We don’t value things. We value their meaning. What they are is determined by the laws of physics, but what they mean is determined by the laws of psychology.*
Pleasure is found in meaning, but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.
A single joy doesn’t mean one joy, but a focus or concentration of joy opening a plethora of wonder.
Nan Shepherd’s singleness of joy was given expression within her beloved Cairngorms. I have only driven through these mountains, but I enjoy her delicious descriptions of nature and draw these into my own joy; here, the odour of trees:
Birch, the other tree that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruit like, brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting though the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.**
Reading this, I can’t help but wonder what makes each of us giddy.^ And reading a little of James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games this morning (in which he considers society to be a finite game with smaller finite games within it, including education – itself a series of finite games) causes me to imagine this single joy to be our infinite game, to be infinite in nature: open, not judging; compassionate, not cynical; and, courageous, not fearful.⁺
Within our single joy is where alchemy can take place, or, more accurately, between our single joy and the world or environment in which we place ourselves, but first the joy, because I happened upon these words from George Appleton also this morning:
O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being[, s]how me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which You planted in me at my making.^^
Whether we have a god or not, the reality is we each have an inner world to be explored, in which we discover our single joy – our nature and name.
There is also our environments, which Ben Hardy critically makes us more aware of:
Because the environment prompts our behaviour, it is the environment that needs to be disrupted.*^
We react and respond and initiate according to our environments, and the aim is to find those that are the most fertile for us.
When we begin to make the inner and outer journeys, we are preparing for alchemy to occur.^*
Towards making sense of this, Ben Hardy also provides us with a means – one I’ve used it these last twenty one years:
Recording your history is a crucial component of journal writing. It provides context to your ideas, goals, and plans. […] A key component of writing big-picture is that it reconnects with your why.*^
Journaling provides us with a way of noticing what we might otherwise miss and to follow its thread through our years, attending to how it intertwines with other thoughts and ideas that come to us from different people and places.
Our single joy is always growing and, at this moment in time, we have no idea of what it will become, only that it will.
(*From Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy.)
(**From Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain.)
(^Checking the etymology of the word giddy informs me that it means “insane” or “possessed by a god.” That about sums it up.
(⁺For James Carse, a finite game is one that includes a certain number of people playing towards a particular goal and always playing by the rules; an infinite game is one that includes everyone and the aim is to keep playing, and if the rules threaten to exclude or bring the game to an end, they are changed.)
(^^George Appleton , quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer for Day 7.)
(*^From Ben Hardy’s Willpower Doesn’t Work.)
(^*I don’t mean turning lead into gold, but, primarily, the kind of alchemy that can produce something more from an unpromising candidate like me.)