Saturday, April 6, 2013

Journal of a Soul 13

Let's get Some Perspective on Things

There is a word I particularly love and that is "perspective."  It is one much loved by philosophers among others.  A phrase I especially love, too, and perhaps, that is because I use it quite often myself, is "It all depends."  Or again, an answer  I always liked from one of my erstwhile lecturers from the mid nineteen seventies to a thorny question:  "Well, the answer is yes and no; yes in so far as ... and no in so far as..."  One could cynically say that this erudite professor was hedging his bets.  On the other hand, one might also say that he was being particularly careful with the use of language.  And, dear reader, care with language is not often the concern of many communicating with us (and hopefully with one another) in today's media.  Oftentimes most of us can be talking at cross purposes as we are not really talking about the same thing at all.

These thoughts come to my mind as I have recently flown home from Italy.  The Italian perspective on life is different to the Irish perspective.  They are, in general, a happier people than we, and that is the result, I believe, mainly of climate.  After all, the strong presence of the sun not alone illumines the landscape, but it also uplifts the soul.  There are so many more colours in Italy under the influence of the sun.  Here in Ireland our colour range is diminished greatly by the weather - when the rain or mists descend, we are reduced to almost a monochrome world.  It is no wonder that we Irish suffer from depression of all kinds as our moods often mirror this sad lack of light on our landscape.

A Place to Meditate - Under a tree in Sant' Andrea
Again, flying high above the earth gives more perspective.  What are huge objects on the ground become mere objects of toy proportions even when a little above the surface of the earth.  In other words a different perspective is immediately forced upon the attention of the alert air traveller.

A younger colleague of mine, Christy Oonan, now sadly passed away, RIP, had an appreciation for perspective. Once when in New York he told the tour group of students he was leading to "look up!" On another occasion, I remember standing with him in a funeral home beside the coffin of his late brother Liam and his saying to me, "there's no time, Tim, to waste in this life.  It's too short.  We must really learn to live it!"  And that Christy did in the last four years of his long and painful illness.  He was travelling places right up until the last.

Or again, the comments of a learned philosopher acquaintance of mine on the tragic demise of his brother-in-law:  "This death has really put things in perspective for me!" And that from a brilliant philosopher who has a wider perspective on things than many of us simpler folk.

The late great Victorian theologian, writer and scholar, John Henry Newman used be fond of saying that to gain perspective we must climb a hill or a mountain so that we can see the overall terrain.  The metaphor is a good one, is it not?  (As humour is another way of gaining perspective, I do believe the words he used were somewhat like"we must mount upon an eminence!"  Now, coupling "mounting" with "eminences" (Victorian speak for heights) is funny, given the sexual connotation of the first word today and the fact that he ended up an "eminence" or cardinal in the Holy Roman Church. I'm not so sure if Newman had a great sense of humour, and certainly he wouldn't appreciate this joke!)

Out of Perspective

When people have problems, it is because they have got things out of perspective.  They, as often as not, are using a magnifying glass rather than a telescope.  I owe this metaphor to Professor Michael Paul Gallagher S.J., now teaching in the Gregorian University, Rome, but then teaching in U.C.D. here in Ireland.  Now this is not to reduce the significance of the problem for the person or client involved.  It is, rather, to give them the chance of gaining another optic on the situation.

Offering perspective to people is never something that should be done early or in the immediate wake of a specific crisis.  It most likely should or will come anyway with the passing of time.  However, therein "lies the rub" as Shakespeare puts it, as often inappropriate timing or prolonged delay can result in failure to deal with the problem or in achieving some important healing for the suffering person.

However, all of us must be taught to avail of the skill of being able to broaden the perspective, zoom out on the problem we are in, get a sort of a bird's eye view, even if it is only from a low-hanging branch of a tree.  Perspective training and practice should be done on a daily basis when we are not enduring huge problems.  In that way, when crises do come, as indeed assuredly they will, we will be so much better equipped to deal with them

As I was flying over the mountains of England and Wales this morning I noticed a lot of snow on the higher peaks and much frost on the lower lying fields.  The sun was just after coming up, somewhere around 6 A.M. and one could sense that the frost on the lower lying plains, roads, lanes and houses would shortly melt away.  All in all, I had the feeling of getting an eagle's eye view if I might strain the previously overworked metaphorical bird. We are such small creatures on such a marvellously wonderful spaceship called Earth, or on a marvellously wonderful organism called Gaia - depending on your preferred metaphor or indeed, perspective.

Perhaps, I'll finish this post with quoting in full one of my all time favourite poems by the Elizabethan poet and conspirator Chidiock Tichborne who paid with his life for conspiring to hatch a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I.  He went to the gallows at the young age of 24.  His words give great perspective on the transience of our little lives.  Meditate on this words, dear friends, and I guarantee you'll gain not a little perspective:


My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

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