulties. In a recent conversation, I asked her how she cultivates joy. She ticked off a number of practices: conscious breathing while walking her dogs, yoga, self-care, and exercise. Each year, during her birthday month, she journals about what gives her life meaning, her gratitude for her children’s health, her own good fortune, and what’s in store for the year ahead.
Practicing self-love in the face of hardship can take any form, one of which is to notice and appreciate the natural world. The theologian / historian / philosopher Thomas Berry said that humans came along late in evolution because we need the dazzling beauty and diversity of the world to give us solace. We have a lot to grieve, starting with the paradox that we must take the lives of other living beings in order to survive. Then there is the loss of our loved ones, inherent dangers of living in a wild world, and our own mortality. It’s a weighty burden. And yet, the world is designed to cradle and nurture us with countless wonders, to pull us out of our despair.
Playing off Berry’s observation, maybe our own innate talents can also give us solace, lighting us up in the face of hardship and darkness. Yes, life is difficult, and when I choose to engage anyway, I often surprise myself with what can result. Our culture tends to pull me into the negative stories – of which there is an abundant supply. The choice to avert my eyes and quiet the voice inside that labels me irresponsible for not joining the fray requires constant vigilance and determination.
There’s a magical reciprocity here. When I consciously engage in activities that I enjoy and have talent for, I am doing my part to bring some beauty or fresh perspective to the world, maybe even serving to touch another person’s life and uplift them, however briefly. I can stop telling myself that it’s selfish or trivial to paint a watercolor or play the piano or write, and trust that following my heart is aligned with a grand design that has been operating since the beginning of time.