After all, we were young. We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live – to die – to burst into flame – to be transformed into angels or explosions. Only the mundane offended us, as if we secretly feared it was our destiny. By late afternoon our muscles ached, our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires. And so we dreamed and did nothing, for what was there to do, played ping-pong and went to the beach, loafed in backyards, slept late into the morning – and always we craved adventures so extreme we could never imagine them. In the long dusks of summer we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen.
― Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter
At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.
―Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.
―Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
But I must get back into the world of my creative mind: otherwise, in the world of pies & shin beef, I die. The great vampire cook extracts the nourishment & I grow fat on the corruption of matter, mere mindless matter. I must be lean & write & make worlds beside this to live in.
―Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Monday, March 4, 1957
There is no quicker way of growing old than undue indulgence in regular habits. Indeed it seems probable that the reason why so many people die sooner than they should is because they have organised their lives in such a way that there is nothing left for them to do. Change, as is well-known, is not only a law of Nature, but the very breath of existence. And if you rule change out of your life there no longer seems any reason why you should continue altogether.
If you are close to a precipice, go away a bit; if you are far from it, come close a bit! Enjoy the safety, enjoy the view! Without safety, it is dangerous; without view, it is dull! Life is an art of adjusting the distances!
You become a house where the wind blows straight through, because no one bothers the crack in the window or lock on the door, and you’re the house where people come and go as they please, because you’re simply too unimpressed to care. You let people in who you really shouldn’t let in, and you let them walk around for a while, use your bed and use your books, and await the day when they simply get bored and leave. You’re still not bothered, though you knew they shouldn’t have been let in in the first place, but still you just sit there, apathetic like a beggar in the desert.
Have you ever felt as if you were missing something or merely going through the motions of living? Sometimes this happens as a result of a catastrophe in our lives, but it can sneak up on us when things seem to be going well. Boredom and apathy can make life miserable and contribute to a host of health issues and destructive behaviors. One way to combat the turmoil they create is to focus on enchantment.
I don’t mean that we should walk around under a spell that blinds us to reality or that we should do only what we please, but rather that we cultivate a peacefulness, joy and wonder for the world around us that doesn’t completely fade when we meet adversity. How do we do this? Here are a few strategies.
Temper authenticity with kindness
I firmly believe that there are no bad emotions, only emotions which are expressed in ways that are not useful. Being angry or scared may save your life when well expressed at an opportune time. Feelings exert pressure on us to behave differently, to act in new ways that change the outcome of the world around us. If you don’t feel like smiling, don’t smile. Denying your angst will shove it deeper into your psyche, where it will grow and leak out at unexpected times, poisoning your experiences. Strive to be honest with yourself, with those you love and, to a certain extent, with the people around you, but temper that authenticity with kindness and empathy, even when dealing with yourself. Honesty without those things can be a sharp sword and should be used sparingly.
Train yourself to see the good things
We all know that person who constantly expects the worst so that they never experience a negative surprise. If you choose to embrace this philosophy, realize that it may help you to manifest your worst thoughts and nightmares. We often take steps to avoid the uncomfortable realities we anticipate and these steps can actually create those realities, either externally or internally. If we expect something to be unpleasant or expect someone will not like us, we emit signals that make those events more likely to happen. Our attitude has energy that can bless or poison the lives of those around us. This is our magic. In addition, life is able to surprise us with circumstances which are worse than we can imagine. We are not going to be able to avoid disappointment completely, so we might as well look with joy on that which is good.
Is there any value in preparing to fight a dragon when the dragon turns out to be either a mouse or a train?
Public Domain Image via Pixabay
Focus on where you are and what you are doing right now. When you are driving to work, keep your attention on the road rather than your cellphone. When you are walking down the street or into a grocery store, notice the people around you and smile and interact with them. When you are eating, enjoy the texture and taste of your meal rather than focusing on work. This doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and plan for the future or think ahead. It means you are not dividing your attention in a way that makes you miss real life, which is nothing short of miraculous.
When was the last time you noticed the clouds, which are always changing above us?
As we become adults, we tend to get serious about life. Some of this is required; we need to pay bills and take care of ourselves or enchantment ends abruptly. But we often go overboard, working long hours that become tedious, pushing far past healthy endurance and attention span, focusing only on that which gives us obvious profit. It is okay to spend some of our waking hours “wasting time” creating imaginary realities or doing something pointless. If we can plan play into our daily lives we give ourselves opportunities for rest and learning things in nonlinear ways, as well as outlets for frustration that mean we can be more productive when we return to work. If we can see some of our work as play (there will always be elements that remain hard work) we can even draw enchantment into our workplace.
Do you ever feel guilty for enjoying yourself? Could you give yourself permission instead?
What is it that fills you with delight? Nature is a great place to look for enchantment, but there are things to fall in love with everywhere, from doll making to architecture, from fantasy novels to technology. Those things that inspire joy and awe in you need to be part of your life, even if they aren’t part of your day job. Life is too short to ration those things that make you a better, happier human being.
In closing, I would like to leave you with one last thought. You are the protagonist of your story, a supporting character in several other stories, and an incidental character in many stories. Abdicating any of these roles has consequences. Revere the stories taking place all around you and embrace your own with relish and zest and you will be on the road to lasting enchantment. If you want to fully explore the enchanted landscape you should not close your eyes to darkness and pain, nor should you strive to never be angry. The best way to cultivate enchantment is simply to be enchanting, and that means being your most genuine, best you.
Good Lord, I don’t know what ‘rights’ a man has! And I don’t know the solution of boredom. If I did, I’d be the one philosopher that had the cure for living. But I do know that about ten times as many people find their lives dull, and unnecessarily dull, as ever admit it; and I do believe that if we busted out and admitted it sometimes, instead of being nice and patient and loyal for sixty years, and then nice and patient and dead for the rest of eternity, why, maybe, possibly, we might make life more fun.
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”