Poet and essayist Irene O’Garden, of Garrison, is the author of Glad to Be Human: Adventures in Optimism.
You refer to a time when “kindness was not yet popular.” Has the pandemic changed that?
Kindness is more popular, as is gratitude. We’re much more sensitive to kindness because when we see a great deal of unkindness it prompts, within us, kinder behavior. In my experience, the pandemic has made people a lot kinder, especially having been without connection for all those months. We can get by without a whole lot of stuff, but not without each other. Most human beings have been brought into this world with kindness and try to respond with kindness.
You advocate spontaneity. Why is that?
The variety of life, of emotional exploration, being attentive to opportunities, being in a place and time when you can give — that’s where spontaneity comes in. Spontaneity is about trust. It’s about saying, “What is coming through me is good and positive and an energy that is welcomed and needed in the world.”
Caring is a profound energy. We are gifted with days — we don’t know how many; the number is not important. If our mind is wandering all over the place, it’s difficult to be in the present moment. The more we take a deep breath, get into the beauty of this physical world we live in and get back to the body, that is a beautiful place to nurture that spontaneity. Language is incredibly spontaneous. If we rely on screens, our brain waves aren’t connecting with our bodies. Pay attention to what’s around us that needs our attention. I’m looking right now at evergreens waving in the wind. They were once tiny things.
How do you define optimism?
It’s not about everything being perfect all the time. It’s about choosing to see something beautiful when something is broken. We don’t gloss over loss, but, for example, the pandemic, this grief-soaked time: Rather than looking around asking nervously, “Is this going to be another Great Depression?” we should be doing what is necessary to show compassion for people on this earth — globally, not just frontline. We should be acknowledging that what is abundant is the caring we have for each other. That’s how to look for the light in things.
Reflections for 2022
By Irene O’Garden
Glad to be human, glad to be provided for, glad to provide for myself in faith and effort. Fun to find shoes, fun to buy them, too.
Glad to know about some stars, glad the mystery is infinite, glad for the burst and silence.
Glad to be living in the heart, the human heart, time for whole days spent on relationships, for soothing, for expressing pain, for pleasure, contemplation. And time and ways and means for distant friends, living in differing places, to visit, to speak and the beauty of a letter sent received.
Glad for interiors and colors and pattern and balance and shape and movement and adornment. Glad of myriads of little helps, of zippers, paperclips, and cleverness.
Glad to choose, to help to nourish, to bless.
If people feel like they are stagnating, how can they change that?
So often we have rutted thoughts; we think we have only one option. Instead, it’s good to understand that at any time we can change direction — jump the rails — if we’re finding it’s not helping us. Optimism is practical and in harmony with nature. Things grow anticipating that good will come of it. Whether we think this is a true direction, it’s better to want to live.
You use physical tokens to manifest a wish or goal. Can you explain?
I love symbols that make hope physical, such as charms. Everyone has the power to visualize and create the world we want to live in; we do this in every moment. We can see that we are creating the experience we have. Putting our desires out in a physical way sets the flow of energy and helps us appreciate what we receive in response, even though it might not be shaped exactly the way we thought it would be.
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