I just reread the poem “Desiderata”, a widely known piece of prose and once used in a song (back in the 70’s?). Its pretty powerful. If you haven’t read it (or heard it), look it up.
I was always thought Desiderata was written by some monk from the 1600’s, it sounded so humble and profound. It is widely (and wrongly) held to be the case, but in fact it was written in 1927 by an American author, Max Ermann. The reason for the confusion surrounding its origins is because the poem was later included in a church book of devotional writings which included that particular church’s foundational date of 1692.
I remember it resonating with me back when I heard so long ago. It is a very peaceful and meaningful poem, though you may not agree with everything in it. I thought I might unpack a little of it today, and maybe unpack a little more from time to time going forward.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”.
Wow, if there ever was a noisy world, surely our Western society could be described that way. So much going on, so much instant access, so many opportunities….. It’s so easy to get churned up by the speed and clamour of things around us. Now I, for one, love excitement. I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie, though less so now than when I was younger. I love it when things are happening, but I also find it hard to find peace.
I remember, many years ago, I was at a concert with a mosh pit out the front. By this time I was in my early 40’s, and the mosh pit was full of teenagers. I never had been in one before so I ventured forward, and found the whole experience absolutely electrifying, in a good way. I was buzzing for the next day or so! Sadly, I haven’t been in a position since then to enjoy a moshpit, and could be getting a little too old now (but never say never!).
Somehow I don’t think the author of Desiderata is speaking against that kind of experience. That was noisy alright, but it was fun, it was an experience, not a lifestyle. But what if we were caught up in the clamour of life, all or most of the time?
And that’s the phrase I think is important – ‘caught up’. Let’s find and hold on to our inner peace, our inner strength and carry that with us wherever we go. Rather than be caught up with everything around us, first of all be true to who we are, so that even if we (like me) soak up the energy and bustle and become energised by it, we’re not finding our core strength from that, we’re not lost in it all.
Its so easy to lose our sense of self and our sense of direction. Who are you when you are alone? I’m not talking about being a hermit – we are social beings after all. But each of us needs a core self, one that is not dependent on, or lost in, our environment. I think that many of us, through our insecurities, don’t know who we are, and as a result react to things around us, or get caught up in the moment. Hence the haste and lack of peace.
In holding on to our sense of self, we become less rattled and more able to thrive in any environment. We’re not overwhelmed by what is going on around us.
And that leads us to the second part of the quote – “remember what peace there may be in silence”. I know I struggle with silence. I feel like I need to do something (even watch a crappy movie! – see one of my earlier blogs). My wife doesn’t. Sometimes I see her just staring at the backyard from our living room (our backyard is nothing special, but when the lawn is mowed, on a sunny day it’s quite lovely). Or she sits outside in the sun doing nothing in particular.
I have to read, or watch, or do, or sleep. Perhaps I should change the words “have to” to “choose to”. I don’t “have to”, but I don’t know how to do nothing. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this (am I? What do you think?). I know I measure myself far too much by what I achieve or how well I do things – one could argue that I am caught up in “the noise and the haste”. It certainly feels like it often enough – no peace for my soul.
That doesn’t mean I’m never happy, or never relaxed. I’m probably happy often enough, but I’m definitely not often relaxed, and it would be nice to be more so.
So I look at the first line of “Desiderata” and say “Yes please”. The problem is knowing how to do it. Maybe the bit about becoming comfortable with silence is a good place to start (but how do you do that? – any suggestions?) So thank you Desiderata. I need to hear this.