Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Making a Day Among Masterpieces a Masterpiece

What if you lived in the Netherlands but knew you were only going to be there for another six weeks or so? What would you do?

Most of the people who read this blog have found out through other channels that we are returning to the US in March. But if you didn’t know that, now you do. I won’t explore why here, but if you read this blog carefully, it’s pretty much all there.

So, if you’re me, you say to yourself, “I’ve got to go visit The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” She lives on a wall about thirty-five minutes away in The Hague. Today, because the sun was shining, we went and saw her. (We had to walk a bit from the train station and I waited for a decent day to make that walk.) She lived up to expectations. The light in The Girl with the Pearl Earring alone is worth staring at for a long time. As is her blue turban. And her beautiful face. What a thrill to see the real thing! She is the “Mona Lisa” of Northern Europe, and she is stunning. And not only her, but lots of other incredible masterpieces, like Vermeer’s “View of Delft,” a bunch of paintings by Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, along with masterpieces by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and many others. We went to the Mauritshaus today and it was magnificent. I could feel my soul expanding as the day went on. I am so blessed to be able to see these incredible paintings in person.

What crossed my mind is, “Why don’t we live like this all the time? Why don’t we take advantage of our days and make them special instead of just plodding along?” I’ve heard this message a thousand times in a thousand ways. John Wooden likes to say, “Make each day a masterpiece.” Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were going to live forever.” (I’m sure John Wooden would enjoy being included with Jesus and Gandhi!)

This attitude of making where you are right now count is called mindfulness in Eastern thought. It is a very positive way to live. The secret of contentment and happiness, according to this idea, is to remain in the present moment. This idea –this discipline-has come to mean a lot to me over the past few months. Here’s a quick primer on the foundations of mindfulness:

Non-judging – Turn off the part of your brain that immediately sorts everything into “good” or “bad” and instead impartially accept your own experiences.

Patient – A form of wisdom, patience demonstrates that we understand things must unfold in their own time.

Innocent - To see the richness of the present moment, we need to see it as if we are seeing it for the first time.

Trusting – Trust your intuition, your feelings, yourself, your gut, your own wisdom.

Non-striving – Getting over “if/then” thinking is the key – “if this happens, then I will be content or happy or fulfilled.” We tend to live expecting some future thing to make us content – “if” I get this job or this house or this whatever, “then” life will really work. So we manipulate things so we get what we want …and it NEVER fulfills us.

Accepting – See things as they really are in the present. We spend way too much energy denying and resisting reality. Accept reality and start from there.

Letting Go – Detachment is the key to all of the behaviors described above. Let go of people, events, things, the past, the future…whatever it is we hold onto. Peace is found in letting go.

Cultivating mindfulness means to cultivate “being” instead of “doing.” It is a rich way to live. What’s stopping you from enjoying something beautiful close to you?


  1. I would like to express my extreme jealousy about your trip to see the paintings. Girl With a Pearl Earring especially, but then you mentioned View of Delft, and some Rembrandts, and I got even more jealous! What a cool day. I spent my 1.5 hour Russian literature lecture today learning something about Russian painting. We're reading Anna Karenina, and Tolstoy had big opinions about art and modernity and everything in between, so it was great background for the point we're currently at in the novel. Everytime I think about how I'm in art school but not going to grad school for art, I think it makes much more sense to me than it ever will to anybody else, and this is part of why. I love so many things about art, but even if I'm not getting another degree in it, I'm sure it will constantly come up in my life in one form or another. Great post. Someday I'll get to visit those paintings too.

  2. The problem with "letting go" is that so very often we can't get there in our lives until we experience some sort of human tragedy, be it a death, financial collapse, severe illness, or something else. I "let go" about 4 years ago, and I am daily amazed by His grace in my life.

    (Keep up the blog when you return.)

  3. Some of what has come out of the East are things we do well to hear, and are embedded in the nature of the Kingdom. "Here and now," as Henri Nouwen penned, as well as many saints and spiritual guides through the centuries.

    I wrote about this recently in a blog post- not being caught in the guilt of the past or the anxiety of the future. NOW.

    I'm with you!

  4. Phil - put the web address on so people can read what you wrote.

  5. So, here's the web address for my blog, as Jeff requested...

  6. Thanks for the reminder that we would all do well to put this into practice in our lives. We are so excited that you & Gretchen will be returning to Woodward! Already planning the Coming Home party...

  7. Awesome!! SO glad you got this! I am always reminding myself that we are human "beings", not human "doings". :-)

    P.S. It will also be nice to have you a bit closer! Maybe I will get the chance to come see you more often.