“Once upon a time, when women were birds,
there was the simple understanding that
to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk
was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember
what we have forgotten,
that the world is meant to be
Terry Tempest Williams
When I read this, I thought, joy? Are you kidding, with a global pandemic, worldwide climate crisis, political chaos? Celebrate? Really? Then I thought, “hmm joy. Rolling out of bed on devices and internet, reading e-mails, checking Facebook, watching TV news, scanning newspaper headlines or hearing early radio reports leaves a melancholy trace in the hours that follow, in mood, in vitality.”
So now I’m trying metaphoric singing at dawn. I leave my cozy condo at 6 a.m. and drive to Portland’s Eastern Promenade. I arrive before the shiny orb crests between Casco Bay’s Peaks and House Islands. Once there, Subaru parked, I walk East. Today the sun rose at 6:51. Tomorrow, 6:52. As I try to pay attention to the changing daybreak energy, I’ve noticed something about my mind; maybe about our universal human mind. It has preferences. Daily I hope for stunning, for fiery red, or a soft coral hanging on the horizon or a nuanced gold for a pre-dawn show. And I think I will only feel happy with spectacular, that my spirits will dim if gray water reflects gray clouds in a gray sky. Some days tease. Will the dull colors transmute at all? Will the morning illuminate with pastels?
But for joy, none of that matters. Surface, ever-changing happiness is not the same as deep-seated joy, which has the potential to be steady in a changing world. The walks, seemingly boring or bright, serve up magic if I keep my head over my feet, if I keep my mind on the spacious Eastern Prom. Minds can time-travel and teleport away from the body. They drift to the past. “I shouldn’t have said that to my friend. I was wrong. She was right.” Blah. Blah.
Or we whoosh to the future. “What will we have for dinner? Not broccoli again. Sick of broccoli. Maybe pasta…” More blah blah. Not a way to touch happiness or to access joy.
In order to land here, and to stop the mental looping, I often whisper nouns as I pass the persons, places and things I see, hear, touch, smell. I practice presence. Birds. Moon. Sun. Sky. Dirt. Trees. Shrubs. Grass. Sea. Dogs. Rocks. Shoes. Lights. In this simple celebration, simple naming, the awareness dawns (pun intended): I am here, connected to this moment.
Connection with ourselves seeds joy. Connection with others and nature helps heal the world. So, sometimes I say good morning when another’s eyes, peeking over a mask, seem to smile, to make a bid for hello. Mostly we are quiet, “we” being a “together” word. We are—not really, but yes, really—together here at sunrise. So, we can be surface-unhappy about politics, climate, COVID-19, a non-preferred sunrise and still feel inner joy. We can be unhappy about the disheartening grays of life and yet be ok.
This is not to hint that we all get up in the dark, go out in the cold at what one friend calls “an ungodly hour.” It is to say that meeting first light in ways that sing to us can change the quality of our day, our life and so, the world.