Years ago, Stevie Wonder wrote a song called “Pastime Paradise,” which described people who lived their lives glorifying the past or longing for a different future. We all have that tendency because our society fosters dissatisfaction and discontent. The advertising industry feeds on it, as do our social and political institutions. Yet, the quieter voices that whisper “live in the moment” and “count your blessings” are growing stronger and more widespread. If we shift our focus to the present and look at what we do have instead of what we don’t, life is suddenly full and abundant beyond measure.
Personally, I have no doubt that I live in paradise. I love my life. My partner and I live in an apartment in a two-family home with a yard, front and back. Our small-town neighborhood is friendly and quiet. We like our neighbors, and our landlord is kind and responsive. I have freedom to grow flowers, plants, and bushes in the yard, and this is my greatest joy. I spend hours in my garden every day, sometimes working, sometimes just drinking in the colors and light. Hummingbirds visit the red tubular flowers of the native honeysuckle, goldfinches cluster about the hanging thistle feeder, and butterflies and bees fill the air around the large purple flowers of the butterfly bush. What more could one ask of life than moments like these?
Don’t get me wrong. I have experienced my share of life’s heartaches too—the death of loved ones, the end of relationships, loss of jobs, physical pain, etc. But all of it has been part of life and has brought me to where I am today. If I step back and look at my life as a whole, the miracles outnumber the tragedies, and even the tragedies had hidden miracles within them. Events that I feared all my life such as my parents’ deaths ended up being extraordinary spiritual experiences because I was fully present with them as they transitioned. Losing my job late in my editorial career allowed me to step into the freelance world for a couple of years and then gradually move into full retirement. I now have the time and freedom to write and garden whenever I want instead of squeezing it in on the side.
What I have discovered is that paradise is a state of presence, not an aspiration. I truly believe that I came to this planet to have all the experiences I could possibly pack in and that each one allows me to expand more and more as both a spiritual and a human being. Everything that has occurred has enabled me to become more fully myself, my soul self. And I am grateful for every single bit of it, the tears as well as the laughter. It’s a miracle to just be alive. Really. Look at your physical body—how did that happen? You can’t help but be in awe of the infinite complexity of the tiniest aspect of every part of life. Or at least I am. And I think that’s where we’re all heading. Collectively, we are shifting from suffering to celebration, from dismay to full-hearted appreciation for the gifts each day brings. Paradise is with us, within us—now. It really is.