The Secret to Being Courageous and Patient and Happy
The wonderful thing about life’s secrets is that most of the time you already know them. You really do. Another thing I find useful to remember is that all of the secrets to writing are also secrets to living.
I always think that Virginia Woolf must have had immeasurable courage, but even she gives herself advice on this in her diary: “take each scene quietly.”
“A good day—a bad day—so it goes on. Few people can be so tortured by writing as I am. Only Flaubert I think. Yet I see it now, as a whole. I think I can bring it off, if I only have courage and patience: take each scene quietly: compose: I think it may be a good book. And then—oh when it's finished!”
― Virginia Woolf,
Woolf also knew the secret to happiness, which is to feast on the moment. I'd like to sit with that word feast. If you look it up in the dictionary you’re going to come across descriptors, like sumptuous, delicious, plentiful, pleasurable. A feast is celebratory. A feast is special, it commemorates. It feeds us. And what if this is how we spend our moments? Feasting.
“But I don’t think of the future, or the past, I feast on the moment. This is the secret of happiness.”
– Virginia Woolf
Let’s turn now to words from Lispector’s Cronicas.
“Increasingly I find that it is all a matter of patience, of love begetting patience, of patience begetting love.”
– Clarice Lispector
Increasingly I think that all these things go together. The love and the patience and the courage and the need to take each scene quietly.
If we were to feast, to taste our tea, to engage in genuine tea drinking, then it’s easier to love, to take each scene quietly, to gather our courage in this way.
Student: “Master, what is the secret to meditation?”
Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you sip your coffee, taste your coffee.”
“When you sit in a café, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you’re not really drinking your coffee or your tea. You’re drinking your projects, you’re drinking your worries. You are not real, and the coffee is not real either. Your coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self and produce your true presence, freeing yourself from the past, the future, and from your worries. When you are real, the tea also becomes real and the encounter between you and the tea is real. This is genuine tea drinking.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
But while we are patient and while we are composing, I think we can also be persistent. We don’t have to hurry, but neither should we rest.
“Do not hurry; do not rest.”
“Courage is…a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
I know some will wince at the word couraging, but it draws attention to the fact that it’s a habit, something that must be continuously tried, in whatever small ways possible.
So it is with the courage to be happy, and with the courage to write.
I saw a bee settle
on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too
is something little.
– translated by John Duval, found in The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry