(Jason Walking Towards New Destinations – In Malibu Canyon Right Before Leaving For College)
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” – Henri Matisse
So I read this to Jason early before he went to school seeing that he was exhausted and not overjoyed about going and took a chance that this quote would be timely deposited to provide a bit of positive reinforcement versus annoying nonsense given the tenor of his apparent mood and time of day. Luckily, it was well received and he actually asked to have it repeated before he walked out the door so hopefully it set the tone for a better day than previously envisioned before the quote was shared with him.
I’ve occasionally thought about a parable during the recovery of my injury and resulting challenges that was shared with me growing up, especially when I found myself drifting towards pessimism and hopelessness, or when seeing others pathologically wallowing in the same. I’m not sure who first shared it with me or the circumstances leading to its introduction but the story and its message resonates with me each time I start to question my faith in hope or when the foundation of my optimism is unstable. It happens sometimes and it seems that I’ll reach for anything to either avoid any regression into bouts of despair or, as a reminder of the good fortune that I’ve experienced and which likely awaits me and for that fact, all of us.
This parable may or not be new to you guys but I just wanted to share it with you because even though it may seem silly, I’m betting you’ll find yourself thinking about it someday to yourselves or repeat it to others (maybe your children) to get across that regardless how unfortunate things appear, maybe we’re just looking at them incorrectly or without enough imagination. So here’s the parable as best I remember and from what little information my research uncovered. It’s the abbreviated version so feel free to do your own research if you’re so inclined.
The story goes something like this: Two researchers were hired to conduct a study hoping to uncover the variables and principles giving rise to pessimism and optimism, hoping to uncover the basis serving as the foundation of either. They decided to initially start with a simple test involving two eight-year old boys and isolating them into two separate rooms. In one room was an abundance of toys, games, and candy that presumably any child would view as an almost heavenly environment. In the other room contained nothing but wall-to-wall horse manure a couple of feet high that anyone, much less a child, would find vile, repugnant, and devoid of hope for enjoyment or gratification. To the researchers it was a simple theorem with almost predictable results. Thereafter, the boys were left in the rooms for an extended period of time so they could absorb their surroundings and confirm the scientists hypothesis.
So hours later the researchers returned, first going to the room with the toys where they expected to find the boy gleefully immersed in the good fortune of his surroundings and reluctant at the idea of having to part from it. To their shock, they found the boy in the corner moping, pouting, and complaining about being left alone with toys and games that weren’t the same as the ones in his home and not having any of his friends to play with. The scientists were dumbfounded with the child’s reaction and how different it was from what they anticipated but figured it was only an anomaly that further testing would correct. From there they moved on to the next room without any doubt about what they would discover.
They opened the door and at first didn’t see the other boy. Then from under the pile of manure, the other boy’s head popped up with his shirt off and wrapped around his nose masking the odor while he continued to crawl through the crap (right now I’m laughing as I try to envision the scene). As they stuttered through the question, they asked the boy what he was doing and his response almost dropped them to their knees. He simply said, “well with all this horse dung here, there’s got to be a pony somewhere!” And with that belief and faith he returned to his search, even after invited to leave the room.
So the point of the story? I know from my own perception what the point is to me and my answer may sound as ridiculous as the parable if viewed literally, making such an attempt to do so almost impossible depending on whose asking the question. I guess it’s futile to try to explain why a silly story about a child crawling in manure hoping to find a pony that doesn’t exist has meaning to me to an audience of skeptics who would also devoutly question my belief in guardian angels, miracles of divinity, or much less the protagonists who form the fictional anchors of the fairy tales that still inspire me. But Voltaire said that “faith consists in the power of believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe”.
So even if it makes no sense to others, somehow that faith has had the propensity to allow me to believe in so many things that turned out better than expected, even if they did not conform with how others thought I should appreciate them. But the bottom line is how should that influence or factor in on how I look back at the end of each one of my days or for that matter, when I reflect back upon this life? I mean after all, I only get one of them and it’s less confusing if I’m the only one allowed to judge it!
So think about the story above and ask yourself whose perspective you’d rather adopt, even if the “pony” may sometimes allude you. We only have one life and there are no “do overs” once it’s done and just as I have the right to exercise the hope, faith, and optimism within my control, I do understand that others have the right to engage in a pathological manner arising from the opposite end of the metaphorical spectrum filled with an excess of pessimism, negativity, and hopelessness – I don’t understand it but it’s still each person’s right. However my preference is that those closest to me avoid the latter because you’re just more fun to be around if you practice the former, or at least most of the time. Remember while reading it again that “hope” is a wonderful feeling giving creation to the most wonderful of emotions by stretching the beautiful life that we can either find or allow to find us; and you know what, all of it’s meant to be loved even during the times it would seem easier to dislike!
So I’ll end with this quote because it has influenced me about one of the easiest ways to remain hopeful, optimistic, and find a simple satisfaction within the basic framework of a wonderful life I may have taken for granted far too frequently in the past, and now work vigorously to avoid it happening in the future. “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz
Lord I needed to write that and more importantly, get it out there for you to at least consider!