where the writers are
Sweet, simple things

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  Laura Ingalls Wilder

I don’t know where our beliefs begin – whether they are hard-wired into us from birth, or whether we invent them entirely.  Most likely it’s somewhere between the two.  What I do know is that whenever I read certain quotes (like the quote above), or listen to certain people speak, there is a vibration inside me – a resonance, a recognition.  I could describe it as half-way between a reminder of something I already know but have forgotten, and a new piece of knowledge that takes me further than I’ve been before. 

I’ve always been attracted to the idea that we can find the greatest pleasure from simple things.  Finding out what brings me pleasure has always felt an important thing to know – if I don’t know what makes me happy then how will it be possible to go about getting more of it?  The taste of freshly baked bread spread with thick yellow butter.  Sunlight shining through a blade of grass.  Jasmine aromatherapy oil dropped into the bath and filling the room with flowers.  A child singing their own made-up song to themselves as their mother drags them along the pavement.  These are the kinds of things that make me happy.

I’m still in the process of ‘weeding out’ the things that really nourish me from the things that give me an empty, hollow kind of pleasure – a pleasure that fades too fast and leaves me craving more.  An example of this hollow pleasure would be gulping down too many pieces of chocolate cake, or spending money I don’t really have on something I suddenly HAVE to have and then forgetting it within a couple of days.  It’s not that eating cake or spending money is inherently ‘wrong’ – savoring every mouthful of a single slice of lemon cake, and carefully choosing a book of poems or a pair of sparkly earrings – these experiences are intensely nourishing. 

The difference seems to be the quality of attention that I pay to myself and to the world.  If I pay proper attention to my craving for cake, I might work out that I actually need a hug, or a walk on my own, or to express my anger at something that’s happened at work.  This ‘tuning in’ (‘being curious’ could also describe this process) is, for me, a necessary part of enjoying the sweet, simple things in life.   

The taste of fresh bread, the colour of grass, the scent of jasmine.  None of these experiences are complicated – none of them require a huge amount of money or a lot of planning.  You won’t see them advertised at great expense on television.  It’s almost the opposite – they’re the kind of moments that are likely to slip by when we’re looking the other way. 

Half an hour before starting this article I rediscovered this quote by Natalie Goldberg on the wonderful blog, Whisky River

“That is what Zen is about.  To have an intimate connection with the world and on top of it to know about its passing.  Of course there is sadness.  But how sweet.  And at the heart of it, what bravery.  We know about impermanence, but it does not drive us into a hole.  We dare in the face of it to stand up and become intimate and not just with human beings, which is hard enough, but also with the sky, water, chairs, cows and sidewalks.  Is this not the way of the writer?

The sad thing I that the knowledge of impermanence is often not enough for human beings.  We have to hit ourselves over the head.”

Writing ‘a small stone’ is my way of hitting myself over the head.  At least once a day I’m forced to stop and look around and let the world seep into me.  At least once a day I’m asking myself to really taste the world – not by opening my mouth so wide that forests and cities fall in, but by placing a tiny wild strawberry on the tip of my tongue and shutting my eyes. 

Some of these thoughts and reflections are still half-formed, or wriggling about a bit.  I hope that they’re in good enough shape to stimulate some thoughts of your own.  I suppose we’re all on our own when it comes to finding our way in the world, but other people’s words can often nudge us back onto our path.  This is my second reason for being a writer.