Lessons in Radical Joy: Answering the Call of "Carpe Diem"
Updated: Jan 12, 2018
by Todd E. Pressman, Ph.D.
There is a fundamental human need we all share: To express our fullest potential, make our contribution in life, fulfill our high purpose. It is said “The greatest tragedy in life is to die with your music still in you”. The divine discontent that tells us there is more to life than mere survival, urges us forward to discover our deepest Self, our reason for being, and to make visible the meaning of our lives. We can never find true Joy without this.
When we witness other people living their lives fully in this way, we are inspired. Mahatma Gandhi carried the power of an entire nation within his simple and humble being. Maya Angelou transformed her childhood pain and a lifetime of rich experience into exquisite and moving poetry. This kind of inspiration is the recognition within our soul that we, too, must express ourselves, empty our store of potential and pour it onto the world. Think of the compelling moments of your own life, of your aspirations, dreams and longings. Notice that in some way they all carry a sense of going beyond the limits of your everyday idea of the possible, a sense of becoming “bigger” than you previously thought you could be, and rising above challenges which otherwise seemed insurmountable.
In the movie "Dead Poets Society", the English professor played by Robin Williams evoked the deep potential of his students with the now famous phrase “Carpe Diem”– “Seize the day”. Why does this phrase fire the imagination the way it does? Because in it, we hear the call to realize all of our promise, to recapture the dreams of childhood with a certainty that we can achieve them. In a clean sweep it washes away the ordinariness of our usual thinking and begs us to act on what we can never really put away and forget.
But what do we do with such precious moments of clarity and inspiration? Do we, in fact, act? Do we jump at the chance for true Joy and take the step toward living the life we’ve been so desperate to live? All too often, there is a thought that runs our minds and our lives, squashing our potential, sentencing us to our mediocrity and survival struggles. The thought says “Never mind. It’s too dangerous, requires too much effort, involves too much risk. What will people think if I make such a splash, what will I have to sacrifice in the way of comfort and familiarity? I just want to stay quiet and simple, without exposing myself to too much uncertainty”.
This is the thought that kills inspiration, buries the spirit and saps us of life energy. Our society is suffering deeply from too much of this kind of joyless repression. When Mother Teresa came to America for the first time, having spent so many years working with the “poorest of the poor” in India and elsewhere, she was appalled at the amount of suffering she saw here, the wealthiest country in the world. For with all our material comforts, we are starving from a “spiritual deprivation”, she said, the result of not expressing our true Selves, substituting material comfort for true fulfillment.
We must catch this thought, then, that says “never mind” to our inspirations. Let our practice be to ask ourselves a hundred times a day, “What do I want to do with my life, how do I most want to express myself?” The answer will be something of eternal value, transcending the limiting, local view of here-and-now and reaching for something of greatness.
But when we consider acting on it, what are the thoughts that stop us? How will we convince ourselves to put it away once again? Study these thoughts, write them down, and then reply with the counter-thought “I want to live my life fully and find my Joy”.
Consider this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community and, as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
There is a Chinese proverb that says “We are always preparing to live”. We prepare for a time when we will somehow find the courage to express what we really are supposed to be doing with our lives. When will it be time to take a stand with ourselves and make our own joyful noise, daring to live now and not wait for a “safer” opportunity which never comes?
Perhaps the famous bumper sticker sums it up best: “Don’t postpone Joy”