Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happily Limited

As the Gregorian new year approaches, I find myself thinking about resolutions I will not be making.

I am aware, from talking with talented family members and friends, that with more training and experience I could perceive the world more deeply and thus enjoy life more.  In many situations I simply do not notice all the depth and richness present because I do not know what to look for.  (The fact that I lack the vocabulary to discuss many of the topic's subtleties is a related but lesser issue.)

I enjoy scenic views and sunsets, but I know I do not see colors and light the way a trained and experienced artist or photographer does.

From my wife, who is quite a gardener, I have learned a lot about plants and gardening during the last 14 years.  But I know I still do not view and appreciate a carefully planned and maintained ornamental garden the way a trained and experienced gardener does.

Although I seldom drink wine I do enjoy it.  Yet from friends who talk about their wine tasting outings I know I do not appreciate wine flavors the way a oenophile does.  (This is undoubtedly also true for food flavors in general, but to a much lesser degree.  My wife is a wonderful cook, and I have enjoyed eating so many nice foods and talking with her about them that I am sure for flavors I am much more limited by how severe childhood allergies impaired my sense of smell than lack of training and experience.)

My hearing is good, and I enjoy listening to music.  But I know from talking with musicians and soundboard operators that I do not perceive subtleties of music and acoustics like a trained and experienced musician or sound technician.

I could go on an on.  I lack a breeder's appreciation of horses, dogs, or goldfish.  I have never learned to understand and enjoy foreign-language opera.  And so on and so forth.

Nevertheless, I am content to be so limited.

I currently have no interest in investing all the time and energy required to be able to perceive the world more deeply in any of those ways.  I do not mind never seeing sunlight in the autumn trees the way my artist and photographer friends do.  I am content without appreciate gardens as a horticulturist (even though I laughed yesterday when I noticed that the San Diego Zoo's plants were more interesting to me than its animals).  I will continue drinking a few glasses of cheap wine each year, listening to music happily through cheap ear buds, and missing out on operas.

No one is expert at everything.  I only have had (and only will have) a certain amount of time and energy.  And I have chosen to invest it in those few topics that are most important to me.

Some are quite mundane: tea, for example.  Years ago I tried to focus on God more by removing all my entitlement.  I discovered that if I do not consciously devote a little time each day to spoiling myself in a healthy way then my unconscious will claim some spoiling in an often unhealthy way.  I also realized that I would never have the wealth to enjoy the world's nicest cars or wines, but could easily afford some of the world's best teas and chocolates.  Since then I have tried scores of teas, and talked about tea with friends many times.  I'm certainly not a "tea expert" but undoubtedly have developed a richer and deeper appreciate of tea flavors.

Some of my specializations are quite spiritual: listening to God, for example.  There is an intriguing "feedback loop" where the more someone listens to God the more they are guided, so they have more to do with God and thus hear more details from God as they obey, which means they get even more practice listening.  We see this pattern often in scripture.  The prophets (such as Moshe) heard from God, obeyed, and then heard even more.  The intercessors (such as Daniel) saw visions, interceded, and then saw even more visions.  The priests felt God's presence, helped other experience God safely, and then felt God's presence even more.  This pattern does not require that all prophets hear words whereas all intercessors see visions.  I merely mention it to help explain why listening to God is indeed an activity that improves with experience and training.

And some of my specializations are relational.  For example, my training in early childhood education and my experience in teaching preschool allow to better perceive and understand what a toddler is thinking about.  (Please understand that I am certainly not claiming that parents need special training to understand their children, any more than I need special training to enjoy a sunset.  Rather, just like I could learn to appreciate shades of color and the texture of light more deeply, parents can learn to grok their children more deeply.  Do not the parents of two children understand their second trip through the toddler years a little better than the first?)

Part of the thrill of life is how much joy there is without need to work hard for it.  I think that "appreciate more all the ways I experience the world" is a better New Year's resolution for someone my age than "learn a new way to experience the world more deeply".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, I enjoyed several of the plants more than some of the animals, too. I kept thinking there must be some amazingly interesting people on staff who do nothing but concern themselves with the grounds and landscaping. I'd bet they'd be fun to have lunch with.