The weather this year has been crazy. First we had months of rain, now we’re baking in the heat. I’m glad to live where the weather changes from season to season, from day to day. There’s something about contrast that enables us to appreciate something…or someone, afresh. Confucius said, ‘If the land was always filled with sunshine, it would soon turn to desert.’ How right he was. A life without diversity, without contrasting experiences, would feel bland and boring and lack perspective.
Take, for instance, any type of food that you really love, that gives you greatest pleasure. Now imagine eating that same food for every meal for the rest of your life. Every day, every meal, same thing, day in, day out. Or imagine listening to your favourite album all the time. Just one album, same sound, same lyrics, no change…ever. The expression ‘too much of a good thing' comes to mind. It’s as if we need contrast and variety to truly enjoy and appreciate something, anything.
Perhaps there’s a point here, a truth embedded deeply in the human psyche, that should cause us to pause and reflect. Next time something or someone doesn’t meet our hopes or expectations, perhaps it can help us to appreciate more when something or someone else does. Perhaps our disappointments and failures can provide a backdrop that helps our successes shine more brightly. Perhaps our experiences of godlessness can help us appreciate those times when God feels near.
A friend jokes ironically, ‘every silver lining has a cloud’. It’s as if no matter how good things are in the moment, there’s a shadow side or it won’t last. There will always be a change in the weather, the mood, the circumstances that surround us. Perhaps, paradoxically, there’s a dimension of hope in this, an opportunity to reflect on what matters most to us, on our transient human life and experience, and to discover richer veins of happiness than we would ever have thought possible.
It’s funny how a tasty bag of fish and chips can feel so desperately appealing when you’re trying to lose weight. There’s something about deprivation, about delayed gratification, that can intensify awareness and desire. Everyday things that were hardly noticed before, that were taken for granted in the midst of other distractions can become a focus of attention, of need, of longing.
It’s about breaking away from the ordinary, about disrupting routine experiences or patterns of behaviour in order to see, feel and experience them in a fresh light. It’s about learning to experience and appreciate familiar things anew, to encounter them again as if for the first time. It’s like learning to see and experience the world through the curious, excited eyes of a child.
I’m aware of how much of my life I spend on auto-pilot. It’s a normal and necessary psychological state that enables me to focus and to avoid sensory overload. At the same time, I risk becoming dulled to the world around me, to other people, to myself and to God. Perhaps this is why some resort to fasting-as-deprivation or extreme sports to feel the rush, to feel really alive again.
Sometimes it’s a surprise, a crisis, that jolts and awakes us. Sometimes it’s a startling insight that catches us unawares. It’s something or someone that shakes our cage, shifts our perspective, sometimes gradually and sometimes dramatically. It could be an unexpected opportunity or challenge, a change in circumstances that shifts the gestalt background into sharp foreground.
I was once sitting in a church service, bored to tears. I sat by a window and, as I gazed through it, I noticed a daddy long legs insect on the glass. I day dreamed of being kidnapped and held captive on an alien planet with no other earthly contact. I imagined how I would feel if I then found that insect, that fellow earth creature in my cell with me – how amazing and precious it would be.
It sounds random and bizarre but it felt like a moment of insight, a revelation from God, that really sparked my imagination. It reminded me of a friend whose young sister became terminally ill. In the midst of such tragic circumstances, the friend commented how, paradoxically, she had never seen her sister so alive. In facing imminent death, her sister was able to deeply value life.
Is this something that Jesus meant when he commented, ‘unless a seed falls to the ground and dies...’ or ‘unless you change and become like little children...’ and Paul, ‘what you sow does not come to life unless it dies’? They were talking about a mysterious way to know and experience eternal spiritual life, a vibrant quality of life that casts ordinary human experience into dark shadow.
I feel inspired to seek God more, to open myself more to his profound revelation, to walk more closely on the path he calls me to. I feel challenged to open my eyes, in Jesus’ words to ‘keep awake’, to notice the unnoticed, to value the unvalued and to be more thankful. And next time I eat a bag of tasty fish and chips, I will pause to savour, enjoy and appreciate every mouthful.
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.