A pretty good diet
“I am living on hope and faith…a pretty good diet when the mind will receive them.”
— Edwin Arlington Robinson
It’s interesting that a poet of Robinson’s stature, who penned the devastatingly powerful “Richard Cory,” would describe himself as living on hope and faith. Such somber work does not seem consistent with what we think of as a positive attitude. Yet, by their very nature, hope and faith are not as obviously necessary for survival when all is going well. It is only when the full weight of human frailty and mortality comes crashing in that we realize our souls’ crucial need for belief in something higher than we can now comprehend.
I have been living on hope and faith for many years, and never more than during the past four. Cynical voices (including the one in my own head that I can never quite shut out) might rightly ask: so you have, and where did this get you? Were not your hopes disappointed, even crushed? Yes, they were cruelly dashed, time and again. But faith and hope are not wishing wells where simple petitions are met with guaranteed fulfillment. Rather, they are dynamic, growing forces that reveal layer after layer of hard-won understanding. As Robinson attests, they provide solid nourishment for the soul, when the mind will receive them.
My mind won’t always cooperate with such a diet. Like a child who turns away from vegetables regardless of how many times the grown-ups talk about how good they are, I often handle my pain with binges of anger, resentment, self-pity and hopelessness. And the cynic’s question is equally valid here: where do these take me? Not to any place I want to be for very long. Faith and hope are, in many ways, their own rewards, conferring benefits not dependent on immediate fulfillment.
So how do we discipline our minds to receive this “pretty good diet?” What visual, auditory and tactile input goes into your own recipe for pressing on through tough times? What tastes or aromas bring instant relief from stress? Sometimes, an unexpected and surprisingly small joy can snap me out of a dismal attitude. My first sight of our early-blooming plum tree was one such delight that helped me through this weekend. What works best for you?