Meaningful Patterns

There’s this old book I have, dog-earred like a text book and highlighted just as much. Somewhere in the middle, author Sarah Ban Breathnach quotes naturalist Diane Ackerman in reiterating the fact that we have the capability “to perceive the world with all its gushing beauty and terror, right on our pulses,” and yet most don’t truly awaken their senses to feel things deeply. Ackerman is quoted again: “The senses don’t just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity, they tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.”


I like that. I hope to say I live like that.

Right now, I am in the most wonderful phase of life. It began when I started a relationship with Joel and has only grown in size and strength with the children we now share and the hundred, thousand, million moments of family we’ve been part of together. But sometimes when things are good – really good –  I seek to understand the presence of good just as much as if it were the opposite. And by that I mean that sometimes I feel like good fortune warrants a disclaimer. Like it’s only deserved if it’s been earned; if it’s been balanced with heartache or suffering in the past. I can wave my Happy Flag and not have it burn people’s eyes as long as I have been through my share of dirt and come out the other side. I can fly it high because my happiness is justified.




Everybody loves an underdog story over a fairytale. A princess is happy? Well of course she bloody is. But an underdog? When an underdog is happy, when she is successful, when she has made it – well, we just soak that right up, don’t we? We pop corks and chorus Amen! because dammit, she deserves it.

I’ve had my fair share of dirt. Those of you who know will know. But I try my hardest not to use this as a hero badge – as something that entitles me to my current happiness. My happiness is justified whether I’ve been through hardship or not. Everybody’s is.




Still, in these contented periods of life where I’m so acutely aware of the presence of good, I actually find myself wondering when it will happen – When will heartache hit next? Is it just around the bend? – like life dishes out good and bad in equal amounts depending on what’s fair.

Will it be my kids? Will something unthinkable happen to one of them? Will something happen to me? Will my children grow up motherless? Will Joel and I separate? Is that it? Will we go through an awful custody battle? Or will he fall ill? Or maybe have an affair? It’s terrifying where the mind now wanders, now that there is so much I have to lose.


Of course, that is a ridiculous way of thinking.


Over the years, my confidence in the natural order of the universe and our ability to modify our own perspectives has grown. Life doesn’t dish out bad and good in equal amounts, according to what perfectly aligns the “balance” scales. I also don’t believe there’s such a thing as “fair”. Fairness comes down to causality: if you’re well-behaved, you’ll get a star, if you eat broccoli you’ll live to 100, if you lie, you’ll get punished. But that only works in primary school. We enter dangerous territory when we adhere to the notion of cause and effect, of “fairness”, and the more I hold onto this limiting world-view, the more pain I brush up against when I’m struck with that awful realization that there is very little in life I have control over.  Just because I’m a good person, the brutal reality that I could be struck down at any time does not slide by dismissed. Fairness doesn’t exist to me. The world works in mysterious ways. Besides, who are we to judge that which is “good” and that which is “bad”? I always think of that Chinese fable which might perhaps be the wisest thing I’ve ever heard:


A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away.

All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses. The man and his son corraled all 21 horses.

All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The answer to all of this lies, for me, in the simple truth of which Ackerman spoke. Regardless of how “good” or “bad” life presently seems, our job down here is not to do the judging. We suspend all judgement of what’s good and what’s bad. Our job here is to simply “tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.” That is our work. That is our most holiest work.

These are the days which fill our lives, and while I know that life will continue to come at me with its beauty and heartache and guts and sheer euphoria, what I know more is that I need only to let these things hit me. I need only to fully feel life’s gifts, however they sit upon my chest. And I need only to reassemble them into patterns which hold meaning.




Maybe embracing experiences so fully, in this vibrant-morsels kind of way, is a bit like that whole tree falling in the forest thing that only makes a sound if someone is there to hear it. Is it only good if we’re wildly pursuing opportunities to be more sensually aware? To feel the heat of the sun and make note of its goodness, to listen to our child’s laughter and memorize its tone, even to acknowledge the depth of our pain and fully feel its sting?

All I know is that I want it all. I want to feel my way through this life with every last bit of me – this wild, unthinkable, beloved life – because when I am feeling, I am alive. And we need to wake our senses up for that kind of business. We need to be able to perceive the world with all its gushing beauty and terror, and never close ourselves off to one because of the other.




Because the truth is, they both make life meaningful. We have to be inside our “right nows” not only fully but fearlessly, because meaningful is always beautiful. Meaningful always yields the most exquisite pattern of all.



“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
― Mary Oliver



3 Responses to “Meaningful Patterns”

  1. becschoepf

    I love it when you write these more abstract posts, Rach – even if they aren’t as bubbly, they are really thought-provoking. There is that Thai Life Insurance commercial doing the rounds at the moment, basically saying that doing good deeds won’t make you rich or famous or anything, but it will give you emotions…which I agreed with, and made me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. But in the same breath, there are times when I’ve gone the extra mile to be kind to a stranger only to get burnt by humankind. The Austrians have a saying, “Don’t do anything extra for someone and you won’t be disappointed”…but that is so cynical. Meaning is always better. Being attentive to your surroundings, engaged, reactive. I will always choose to have a bruised and battered open vulnerable soul than one that is closed!

  2. Nat

    So very true. I find myself guilty of this way of thinking. When good things happen and life is going well, I can’t help think that it’s too good to be true and then expect for something bad to happen to balance it out. I’m quickly snapping myself out of this way of thinking as you never get to truly relish in the moments of happiness. The way I see it, you can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you respond. So there’s no point in worrying… Just enjoy the good stuff. 😊

  3. Kali

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder Rach – so beautifully and tantalizingly written! Just what I needed…found it hidden in my inbox, and needed a reminder to snap into this moment and release the judgement…for who are we to judge what is good and what is bad! Thanks again 🙂 xx


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