Our Town, has charmed millions of people in the many decades since Thornton Wilder wrote and first staged it. The play is a loving look at two families and the people around them in a small New England town. We see them prepare meals, raise their children, go to choir practice at the church, get married, and finally attend the funeral of Emily, the main character.
The Stage Manager, who narrates the play, allows the dead Emily to relive one moment of her life. She chooses her 12th birthday.
In this poignant last scene, Emily becomes painfully aware of how much we miss as we sleepwalk through the ordinary activities of our daily lives. Watching herself relive her 12th birthday with her family, she sees that we live without savoring our time on earth.
She cries out,“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
“No,” the Stage Manager answers, but then adds, “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”
As our human species has evolved in the 87 years since Our Town was written, more and more of us are waking up, able to realize life—to live in a state of awe, a state of appreciation and bliss at least some of the time.
Human emergence is speeding up, I believe, and lots of us are looking like saints or poets.
What are saints and poets like?
Wilder no doubt thought that saints and poets are more aware than ordinary people. Saints are so tuned into life, so loving, that they give themselves with great devotion to other people, other creatures, and this beautiful earth. Saints lack ego and are not distracted from their service by the same fears, drives, and needs that distract most people from the life around them in the moment.
Poets are also people who see more than most of us see when we experience the world, Our best poets are able to describe subtle wonders of life that the rest of us miss in our hurry and distress.
Good poets also have the courage to observe their inner life without fear and often reveal profound personal riches, both deep suffering and well-springs of joy.
The world of saints and poets is a bigger world than the world most people experience, and their gift to us is a glimpse into the riches of that larger world.
Still, we needn’t be intimidated by the awareness of saints and poets. They are flawed human beings too, beings who make mistakes and who suffer just as we do. Wilder has the Stage Manager point out that saints and poets appreciate life only “some.”
Living as poets and saints
We can live in a bigger world—as the saints and poets do. And maybe we can do it with less suffering. Christ, a saint, surprisingly, told his followers that they (we) can do better than he did: he meant we can realize life at a higher level than even he was able to achieve.
Our work is to become as alive as we can become. Awake and ready in every moment of our lives, we can discover the wonder of every aspect of life. Achieving that level of realization, we will live in awe much of the time.
Our work of consciousness will produce the biggest world possible if we stay focused on a couple of big issues:
First, our physical health. Saying yes to life no matter what requires energy. We can’t neglect our bodies without reducing our awareness. People with poor physical health or painful disabling conditions can reach high levels of self-awareness; their physical challenges may even be the path to a higher consciousness. Still, as we all know, physical pain and disease distract us, often demanding our full attention and dampening our joy for life.
It is obvious that keeping our bodies in the best shape possible enhances our energy levels and our sense of well-being. But the majority of people in America have let their bodies go, robbing themselves of the capacity to realize life fully. Our entire body is a receptor, an astounding product of evolution designed to perceive and learn from what is observed and what is poured into us from the outside world. We will be more likely to realize life fully if we’re in athletic trim.
The other big issue for realizing life every moment is the need to appreciate the world in front of us at the moment. Our trouble with this issue is our propensity to believe that the banquet of life will be delivered in the future or to review the past as if it has some riches absent in the present. Our insanity is to ever look for the good in places other than the present—which doesn’t seem to deserve our full attention and appreciation. But our life is here and now, and life’s immense treasures are right here in front of us.
Poets let us see that everything we need to realize life fully is within our immediate attention. Here’s the famous poet Alfred Tennyson:
Flower in the Crannied Wall
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
As the masters of awareness have always told us, the banquet of life can be found in a cup of tea, the clouds forming shadows on the mountain, or the laughter of a child. Or, literally, anything that is occurring in the moment.
Overcoming our insanity
Here we are, wanting to live in a state of consciousness I call poise. As much as we can, we want to establish the skill set that will allow us to escape the insanity that prevails in much of human thinking and feeling, the human craziness that blocks us from realizing life fully.
The skill set we want to achieve includes:
The skill to remain in the present, the only place where joy can thrive. Are we present even one percent of the time? This skill requires our constant mindfulness.
The skill to get and stay connected to the world in front of us. We find a million ways to separate ourselves from others, from this elegant earth, and from our own potential. We can develop this skill every day with every waking moment by practicing.
The skill to become grateful and to stay grateful no matter what is happening. We can work on reducing our egos, which demand attention and can never be satisfied. We can learn to say thanks for every moment of our all-too short lives.
The skill to bring a lively creativity to everything we do each day. We can practice transforming any ordinary problem or challenge into a reshaped reality, a reality that aligns with our values and joy.
The skill to bring a light heart to every act of the day. Part of this skill is noticing when our spirits droop and we become heavy, earnest, and dull. As we become more skillful, we catch our loss of humor before it disappears into gloom, retrieve it, and get back to laughing at ourselves and this crazy world.
Developing these essential skills of a poised man or woman is not onerous work, but a wonderful journey on a path of love.
On a path of love, we are becoming poets and saints.