By Luke Miller
“How to live in a time like this—that is the question. This is not only a time that tests men’s souls but tests their ability to live. It is, and has been for two decades, a period of uncertainty for the average man. What the next day will bring no one knows. …The great word of the hour seems to be security.” —Norman Vincent Peale
Those words—which seem to describe today’s world so well—actually were penned by Peale in 1937. I recently bought a copy of his book “The Art of Living” at a used book sale. That’s one of my simple pleasures: buying old books and exploring the thoughts of long-departed authors. And simple pleasures are just what the late author recommended for the weary and worried alike.
“Who would not like to have utter peace in his heart?” Peale wrote. “It is more to be desired than fine gold or precious jewels or negotiable securities.”
My mom, who was raised by a widowed mother during the Great Depression, knew a lot about simple pleasures. She’d take great delight in baking a pie for a friend just back from the hospital. Listening to a scratchy Perry Como record on the hi-fi. Watching her grandkids play with Matchbox cars by her feet. Or just sitting in her living room after it had been cleaned and aired out on the first warm day of spring.
She was inspired by nature too. No matter whether the fish were biting or the tee shots were flying straight, a perpetual smile adorned her face when she was outdoors. “Isn’t it just beautiful today?” she’d say. Mom was just happy to be surrounded by God’s green earth. (Or Lake Ontario’s calming waters, when it came to fishing.)
Nature indeed is a tonic for the soul. After 9/11 I was struck by how many colleagues were milling about the company garden. They obviously were seeking refuge in nature. As the day progressed some visited parks or hiked trails. Others, like myself, retreated to our own gardens to dig weeds, sniff flowers and try to make sense of what had just happened. An impossible task—but one made slightly more bearable because of nature’s calming influence.
Peale spoke to that very point when he wrote: “Where, then, is peace of mind to be found? In nature? Surely this beautiful world is designed to give man peace.” From the touch of raindrops on one’s face to the sight of moonbeams dancing across water on a starlit night—he noted there are countless ways nature can benefit our emotional well-being.
For me, seeking the comfort of nature is about distancing myself from the temporary strife and focusing instead on the infinite. Nature is our earthly connection to the infinite. As a tree lover, I look to 200-year-old oaks and 2,000-year-old redwoods for my inspiration. Others find inspiration in the height of a mountain, the depth of a canyon, or the breadth of an ocean. If that doesn’t do the trick, think about how many millions or even billions of years it took for these natural wonders to become, well, so wonderful!
While true peace of mind is found only in one’s heart, we can look to nature for inspiration and solace. Cruel as it sometimes may seem, nature truly is perfect just the way it is.
And isn’t it comforting to know something is working exactly the way it’s supposed to?