Posted by: alittlesipoflemmonade | February 24, 2012

Reflection

Desiderata — A poem by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Originally, I was only going to post the second sentence of the second to last stanza of this poem.  However, in my desire to like that quotation within its context, I looked up the source online.  I realized that I absolutely love this piece and there is so much I want to say about it, I don’t know if I can do it in one post.  So maybe I’ll just deal with one stanza at a time.

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

When I first read the beginning stanza, I found myself closing my eyes and taking a deep breath as I ended the first sentence.  It isn’t unusual for an author to command the reader to do something.  That isn’t particularly notable at all.  In this instance, however, compliance seems almost compulsory.  Maybe it’s just me , because I always feel like the world around me is too loud and it’s a relief to know someone else understands that.  So the feeling I almost constantly have of walking down a crowded city sidewalk fades away and truly there is an increased sense of peace.  I’m not nearly deft enough at meditation yet to achieve actual mental silence, but it’s a goal.

The next instruction is to be on good terms with people.  Most notably, with EVERYONE.  This is no doubt a challenge for most of us.  There is always someone who rubs us the wrong way and it is so hard to resist the urge to rub them the wrong way.  But I find this directive valuable if for no other reason than it can dampen all that noise and move closer towards peaceful silence.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m at odds with someone, just being around them is stressful, because my mind is spinning with what-if scenarios and analyzing every little thing they say for hidden meanings.  All of that could quiet down and disappear if I could refrain from engaging in the conflict of that relationship.  Of course, I can’t be best friends with everyone.  There is no way to control whether an  individual will release their feelings of conflict just because I do, but I don’t have to live in their head.  So my goal is to approach everyone with clean slates.  Even if our last encounter wasn’t the greatest, the next one might be, but I have to release any feelings of ire I may be harboring for that to happen.  We’ll see what kind of peace can be gleaned from being on good terms with people, though I expect that in some cases it will require a good deal of practice.

The next directive is to speak your truth quietly and clearly.  This is probably more controversial for some people, as it could be interpreted as an instruction to “tone it down”.  For me, it’s a reminder that people know who I am.  I don’t have to shout it at them, figuratively or literally.  It’s okay to have one t-shirt hailing the wonders of mathematics.  I do not need an entire closet of them.  Yes, I’m overweight.  That doesn’t mean I need to try to justify it to every person I meet so that they don’t see me as a lazy slob.  If my actions show that I am neither, that is plenty.  Equally, I can see the vitality of being clear about my identity.  Ambiguity about myself, even if I’m just trying to protect myself, will probably sew nothing but mistrust, however.  So unless I’m willing to be clear about who I am on a certain matter, it would be best to save it for later or another person entirely.

Finally, I must listen to others, even those that I don’t think I want to.  The author is completely right.  To ignore a person’s story, to not listen to it, is essentially denying their existence and their relationship to me.  I doubt very much we will ever live in a world where everyone’s net worth is equal.  That does not diminish the intrinsic value of everyone whose worth is less than mine, however.  I feel like I am fairly good at this particular directive.  The stories of individual people have always held more interest for me than the bright, shining stars of celebrities.  I have also learned in recent years to listen to the ignorant far more than I used to.  Ignorance has many sources and all of them say something about the world we live in and the truth of the people who are ignorant.  I, myself, am ignorant of many, many things.  If ignorance devalues a person’s truth, then that makes my truth less valuable than any of my professors’.  For that matter, how does one judge equal amounts of knowledge on different subjects?  Is a math professor worth more than an English professor or vice versa?  So just as society should not be a hierarchy based on money, basing it on acquired knowledge is just as ridiculous and arbitrarily divisive.

It is, in fact, everyone’s stories that make up the story of our world.  Without each and every one, our world is incomplete.  This conclusion is drawn at the end of the poem, but that is for another post. . . .


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Responses

  1. Nice, Becky. You’re a good reflective writer!

    • Thanks, Becky. 🙂 I’ve had some pretty awesome composition instructors over the years.

  2. […] Reflection (alittlesipoflemmonade.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Love that poem and agree with your assessment! Can I assume from your mention that you’ve tried meditation a few times? I love how I feel afterwards, but I can never be bothered to take the time before. Wish I took the time for it more often.


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