“The only paradise is paradise lost.” — Marcel Proust, French novelist, critic, and essayist
A small village sat nestled in a scenic valley between two low mountain ranges.
Despite the obvious beauty of the countryside, the residents of the village were dissatisfied with life there. Some complained the mountains were too small — not majestic enough.
Others complained the valley formed by the mountains was too narrow — no room for expansion. The population of the village consisted primarily of artists and artisans. Surely, such a diverse and gifted group deserved to reside in paradise.
There must be other valleys and ranges more appropriate for such a population.
The village council met to discuss the issue.
Perhaps there was a better, more suitable locale, but as few residents had bothered to venture more than a day’s walk beyond the village, there was no means of determining so.
After much discussion, it was agreed that two representatives should be sent out into the neighbouring countryside to make comparisons.
The most skilled writer of prose and talented painter of landscapes were called before the council. They were assigned an ambitious task: together, they were to set out in search of paradise.
When and if they found it, the writer was to compose a detailed description of paradise while the artist was to paint a magnificent depiction of it. When both tasks had been completed, the two were to return to the village and present their finding before the council.
The above passage is part of a parable I wrote over 30 years ago. Finding it after all these years prompted me to reconsider the idea of paradise.
We often think of paradise as a physical place. Tropical islands are sometimes called paradise. Beautiful mountain vistas are referred to as paradise.
Of course, paradise is subjective. One definition of paradise that I appreciate is thus: any place of complete bliss, delight and peace.
Perhaps paradise is more than just a physical place but an emotional one as well: a state-of-mind accessible through self-awareness.
Sometimes, we become like the people of the village — convinced that paradise lies anywhere other than where we are at the moment. We search for paradise everywhere except right before our eyes — except right inside ourselves.
We can lose sight of what is good, commendable and endearing in our lives and about ourselves as human beings. We begin to look elsewhere — outside of ourselves for what “is” and has always been right here with us.
What would happen if we considered where we are, right now, as paradise? What would we see and how would life be different? Think about it. If we’re doing something we love, with someone we love — then that could be considered paradise.
If we spent time in the company of good friends or a loving family, then we are dwelling in paradise. If we are performing challenging work that we enjoy, then we’re in paradise. When we commit to living completely in the moment, absorbed by the power and beauty of what is, we are truly in paradise.
If you’re having trouble finding paradise where you are then perhaps like the writer and the artist, you must leave for a while. When I leave on vacation — especially to another country — I gain insights and a deeper appreciation for the people and the country.
I also find myself feeling thankful for my country, my home, my family, friends and work.
Time away helps me gain perspective, to recognize and appreciate the paradise right there in my own back yard.
As to the parable: amid great celebration, the writer and painter departed on their mission. Being dutiful and honour-bound, the two travelled to many regions of the land.
They saw wonderful places certainly deserving of the name “paradise.” The writer wrote many thrilling stories of what he saw, while the painter painted numerous lush and colourful landscapes.
Eventually, the journey brought the writer and artist to a low mountain range with a lush valley between. The writer penned an elegant passage while the artist painted a delightful landscape.
Each viewed the other’s work, nodded and smiled. Mission completed, they returned home. The council had never heard such descriptions nor seen such glorious landscapes.
When all descriptions had been read and paintings viewed, all were presented before the villagers. It was unanimous: the mountain scene with its lush valley was by far the essence of paradise.
Despite protests from the writer and the artist, the entire village packed up and set off in search of the paradise.
They would use the description and the painting to recognize paradise when they found it.
When all were gone, the writer and the artist looked at each other and sighed.
They wondered if the villagers would ever return home — return home to paradise.
It was the renowned German-Swiss poet, novelist and painter, Hermann Hesse who once wrote, “Paradise is seldom recognized as such until it is considered from the outside.”
Perhaps paradise truly is more than just a physical place but an emotional one as well: a state-of-mind accessible only through self-awareness. Make some time to step back and see the world (your world) with a fresh set of eyes.
Paradise is waiting to be rediscovered.
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.