The Nature of Happiness


Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

–Mary Oliver

A number of wisdom traditions make the claim that “reality” is exactly as it should be. Many believe that suffering is all in the mind, that it results from desire, a need for love, for approval, for security. If we can give up those misery-making responses it would be possible to just be in this moment, free and clear and at peace.

I have thought about that idea for years. Maybe I’m moving closer to understanding it, but I still feel a lot of resistance. Perhaps that is perfect too, just what has to happen so that I can continue to explore its deeper meaning. After all, what you resist, persists.

Is it our nature to be happy? Oliver has dealt with pain so repeatedly in her poetry, perhaps that is a question that is just meant to float. I for one do not believe the answer is anything short of complex.

2 Replies to “The Nature of Happiness”

  1. The world “as it should be”. I think a related question deals with the artist post apocalypse. For artists who find inspiration in the colours, textures and shapes found in the garbage dump as well as at the seashore, would they be able to find the same inspiration in a blighted landscape such as the one described in The Road by McCarthy? I’m not referring to, say, landscape artists who might be motivated to record the environment for historical purposes. I’m thinking more of the abstract artist whose sense of beauty is not tied to the objects of reality. For them, will the muse still come at the end of the world?


  2. That’s a pretty intense inquiry Warren. I don’t know how to answer that question since I don’t think about or believe in the concept of an apocalypse. But if you are asking if the eye of an artist is capable of finding meaning and beauty no matter what the state of the external environment, I would have to say yes.

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