One of Walter Mosley’s novels begins:
“Daddy, why do black people kill each other?”
I guess that’s black black-humor. It also has a big grain of truth. People do most what they practice and practice most what they do… practice here meaning rehearsal or repetition, not a generalization of practical effort. Hair cutters cut hair a lot; secretaries type; ditch diggers dig; paper shufflers shuffle papers; carpenters saw and hammer; bosses boss.
We also practice our attitudes, even though we apparently have little awareness how our culture inculcated those attitudes.
Yesterday I met Linda Farley, a local pastor, at the community donation garden to pick up some material s for a local upcoming event. While we were talking, she suddenly exclaimed delightedly bout the garden, that it was in motion. And it was. The breeze was making the plants dance, the birds were diving in and out, the butterflies were doing take-offs and landings, as were the bees. Bees apparently love the flowers on bolted broccoli.
There for just a moment, we both stopped and did a little joy. Earlier that day I was somewhat distressed that the content mill publisher where I make a little money is about to yank the carpet out from under its writers to take their money and run. I can’t look for a job until the beginning of November, because we are closing on a house and I have work to do there. My father-in-law is very ill and in and out of the hospital. My daughter, who stays with us along with her 17 month old daughter, is unhappily unemployed and looking in vain.
I’ve practiced worry all my life, so I’m really good at it. I haven’t practiced joy all my life, so I need a lot of practice.
Somewhere recently, I’d heard that part of reclaiming our lives from worry is the practice of gratitude and joy. In the Gospel of Matthew, I read that worry is a lack of faith.
When I stopped to think about it yesterday, I realized that I have a great deal to be grateful for. I know that raises the question for my agnostic friends about gratitude to whom; but I have an answer for that and I leave others who will at least acknowledge that gratitude is warranted (for butterflies, good health, a pleasant breeze, a well-cooked egg, a comfortable bed under a sound roof, grandchildren, etc.) to figure out where to direct that gratitude. Before my conversion, I had adopted the habit of saying thank-you into space for at least three things every night before I went to bed. (Caution: this was one practice that contributed to conversion.) The point here, though, is that I began – in a small way to practice gratitude.
Every time I take a moment to admire a brilliant half-moon, feel the embrace of a child, take heart from the smile of a stranger, I have an opportunity to practice moments of joy.
In a culture that is based on simulation that makes it untrustworthy, scarcity that makes it competitive and envious, and alienation that makes its individuals lonely and angry and lost, we all have plenty of practice worrying, feeling put-upon, being amorphously agitated, driven, inadequate, confused (but fronting that we have it together), and out of touch with the Now.
As we are, for the most part, I believe we can have 20 things about which to be grateful and 20 opportunities for moments of joy in a day; and if we have one thing to worry about or one thing that is saddening or angering, we will forget the rest. We practice what we do, and we do what we practice.
Even those of us who have taken on the role of world-changers now and again have copped to the idea that if we can only change the world, our hearts will change too.
I’m not at all sure of that any more. If we are to reflect forward a better world, one where love is the currency and peace is the setting, then that projection has to be one that we embody as a living example. We have to practice gratitude and joy. Then we can form associations, even communities, where the people in them are practitioners of gratitude and joy. And those communities can reflect forward – subverting the world of simulacra, alienation and scarcity – into a better world.