The Onion of Happiness: Appreciation
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Mindfulness offers the refreshment of momentarily leaving our egos behind and extending the boundaries of our “I” to include the larger surround. In the “Flow Experience,” we may write poetry, play music, sculpt, or plant a garden, but we experience a oneness of consciousness and action, a relief from the felt sense of time passing, the vitalizing sense that ‘now’ is everywhere and infinitely expansive. We do not chatter to ourselves. We live in boundary-less wonder.
Appreciation is wordier. In order to fully appreciate, our parts of consciousness behave more distinctly, though in concert with one another. A harmonization rather than a confluence. When we smell the perfume in a flower garden, gaze at a painting, admire a well-crafted machine, and so forth, we utilize our ability for psychic distance to step back from in-the-moment apprehension. Somewhat outside the experience we can describe how it feels; we can tell ourselves the story of our intense encounter. So, we have, first, the immediacy of sensory and kinesthetic interactions with the subject of our attention, and secondly an intellectual encounter as well. To savor is to allow consciousness to linger beyond the moment of the engulfing encounter. To savor and appreciate means to create some narrative about our experiences. When we describe what happened—the bird eating out of our hands, the child finally walking after the physical therapy, the dance under moonlit skies—we cloak it in meaning. WE are meaning-making creatures who live among other creatures, and want to share our great experiences.
Artists and writers often talk about work as involving 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. The 10% represents the awe factor; the moment when the Muse grabs you and without balking you take your marching orders and go, go, go. But then comes the light of understanding, of the elaboration and appreciation for what is there, separate from you. As if the “work,” like another being, takes on a life of its own. And of course, beyond appreciation, is the grunt work, the cutting and nailing and fitting it all together in some sensible whole.
Attention itself, the beam of it when focused on a child, for example, has no equal as a gift. The beam of one’s attention lights up another being, drapes someone in the warmth of your curiosity and interest, your appreciation. And when you speak to the child—‘I see that you are building a very tall castle—the child feels seen and blooms into being for that moment like a flower opening to the morning light.
Appreciation beams light on what we already hear or see or feel, amplifying the experience, and making it more indelible. The experience requires a confluence of parts of consciousness. Like dream-maker, dreamer, and interpreter, our wide-ranging niches of consciousness come together when we appreciate an experience. We mark the moment and personalize it with our description, our second look.
A stanza from Li-Young Lee’s poem, ‘From Blossoms,’ stands as an example of what most poems do—offer a moment of exquisite savoring:
“O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.”
And part of Emily Dickinson’s ‘The Fish’
“He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime. . .”
In the end the narrator lets the fish go, because of an intense appreciation of the hard won victories of freedom the old fish has accomplished, its jaw decorated with old pieces of fishing line.
To appreciate is to love something all over again, to layer an experience with a membrane of intelligence and gratitude and story. Experiences, like onions, can have many skins, in the immediacy of savoring, and retrospectively—as many times as we tell the story to ourselves and to others.
Guest saddle: What or whom have you truly appreciated recently?