What “Carpe Diem” Really Means


I posted this on another person’s blog in response to her post. Here’s a snippet of her post. You can read the full post here

2011 Lesson #2 : Don’t Carpe Diem

Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen:

An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh- Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”

Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.

And I posted the following response–

Carpe diem isn’t about enjoyment, it’s about appreciation, first and foremost, and from that deep appreciation much more enjoyment will flow.

It’s about having more and more of what you call “Kairos” moments each day. That’s carpe diem.

But you’re young. And young people aren’t supposed to have a lot of perspective and be able yet to truly appreciate what they have. That’s just the way we’re built are as human beings. We’re built very myopically, with a lot of blind spots. That’s just how we come equipped into this world.

In order for any of us to truly appreciate what we have we first have to lose things, people especially. We have to have our hearts broken and wrung, we have to know that tomorrow is not a sure thing, that our own health is not certain, that the health of those we love is not certain, that accidents and tragedies do happen and can happen at any time on any day, even a bright blue sunny day. Otherwise, we will tend to live blindly and not really get how lucky we are and how good we have it.

Frankly, we’ll come across as a little spoiled.

The other route we have to learning how to better appreciate what we have is to develop a genuine spiritual practice that encourages us everyday to realize what we have and realize how quickly it can all change (for the worse) and be taken from us. This can be mediation first thing in the morning, reading something of substance, journalling and blogging, et cetera. But it needs to be some sort of spiritual practice that allows us to get perspective, to come closer to the bigger questions and issues in life, to get down to the “heart of the matter”—to what really matters in life. It needs to be a practice that encourages us to begin with the end in mind, to begin with our own and others’ fragility and mortality in mind. That’s what “carpe diem” is all about—

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying

This same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying. That’s the essence of carpe diem, or “seize the day.” Not living in denial. Not choosing the path of least resistance—meaning the path that doesn’t trigger our insecurities and fears.

Yet carpe diem—appreciating what we have—is also completely contrary to how we’re built and how we’re hard-wired. We’re never satisfied. We always want more, want newer, want better. But more importantly we live and love blindly, myopically, as if death and loss are far away and far off things that will never touch or at least aren’t suppose to touch us now. But I guarantee if they’re not touching you today or tomorrow, they’ll be touching someone else in a way that you don’t want to imagine and with a pain you cannot begin to comprehend.

This world is heartbreaking, yes. It’s beautiful and brute-iful. You have that right in your lovely “Meet Glennon” essay. And, agreed, it would be great to be able to go through this life armored up against the pain and tragedy inherent in this world. And people still try. They still go for armor. And the ultimate armor is our minds, how we use our own thinking to help us deny the pain in this world and anesthetize us to it—how we invent stories and reasons why we don’t have to get perspective, why we don’t have to think about death or tragedy. The human mind is a never-ending source of wonderment when it comes to inventing rationalizations (rational lies) that will support it in not having to face reality or deal with painful truths.

My suspicion, Glennon, is that you don’t like what those people are saying to you not because it’s not true, but because it is true and you recognize that, but you would prefer not to have to deal with the consequences of admitting that life and health are fleeting. You don’t want to face the pain of thinking about what these strangers’ words (including my own) really mean. You don’t want to have to feel those feelings right now—what it might mean to permanently lose someone you love or to see your children grown and gone and this chapter of your life closed. You don’t want to have to feel that sorrow and process those intense emotions.

But who does?

But life is always in the right and always gets the last word. We’re going to have to face certain brutal truths sooner or later, so why procrastinate about it?

Especially when doing so sooner rather than later is what will likely allow us to live better, more deeply, more humanely, more lovingly, less selfishly, less blindly, with eyes and heart more rather than less open.

The tag line to your blog is “Stepping Back, Slowing Down, and Focusing Up.” That might be very apropos here in reference to what you wrote. A great idea might be to rewrite the post, and revisit the subject, but this time from a different perspective. Visit a hospice ward, think about what it’s like to be 40-years old and married and in love (not necessarily a contradiction in terms, lol) and struggling with infertility; think about what it would be like to be a parent who has lost a child; go to a nearby children’s hospital or Ronald McDonald house. In other words, play devil’s advocate—or, really God’s advocate—with your own thoughts and what you wrote here today.

Because as unpleasant and even horrifying as those sorts of things are to think about, it’s thinking about them that may well allow you to really appreciate the good fortune you have. That’s what these strangers are suggesting to you. because if it’s not happening to you, then it’s happening to someone else in the world—someone else is losing a child, losing a spouse, losing a pregnancy, losing their family, finding out they have cancer, et cetera.

There but for the grace of God go you and I.

That’s the essence of “carpe diem“—being truly grateful and deeply appreciative—Tony Robbins Personal Power type gratefulness; “great news the cancer is in remission” type joy and appreciativeness, the plane isn’t going to crash today gratefulness.

So why take the easy path and be cynical about “carpe diem“? Why not question yourself and your own thinking and see if there’s something you might not be able to learn from these likely well-meaning strangers and elderly folk. Why argue for what perhaps may be a fairly significant blind spot in your own thinking and your approach to life.

As the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes:

Before you can know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.”

It may be the same for appreciating what we have.

That’s what all this carpe diem “live like you’re dying” stuff is really all about . . . about not actually having to lose things and people, but getting real with ourselves and really thinking about certain things ahead of time and while there’s still time. How would you feel tomorrow morning if you got up and something in your life had suddenly changed for the worse—your health, your husband’s health, the health of one of your children? How would you feel? That’s the essence of what these people are saying to you—Carpe, carpe diem, Glennon, don’t wait till it actually happens, don’t just enjoy what you have, be profoundly heartbreakingly earth-shatteringly grateful for it, as you’ll likely wish you would were to actually lose someone.

Advertisements

Mary Oliver, Jane Hirschfield, Rilke, and David Deida on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Living & Loving


Mary Oliver on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

West Wind #2” – Mary Oliver

You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me. . . .

There is life without love. But it’s not worth a bent penny or a scuffed shoe. It’s not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable pounding—when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming—then row, row for your life toward it.

.

Rilke on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII” – Rainer Maria Rilke
(translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)

Will the change. Want the transformation. Be inspired
by the flame where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself into sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to live gray and numb?
What’s frightened turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain. Flow into
the knowledge that what you are seeking
often finishes at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
a laurel, dares you to become wind.

.

Jane Hirschfield on Not Evading the Full Intensity of Life and Love

Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World” – Jane Hirshfield

If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.

Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.

Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense, pay what is asked,
when a gift such as this
arrives from the sea.

Treat it as you yourself would be treated
if you were brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.

And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even for an instant—

stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you’d come to believe were yours,

and plunge the knife.

Not once
did you enter the pasture
without pause,
without yourself trembling.

That you came to love it, that was the gift.

Let the envious gods try to take back what they can.

.

So what is it that holds us back? Why do we shrink from life, not live more daringly, not live more courageously, not push ourselves to enter more of life’s and love’s strange pastures, not live with more passion and a greater sense of wonder and adventure, not row row row for our life towards the long plunging falls?

Why do we live a life where we are safe and numb and grey?

We’re only as good as our courage in our most pivotal moments allows us to be. That’s what defines us and the quality of our lives and relationships—the willingness to feel the fear and do something daring and potentially life-altering and expansive anyways; the capacity to choose courageously from what’s best in us when the going gets tough and not live avoidantly or evasively and shrink from the full intensity of life.

Riffing on something David Deida wrote—“The way love—and not fear—moves us, and moves through us, is our true destiny.”

How many of us are living this way?

How many people do you know who are living and loving this way and fiercely committed to living out their true destiny?

Are you?

And if not, why? What are you waiting for? What would it take for you to live this way?

What would you have to lose? What would have to be taken from you? What diagnosis? How much time would have to be left on the clock for you for you to start making a “two-minute drill” of your life? (“There’s eight seconds left in overtime and she’s on your mind, she’s on your mind” – The Fray, from the song “Cable Car”)

What do you think it would it take to “wake” you up and prompt you to carpe more of the diem and seize more of the day and live with more passion and intensity and depth?

Your thoughts and comments and any sign of sentient life in the on-line universe are all greatly appreciated. 🙂

(and you can read more of what I excerpted of David Deida from his book “Blue Truth” at my other blog http://www.realtruelove.wordpress.com )