From the day we are born we are flooded with sensations. Assuming that all goes well with the birth, we are placed in our mother’s loving arms. We immediately start to bond with her. Over the course of days and weeks we are bombarded with wondrous things. Smiling faces, stroking fingers and the words of loved ones fill our wakeful moments. This is universal, whether you are born in a suburban hospital in middle America or in a wooden and tin hut in one of the poorest slums in the world.
Today I deal in universals. As we begin to grow the wonders of the world keep on coming. For the American kid it comes in the form of toys and playgrounds, sports and music, television and games. For the poor kid the wonders come in the form of natural phenomena, puddles, grass, dirt and mud, discarded objects and trash, and hopefully a soccer ball or jump rope in the best of times. These two kids live in different universes but they share the one joy of all children, curiosity.
As children we are all deluged with new things. We sit up on our own for the first time and become cognizant of our surroundings. We notice ordinary things and take pleasure in them. We hear the sounds that people make around us and learn to recognize what they mean. We learn to form words and take wonder in the sounds that we can make. We discover new tastes and smells. We develop our dexterity by first squeezing fingers, then by grasping objects and finally we manipulate those objects. We learn to roll over, then crawl and finally take those first tentative steps. This is universal.
As we grow older, we start to recognize the beauty in things. At first it might be our mother’s face. We gradually learn to discern light and color. We hear music for the first time, or the sound of a truck backing up, beep, beep, beep. We jump in a puddle for the first time, luxuriate in the water squishing between our toes. Or we run outdoors for the first time and feel the brisk wind in our hair and whistling in our ears. For the first time we see that little girl or a boy who seems meant for us alone, we love their smile, their eyes or their hair, and we know that they are the most beautiful person in the world. We share that first kiss and we know that this is what life is all about. This is universal.
We grow. Our bodies change and we begin to know longing. Life’s challenges and stresses become tantamount. We begin to plan for our future. We dream of professions, of owning things, of moving off to the big city. We want the next big thing, whether it’s a gaming system or a real soccer ball, a new dress or pair of shoes. We long for things that are realistic and we long for things that are impossible. We continue to experience the joy of new sensations, but that joy is tempered by What Might Be. This is universal.
We become enmeshed in school. We try to decide what we want to be when we grow up. Images flood into our awareness. Movie stars, doctors, lawyers. Gentleman farmers, store owners, taxi drivers. Our dreams narrow into our realistic possibilities. Some of us take the path of least resistance. Others embark on a path to greater things. There is suffering in each path. The easy path to the future might lead to a life of hard work, of necessity rather than luxury. The hard path with start with the hard work and the hard work will continue until late into life. The luxury that is experienced will come at the cost of time and effort. Some will accomplish great things through luck and timing. But most will achieve it day by day, year by year. There are plusses and minuses along the way. This is universal.
We emerge from the exuberant time of youth into the burgeoning time of adulthood. Most of us will still dream. Dreams of a better car, a house in the suburbs, a second degree. Dreams of owning a car, having a job, emigrating to another place for a better life. We save for things, we forego experience of today for the possibility of tomorrow. We settle into a day-by-day grind. We value our off-time above all else. We watch the clock until it’s quitting time. We stop after work to self-medicate. We play with our kids, our pets or the toys that we accumulate. We plan for vacations to “get away from it all.” Because we are adults we forget what was most important to our child-selves, joy, wonder and curiosity.
So I challenge you to search for that feeling again in your life. Break your routine. Find your bliss. Park in the farthest spot in the parking lot at the grocery, or better yet, walk there. Be mindful of your steps and the cool fresh air. Go into the produce section and breathe in the smells of the fruits and vegetables. Do the same in the bakery. Go down to your local waterway and stand, listening to the rushing water and the wind in the trees. Be mindful of the air as it tingles the nerve endings of your exposed skin. Follow the tingles all the way to your heart.
If you are fortunate enough to have a child, look at the world through her eyes. Experience things as she does for the first time. Jump in a mud puddle. Put aside your worries about getting dirty, being presentable. Laugh, just laugh. Turn off the television for a day and read a book. Unplug from the technical world so that you can plug-in to the real world. Find your bliss.