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When I used to take walks at my favorite nature sanctuary, Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I often thought to myself, “This is paradise,” as I gazed up at the towering oak and maple trees and listened to the varied birdsongs. Now that I live in Florida, I find myself feeling much the same way. Each morning after sunrise, I walk the nature trail that encircles the perimeter of the community where we live, enjoying the palm trees and flowering bushes and the calls of birds that make Florida home. This morning at the end of my walk, another walker passed me, said “Good morning,” and commented, “Another day in paradise.” I laughed and agreed with him. Most people I pass on my walks make some similar comment about the beauty of the day.
I know the stereotype of tropical climes like Florida is a paradise with warm weather and easier day-to-day living. That vision is not entirely fantasy, in spite of an extremely challenged ecosystem and ongoing political polarities.* Florida is living its own variation of what is happening in so many places in the U.S. Still, I do see paradise here, as well as up north in Massachusetts. In fact, everywhere. It’s all about how you frame life as you look out at the world around you. If I see only environmental loss and breaks in human connection, I miss the larger picture, which includes the possibility of change and transformation. If I consciously “reboot” to a wider perspective, I see every seemingly divergent detail as sacred and integral to the evolution of life on Earth.
Is “reality” as malleable as all that? Well, to me, it’s more like shifting into seeing the truth behind the facade, the inextinguishable light beneath the tarnish, wear, and tear of human existence. Life can be hard, no doubt about it. But there are always those who seem to be able to perceive hope and possibilities in all people and events. They intuitively understand that everything is part of a greater expansion and growth that we on this planet are now experiencing. Solutions arise out of the problems themselves. Life unfolds on so many levels and in so many uniquely diverse human hearts and souls. Yet, as singer/songwriter India.Arie has expressed it: “It all comes down to One.”
If I open my heart, I see this oneness, and the beauty of it, everywhere I go. It becomes a daily practice. I take a deep breath, as I sit in meditation or walk outdoors, and consciously bring myself back to the peace that lives inside me. From this space, nothing is dissonant or out of place. In spite of broken glass, broken promises, and broken hearts in the world at large, I can feel our collective heart beating as one, reaching out for a common vision that will uplift and sustain us. This is not an impossible dream or an insubstantial, unrealistic desire for change. Whatever is within each of us that keeps us moving forward on our life paths is what makes up that connection—to one another and to something greater.
The universe is not an accident. Pause and look carefully, and you can see the intricate interweavings that constitute our lives and our world. The key is to stop periodically, step back, and allow the larger picture to fill your consciousness. This is not something we are taught to do in our society, but sometimes we stumble upon it by accident or through someone else’s help, and it begins to sustain us. I hold to this awareness in my own life in order to remain centered in what some call universal wisdom, or God.
We are not alone and we are not lost. In spite of what seems to be catastrophe and conflict on a global level, something else is occurring. We are evolving and expanding with the universe itself. It is my deep trust in this that helps me to walk through my front door each day and experience paradise, wherever I happen to be. To see paradise in the eyes of those around me and to hear it in their voices. Visible or invisible, we all hold paradise in our hearts; it lives in our souls. We have but to shift our vision slightly to see it everywhere, every day. And live it, going forward.
*e.g., toxic red tide on the Gulf Coast from pollution flowing out of Lake Okeechobee;
on gun control, immigration, environmental protection, etc.