“Two students had studied for many years with a wise old master. One day the master said to them, “Students, the time has come for you to go out into the world. Your life there will be felicitous if you find in it all things shining.” The students left the master with a mixture of sadness and excitement, and each of them went a separate way. Many years later they met up by chance. They were happy to see one another again, and each was excited to learn how the other’s life had gone. Said the first to the second, glumly, “I have learned to see many shining things in the world, but alas I remain unhappy. For I also find many sad and disappointing things, and I feel I have failed to heed the master’s advice. Perhaps I will never be filled with happiness and joy, because I am simply unable to find all things shining.” Said the second to the first, radiant with happiness, “All things are not shining, but all the shining things are.” — Hubert Dreyfus, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
All Things Shining, linked above, is a heavy lift in places. When you wade deeply into western literature with a heavy emphasis on Homer, Dante, Jesus and Melville’s Moby Dick, you’re going for a deep dive. Nobody said delving into nihilism, polytheism, and monotheism would be a page turner. I’m the better for having read it, but earned the finish that I’ve just given you freely. For it ended with this delightful epilogue, casting a glow that lingers.
We may live a life full of routine and tedium, nastiness and fear of the unknown. We may also live a full life overflowing with ritual and wonder, generosity and openness. The lens we view the world through matters greatly in determining how full this brief dance really is. Some of my closest acquaintances choose to complain about everything in their life. They aren’t leaving a trail of joy behind them. Other acquaintances are relentlessly optimistic about the world and their place in it. They lift the room with their presence. Surely, not everything is wonderful, but many things are. What do we focus on?
These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
You’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you
— 10,000 Maniacs, These Are Days
These are days we’ll remember. Focusing on the joyful bits isn’t an escape from the harshness of the world, it’s an acknowledgement that there’s two sides to the coin in life. This isn’t putting our head in the sand, for joy coexists with sad and disappointing in this world. We can fixate on unrelenting misery and darkness, or flip the coin and give our attention to all the shining things in this lifetime. The choice has always been ours.