I've been preoccupied with wedding plans of late. So many details and decisions have put my mind on overload, like an electrical grid struggling to support a plethora of air conditioning units in their battle against the summer heat. Thankfully, it hasn't been so humid here, since that also slows my brain down, and our air conditioning is quite adequate to the task of keeping our house comfortable.
My mom happened to mention during her last visit that she rarely uses her air conditioning; opening the windows at night, closing them in the morning and a judicious use of her curtains keeps her quite comfortable during the Indiana summers. While applauding her frugality, my husband mentioned that she might still want to use the air conditioning upon occasion as it would help to keep the moving parts lubricated.
It occurs to me that it's easy to let my own juices congeal. Even as I think and write about choosing joy, I can get so preoccupied with solving problems and living in my head that I don't allow the beauty of the moment to refresh my soul (not to mention my body). One of my favorite bloggers, Robin Bates, posted this poem over at Better Living Through Beowulf. I love the play on words; you wouldn't, for instance, expect that indulging your senses is the "sensible" thing to do. And "succumb" should describe someone who's been overcome by their senses, not one who has successfully resisted their allure. No, in this case, it is the rational argument that needs to be defeated - the pressures of delight that need to be endured and embraced. Imagine someone who has lived in black and white all their life entering suddenly into a world of color. The assault upon the rods and cones of the eye tempt a retreat into the familiar sepia, but oh, the loss! The solution may be to start small, one plum at a time.
I also like the marriage of mind and body that flows from this poem, the suggestion that happiness works its way to your mind through your body. "Joy is a taste before it is anything else" says Mary Oliver. While I don't know if I totally agree with that sentiment, I do believe we need to become integrated selves. Someone who lives totally in the physical realm misses the relational or intellectual joys that are also available. But those of us who live in our heads or become unnecessarily preoccupied with the busyness of life run the risk of dehydrated souls, while rivers of delight pass us by every day.
This poem encourages me to take the time to lounge - to devour (!) the beauty that comes to me through my sense (those five rivers that flow inward). And to recognize that these are, indeed, important moments.
The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver
Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into
the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment
rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don’t
succumb, there’s nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy
is a taste before
it’s anything else, and the body
can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,
the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it
into the body first, like small
Artwork by Christian Berentz found at the Web Gallery of Art