Although this article was meant to be full of environmental lessons, the Buddhist admonition to “act while you are still uncertain” shocked me out of my morning stupor. Really? We can go ahead before every stone is turned, every base is run, every outcome explored? Why did no one tell me? Why have I been living for 39 years believing that the only right choices were ones in which I could see through to the conclusion? I find this admonition curiously freeing and comforting, although I might not have five or ten years ago.
Chapter 8 of The Beauty Experiment is entitled “Pretty Mind.” It was a difficult chapter to write, not for reasons of exposition, but because achieving psychic equilibrium–and maintaining it even in the midst of life’s chaos (read holiday madness) is damn hard. I’m very honored to have a selection from Pretty Mind excerpted in the excellent online journal At Length:
For those who don’t know At Length it’s a cookie jar of prosy, poetical, and musical delights, and perfect for when you need to slip away from the crowd for private media consumption. Enjoy!
Benediction for parents of young children
Blessed am I for the crying. Really. Blessed am I for that very first piercing wail, for the sniveling and blubbering, for the anger and drama, for the whimpering and singing, for the yodels in sleep. Blessed am I for these triumphs of health and vitality, these clear, if grating gifts of communion and trust. Blessed am I for this silken skin, these pinching fingernails, these wide eyes. Blessed am I for this full diaper, this crusted nose, this spitty bib—life is being lived, this is its smell.
Blessed am I for the food I will prepare, for the bites that go into our mouths and for the bits that land on the ground. Blessed am I to have a dog, or if I do not, blessed am I for the opportunity to get down on my hands and knees three times a day and wipe up, noticing how big and strange the world is from down below. I give thanks for friends and family who cook well and share the spoils, for leftovers, frozen veggies and takeout. Blessed am I for my helpful appliances, for the electricity they need, for running water, toilets, washing machines. Blessed am I that in my worst moments I can still give thanks for my advantages, or at least shortly afterward, or at least now.
Blessed am I for help, for those who share the burdens of my caretaking and for the partner, friends or family who take care of me. Blessed am I for my own strength, innovation and creativity as a parent but also for public television, free libraries, highly infectious mall play areas (which ultimately enhance immune systems) and for public parks.
Blessed am I for the swings in the park, for the queer and lovely snow, for the lively leaves, for the warm grass, for the fascinating mud. Blessed am I for rain boots, mittens, sunscreen, hats, tricycles and wagons, balls, sticks, slides, and all the other little children who are more energetic and fun than I am. Blessed am I for these children’s parents, for their helpfulness and warmth, for the times they kindly keep their mouths shut.
Blessed am I for wheels—whatever child-conveyance they’re attached to. Blessed am I for carseats, seatbelts, safety harnesses and helmets, even if their straps twist maliciously and their buckles give me blood blisters. Blessed am I for doctors and nurses, even when they are wrong or rushed, and for band aids and antiseptic and tissues. Blessed am I for snacks. Blessed am I for a voice to sing with. Blessed am I for ears to hear invented languages and first words.
Blessed am I for bathtime and bedtime, for bubbles and squirt toys, for stories and clean diapers and stuffed animals and tired eyes. Blessed am I for the patience it takes to close these eyes. Blessed am I for the sleeping world, for evidence that nighttime is not playtime. Blessed am I for nightlights and monitors, for swings, slings and rocking chairs and vehicular transport, if necessary. Blessed am I for the moon and stars, for city lights and recorded classical music, for late night television programming and morning caffeine.
Blessed am I for chairs, for the sofa, for a bed.
Blessed am I for these moments of quiet.
Blessed am I for the noise.
I’ve been reading Ariel Gore’s new book Bluebird, the Psychology of Women’s Happiness (FSG, 2009). In it she investigates the positive psychology movement—Seligman, et al– and passes along one of its biggest claims: that there are several major actions proven to increase the sensation of happiness in your life. (This is opposed to changing life circumstances in the hopes it will increase happiness, a less effective strategy, surprisingly. Lottery winners, for example, are briefly thrilled and then return to the same level of happiness they had before. ) So the actionable actions for increased happiness sensation are thus:
Be more grateful
Learn to focus on strengths rather than shortcomings
Have positive relationships
I think these merit singular investigation, so in the following notes I’ll take them one at a time.