Aurora Leigh is an epic poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It tells the story of two heroines, Aurora and Marian Erle, whose deeply bonded friendship and coarsely intersecting lives captivate readers. Many critics consider Aurora Leigh to be one of the greatest poems ever written.
The nine-book novel/poem contains this remarkable stanza which has been commented upon by scholars for nearly two-hundred years:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
Earth is crammed with heaven, only we don’t see it.
From the moment we wake up in the morning until our head touches the pillow at night, we see the daily drama of our lives playing out in exquisite detail.
Some things might have gone well: people agreed with us, breaks went our way, we were able to get certain things accomplished. Other things perhaps not so well: certain people were abusive or annoying, our body is ailing, breaks definitely went against us.
When I was growing up, a popular song on the radio was Don’t Bring Me Down by the Electric Light Orchestra. The lyrics described a guy who was frustrated with a woman for the various things she did and didn’t do.
You got me running going out of my mind
You got me thinking that I’m wasting my time
Don’t bring me down
No, no, no, no no
I’ll tell you once more, before I get off the floor
Don’t bring me down
It’s a catchy song – if you know it, you’re probably singing it to yourself right now – and ended up being ELO’s biggest hit.
That song title could also be our collective mantra for how we want others to treat us.
My life is important, my time is precious, my feelings matter. So, please treat me nicely, and most importantly, don’t bring me down.
That’s our message to others around us and the world at large.
And if others – and the world – heeded our decree, our lives would be much more peaceful.
There’s just one little catch.
The premise is completely wrong.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher who spent many years traveling the world and speaking on the nature of mind. While his teachings touched many lives, he often ironically suggested to his followers that they shouldn’t be wasting their time listening to spiritual talks.
Krishnamurti believed that any person or religion that claimed to be the way should be avoided. In fact, he asserted “truth is a pathless land”. Krishnamurti tells the story of the Devil and a friend walking down the street. Ahead of them they see a man bend over and pick something off the ground, examine it, and then put it in his pocket. The friend asks the Devil what it was that the man picked up. The Devil tells him, “It was a piece of Truth.” To which the friend replies, “That can’t be good business for you then.” The Devil replies, “Oh no, quite the contrary. I’m going to let him organize it.”
Once you try to “organize” truth – which is what you get with any religion, guru, or anointed guide – then you’ve lost it.
I enjoy reading books, and I don’t favor any one genre over another. If the story or topic moves me and the writing is good, then I’m easily hooked.
Authors like Haruki Murakami, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Benjamin Franklin, Stieg Larsson, Harper Lee, Malcolm Gladwell, Hermann Hesse, Harlan Coben, Daniel Kahneman, Tess Gerritsen, Dan Brown, Gregg Hurwitz, Dan Ariely, Nassim Taleb, Brene Brown, and so many others have an uncanny ability to captivate me with their words.
In fact, when reading such works, I’m often transported into another world where time stops and personal identification dissolves. I am no longer the reader of the book and have become a third-party bystander in the unfolding events or topical discourse.
That’s what great writers do. They move you. Oftentimes unawares.
And perhaps the greatest dramatic work of all time is the story of our life.
Disappointment is a weighty emotion. Especially when we’re disappointed with ourselves.
It’s the sadness or regret resulting from the non-fulfillment of our hopes or expectations.
We let ourselves down. Again.
It could be something we said that we wish we hadn’t. Or perhaps we could have presented our comments with more compassion and empathy.
It could be something we tried to do but weren’t successful – perhaps through lack of skill or appropriate effort on our part.
During my first winter in Philadelphia – where some of the evenings were bitterly cold – I would often pass homeless people on the sidewalk. They would beg for money through chattering teeth.
As I walked by them, I would wonder if giving money would help, or if there was something else I should do. And more often than not, I would end up doing nothing as I continued on to whatever destination I was heading.