“Life is not a roll of the dice. It is a result of what conscious awareness we find ourselves living out from. We can make a deliberate choice to shift our perception from this atmosphere of sickness and sorrow and live out from a higher principle.”–Michele Longo-O’Donnell
Elizabeth Gilbert had the words “stubborn gladness” tattooed on her arm. It’s from her favorite poem by Jack Gilbert. In the poem, “A Brief for the Defense,” he writes, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”
I think about stubborn gladness a lot. It defies the chasm so many of us believe—that you are either A) a realist who can’t help but notice the world is going to you-know-where in a you-know-what or 2) you’re a naïve Pollyanna who turns a blind eye to the world’s suffering.
The middle way, that Gilbert embraces, is to find joy even when……. even though….
The stubborn gladness worldview is being committed to finding the wonder amidst the chaos, amidst the terror.
A few years ago, a member of the Canadian Olympic dressage team came to a workshop I gave in British Columbia. I was spouting my normal controversial belief that joy is always possible, that finding it in every situation is one of the greatest gifts we can give our fellow humans. Some of the workshop participants weren’t so sure. But what about this? What about that?
So the Canadian Olympian told this story from her childhood. Her father worked for an international corporation. When the family was in the Philippines, they had a housekeeper who loved life with a deep and abiding joy. She found astonishment in everything. Her unabashed contentment and happiness was a continual source of inspiration to the wealthy family who employed her.
One day, a tsunami or earthquake or typhoon (sorry, I don’t remember the exact natural disaster) struck. The wealthy family fretted after hearing that their housekeeper’s family home had been swept away, had been completely obliterated in the storm. When she showed up for work the next week, they tiptoed around, wondering how they could help. They wanted to know how she and her family were faring. They fully expected her to be morose, to have lost her unbridled enthusiasm for the beauty of each moment.
“Oh, we are having so much fun,” she said. “My whole family, including all the aunts and uncles and cousins are living together in the basement of a church. It has been so fantastic all of us being together.”
How was this even possible? How could she find joy in what most of us would rate as one of the top worst things that could ever happen.
Stubborn gladness, my friends, is an internal decision. No question that life sometimes throws curveballs. But it’s still up to us to cultivate joy and find the wonderment that, like air, always surrounds us.
Pam Grout is the author of 19 books including E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and the just-released, Art & Soul,Reloaded: A Year-Long Apprenticeship to Summon the Muses and Ignite Your Daring, Audacious, Creative Side.