Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Letting in Symbols: A New Way to Pay Attention


Joseph Campbell said, We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. To me, this means we must be open to new and different thoughts that push out the boxes we often draw around ourselves. This week, my inching toward simplicity has been about stopping for thought, not so much logic but musings and imaginations. Some links to stimulate this kind of creative contemplation:

  • -Get your Chinese name by putting in your English name, birthday, and the characteristics you want to embody

  • is a fun online encyclopedia where you can surf for hidden meaning

  • -My friend keeps seeing cardinals (the bird, not the Catholic variety) in her dreams. This online Dream dictionary interprets them as a sign of vitality and happiness.

  • -As a kid, I found the idea of hobos (short for homeward bound) intriguing. Here, a link to their visual shorthand.


Surrounded by a thicket of pine, oak, and maple, our yard seems a haven for birds and bugs. I like to step out at dawn and see what small creatures are gracing the porch. Some sort of wren or finch has built a leafy nest in a gazebo-type birdfeeder we rested on the railing. And lately it seems grasshoppers are everywhere: clinging to the door, on our car, adding color to our interior walls.

Years ago, our screen door blew off the front porch. I had a habit of not latching it, and one day found the door violently ripped off its hinges and leaning on the walk-in basement door around the corner. At first I thought that vandals had visited us, and I felt foolish when I realized it was only the wind, taking advantage of my carelessness.

The screen door was custom made and proved difficult to fix. So, like a few things in our house, it never quite got restored to its rightful place. A small thorn in my side but I don’t complain, since I don’t feel I have the abilities (or tools!) to repair it myself.

The other day, though, I had a refreshing Pollyanna moment. With the migration of insects, primarily moths, in through our screenless portal, Gavin has become a miniature entomologist. Sure, he would discover the same bugs outside, and he does, but every morning he is immediately on the lookout for a new specimen as he descends the stairs from his room. Our winged friends often grace the walls along the staircase, and collectively they have provided him with hours of entertainment and education. The education extends to the need for kindness: to be gentle, to let them have undisturbed rest, to return them to the outdoors and appreciate their restored freedom.

I do believe in negative or irksome things sometimes evolving for the good like this. My cynical side says I take this too far, but I delight in seeing what the positives might be. I am also a sucker for icons and symbols. The visiting grasshoppers seem to be trying to tell me something: even with attempts at removal they linger on the fine hairs of my arm, seeming to cling purposefully. The Flaming Grasshopper, a blog for the Chelsea Green publishing company (specializing in sustainable living), describes the grasshopper as representing potent life energy contained in a small “insignificant” exoskeletal package, capable of covering great distances in a single leap. It is also an ancient symbol of good luck.

I am completely ready to buy into this symbolism: some family stresses of the week made me feel both insignificant and luckless, and I am considering some weighty changes that may require a leap of faith. I had to chuckle when I searched further for what my grasshopper following might mean: a bit of trivia on Wikipedia reminded me that grasshopper is sometimes used somewhat in jest, referencing “an inexperienced person who has much to learn" (thanks to the Kung Fu TV show)! Carl Jung would support me on my embrace of symbolism. He said, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

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