22 May A Dance of Melancholic Bliss
I SIT AT ONE of my favorite lookout points in Lisbon, the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. The viewpoint looks out upon the Tagus River, its port bustling where the river meets the sea.
The April de 25 Bridge crosses the vital European waterway and connects Lisbon to Almada on the other side. The Cristo Rei Christ Statue stands atop the distant hill, a looming silhouette on this cloudy day.
I’ve read a bit and journaled, fueled by a cappuccino from the kiosk cafe. After a morning of satisfying rain, the sun fights through the white blankets of slowly drifting clouds overhead and the deep grey clouds which expand in the distance and consume the afternoon sky.
Intermittent rain sprinkles down on the earth here and there. Gusts of wind rustle through the trees like an aeolian symphony.
There is wisdom within each of us we can’t comprehend; often, it shines through the clouds when we don’t expect it to, when we stop looking for the answers and just sit, with our eyes closed, letting the world in.
We can’t always understand, but can only feel, what it means to be human. We possess unique inner atmospheres of worries, fears and expectations; joys, peace and inspiration.
Our emotions can condensate and fall like rain, muddling our thoughts and emotions; then the clouds may dissipate, producing sunny skies and clarity.
That’s what connects us. Perhaps that’s why we’re here — to dance in the rain together and enjoy the sun while we can.
This is something that traveling continues to show me; in a much confusing world, it simplifies things to focus on what we can control, which isn’t terribly much.
We can’t control everything that happens to us in a world of endless variables; but we can decide what’s worth striving for. What journey are you willing to take incremental steps towards, day in and day out, because of what you’ll learn throughout the process?
What audacious dream is worth delaying satisfaction in the present for fulfillment in the distant future for?
What’s worth dropping everything else, so that we may truly be present in this body, this mind, this moment? More than we can possibly imagine.
Is it crazy to feel like we’re wasting time by enjoying it?
It sounds crazy to say we can’t simply enjoy life — yet that’s often how we feel, and maybe that’s a part of the journey which we must grapple with on our own.
The decision is ours, yet the concern is universal — how do we know that what we’re doing now, as opposed to everything else we’re not doing, will take us into the future with greater clarity, wisdom and purpose?
We don’t. We can’t. The renowned Psychologist Jordan Peterson speaks on this issue during a speech at Franciscan University of Steubenville:
This was reflective of a philosophical problem that had been recognized by David Hume some time earlier which was the problem between the relationship of what is and what ought to be.
David Hume believed that there is an unbridgeable gap between the factual world and the ethical world in some sense. That you never had enough facts at your disposal to compute your trajectory into the future with any degree of certainty.
And so, how do you guide your actions in light of the facts when there are endless facts about absolutely everything? Which facts do you prioritize, and which do you ignore?
We’re constantly stimulated by our ever-changing world, and we are easily caught up in that swift river of shoulds and oughts. But what if we could focus on what’s immediate, what’s present, what causes us to feel?
The people and conversations around us. Work that fulfills us, or the search to discover what that might be. The quest, above all else, to discover who we truly are.
The sound of music comes from musicians setting up for a nonchalant crowd. One picks the guitar and sings, while the other taps an eccentric set of drums which looks perfectly set up in a careless style.
These two are colorful characters — their aura, their smiles, the way they greet a passerby in the middle of the song — make me feel as if everything will be okay in the world.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering what we’re truly doing here. It’s an abstract thought, yet it helps me stop and look around at how incomprehensible, how beautiful and wild and baffling this all is.
Are we here to live in worry, because of what we haven’t done? Really? Are we here to work until one day we’re allowed to savor life?
Are we here to do nothing but feel love for other human beings? Are we here to share that love? This feels closer to the answer, because we’ve felt what it means to suffer. Alleviate some of the suffering that we ourselves have felt — that must be part of the equation.
Perhaps we’re here to do nothing more than feel the wind upon our skin. To ride the waves, to watch the rain, to lend a word of encouragement to a friend who needs it.
Are we on this earth to accept that word when it is given?
Are we here to feel fire in our chest, burn from the inside, to hold it in or release the flames, no matter how we’ll look.
Are we here to crumble just to build ourselves again, piece by piece, stone by stone, thought by thought, this time slightly differently, this time with greater appreciation for this journey that we’re on, this time, with deeper compassion for others who might feel the same, knowing that where we’ve been and where they’ve been isn’t so very far, and where we are, here and now, is closer than we could possibly imagine to the answer.
It’s fascinating to watch humans being human, observing interactions, how we act when we’re alone, how we act when we don’t know how to act.
Because I’ve felt what they’ve felt, and obviously do all the time. Travel does this; it may amplify the wonder in our eyes. It may grab hold of wounds within our chests and pry them open further. Maybe that’s what we truly need.
I’ve seen older couples look like they’re in a bitter feud, and others seem like they just fell in love.
I’ve seen partners where one seems to make an effort, and the other wants to, but they appear checked out. That makes me sad in a way. Sometimes travel brings us closer; sometimes it causes us to drift apart.
I’ve seen young people having the time of their lives, skipping through the streets locked arm in arm with friends. I’ve seen others struggling to smile, lost.
It makes me think. No matter where we are, we feel these things. Waves of emotion, seasons of darkness and of light. And that’s just how it is.
Perhaps that’s what reveals the wisdom, perceiving that full breadth of life in ourselves, in others, and letting it in. Maybe that’s what’ll tell us where we need to go, what we need to focus on and even embrace.
I can’t understand the Brazilian music or the Portuguese conversations being had around me. But I understand the smile between the guitarist and the drummer — a code of joy between them that fills my heart with love.
I understand the sound of wind in the trees because I felt its chill, more vivid, full, after the morning rain. I look around at others enjoying the cool air after days of persistent heat.
I understand the warmth of the waiter who speaks to me in Portuguese. His smile conveys nothing but sincerity. He seems grateful, genuinely happy, for the chance to be alive.
I feel a certain melancholy for the man beside me. He has a contemplative look upon his face — his arms are crossed, and he looks upon the Tagus, as if it holds the answer and the question. He sips a tall, bubbly beer.
I experience my own moments of joy and melancholy, of bliss and sheer awe at the beauty of it all. But some confusion, too. And that’s okay. There is no correct combination of the infinite number of facts which constitute our days that will make life perfect.
There’s no secret code to the lock.
We wouldn’t want it anyway.
Maybe it’s realizing that there is no perfect harmony. That what we feel inside, and how those feelings dance with the experience of being alive with its choices, regrets, setbacks and successes, is all part of the journey.
Cherish it all, because it won’t be this way forever. You won’t be this way. Perhaps one day soon, everything will fall into place. You’ll figure it out. Perhaps, it will get more difficult before it gets better.
But it will get better. It’s all a part of life, a continual dance of melancholic bliss, called by the name of existence.