When I write about joyous appreciation, it does not mean walking around with a goofy grin on our faces all day long in some kind of altered state, oblivious to all the negative aspects of life. No, but I do mean that we can observe everything around us, understand the dynamics, and at least smile in identification with whatever person or phenomenon we are observing.
Let me ask you a few questions. How would you react to finding someone who has committed suicide? Would you condemn them? How about a group that has been prodded to an unreasoned and unreasonable mob mentality? What would be your response to a person who is gravely ill being rushed past you straight from the ambulance in the hallway of a hospital? How do you feel about criminals or cheaters reported on the news or that you know personally?
Walt Whitman’s response to each of those situations above is this: “I mind them or the show or resonance of them — I come and I depart” (Whitman, W. “Song of Myself” Section 8). Those are his responses to what many would call the negative things, but he spends many pages referring to those things which we would call positive, too. Why does it matter how in the hell Walt Whitman responded? Because he had the sort of insights that can help free us from ego responses and that can help lead us to discovery of an enlightened, self-awakened, self-aware life.
His response? He pays attention to them respectfully (“I mind them”), and he feels their place, sympathizes with them (“…or the show or the resonance of them”). He actually enters into identity with them far enough to have to make a conscious decision to leave their atmosphere, their spiritual environment.
While we may not as passionately and fully engage with others, although we certainly can, no matter how briefly, a heart filter and attitude changes the way we look at this world. Walt shows us this. Even if we say nothing or do nothing, the thoughts of sympathy and identification gushes positive energy into this world. Do you think that could change anything? Or does your ego tell you it’s stupid and meaningless?
No, it is not stupid and meaningless to understand, identify, and appreciate any other human being or any other facet of the Universe. Why?
In Section 7, Walt makes it clear that we are all basically made of the same stuff of creation, and that is an eternal energy that renders us all immortal: “I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself, / (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)” He feels that all of this eternal energy of which we are made, which is imbued with the Spirit of all things, is something that everyone has. The expression of that immortal energy in each individual life form differs, though, but doesn’t change the fact that we share that energy.
That, then, is something to appreciate — a deep understanding of the composition and function of something or someone. This can make us grateful, bring us some joy, even when appreciating the bad guys, because all have immortality, have “eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
How does this fit in with the concept of God? Walt knew his views brought up this issue, and he answers to it much later in the poem in Section 48. He makes it clear that he has no business playing at some religious definition of God. He believes that if we don’t recognize God or the god concept in everything, then a formal religious definition won’t mean anything: “And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is, / And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud… // And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God, / For I who am curious about each am not curious about God, / (No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)”
If we don’t know, experience, and see the expression of God in everything and everyone around us, then we miss out; we choose to not sympathize with creation, recognize our basic eternal composition. He would, and I would, still see God in such a person, but that one would be spiritually dying because of no understanding.
Walt deals more with this understanding a few lines down: “I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least, / Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.” He recognizes divinity in all and explains how he does that: “Why should I wish to see God better than this day? / I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then, / In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass, / I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name…” This beautiful description engages me deeply and evokes these questions and thoughts.
Do I look for God, see God, in my own face and in others — no matter who they are or what they have done? Eternity is there, no matter how they have lived it. Do I bother to pick up the letters of God all around me and read the messages that are there? Of course, this requires meditation, reflection, and drawing conclusions. If we read these notes of eternity, marked by the creator, by our part in creation, it produces an appreciation that yields joy — not necessarily an exuberant rejoicing, maybe, but at the very least a resolute calm in knowing that love, unity, and peace ultimately rule the Universe.
I want to look every day for the letters of God, in essence, letters written by me and all of my fellow creatures. It isn’t always easy because we have horrible, terrible, very bad days, but if we think of something like this, it can change everything. Yes, when we make a conscious decision to lift ourselves from feelings of defeat, depression, or any other negative emotions, we create a great opportunity to change everything, to grow, to know joy. It feels a lot better than the alternatives.
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!