When I think about the sharp tugs, the personal disappointments, the yearnings and the longings we have as human beings to do better and be better, whether for those we love or for ourselves alone, two Shakespearean passages come to mind. I’ll share one of them today. Sonnet 29 opens thus: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d, Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least;
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least– I read these lines and know that inside, that’s me. I purposely seek out examples of excellence that I want to emulate. I study and watch with the intent to learn how a skill or a grace that I want to acquire is developed and done. It can be motivating, but it can also be discouraging when the distance between where I currently am and where I would like to be is great. These chasms can be frightening and difficult to cross. Ironically, it is often what I most want for myself that fills me with the greatest fear and dread. Where my motivation is the deepest and the most powerful is also where I am the least patient with my own efforts. It can make it enormously difficult to stick with it, to continue to take the necessary steps and to endure the embarrassing and torturous spills and setbacks that are often, unfortunately, an integral part of the growth process. How do you develop the strength and the courage to keep moving forward when what should be exhilarating isn’t, and what should be a joy isn’t fun?
Shakespeare has a suggestion: Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings. I see this in two parts. First, love is a powerful motivator. Second, gratitude for what we do have is tremendously healing and stabilizing, especially during rough times.
Difficult days come to all of us, especially when we desire and are striving to improve and grow. I love how Shakespeare doesn’t ignore or diminish the painful thoughts and feelings that we experience day to day. I also love how it doesn’t have to end with the sad, that often, if we can direct our thoughts to the love and light that is already ours, at least in part, we can find happiness and joy in the present. It isn’t about having the whole world around us suddenly and obligingly burst into blessings and sunshine. It is about the power each of us possess to help reignite the “spark of divine fire” within us through kind thoughts and loving gestures.