Building Paradise

Paradise is exactly like where you are right now… only much, much better.

– Laurie Anderson

I was recently made aware of Laurie Anderson by Nick Offerman’s excellent book Gumption. The above quote, from her song Language is a Virus was a revelation to me. As you know, NC, I often struggle with an understanding of what I ought to be doing with the hours of my day that aren’t spoken for by my employer. We’ve talked before about what to do in your thirties, foundational habits, and building routines. But until now, I had treated each of those things as an end in itself, or at the most as a means towards that vague goal of “self improvement” that I suppose many of us aspire to.

What I had failed to realize, until Laurie’s words reached my ears (and resonated with similar previous sentiments by Leslie Bricusse and Mahatma Gandhi) was that in taking each of those actions, I am in fact building paradise. One right here on Earth in my very own life. Every step I take, habit I build, or goal I accomplish is another brick I’ve laid on my own walled enclosure (incidentally, the original etymology of the word paradise).

And of course the paradicial endeavour need not be limited to my hobbies, evenings, and weekends. The labor of my life should, ideally, somehow bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as I’d like it to be. Perhaps I am in a privileged place to have the opportunity to choose such work, but alternatively, perhaps it’s also a matter of perspective. In any given day, how can I approach my work to better bridge that gap?

I acknowledge that there are limitations on what can be achieved, and I don’t insist that we leap the chasm in one or even a few days. After a day of work, I often find myself physically and mentally drained, with no motivation to push hard on a Big Endeavour. The insight for me, though, is that even within the confines of my energy, motivation, and opportunities, there is usually some small step I can take to step closer to Eden. Perhaps it’s simply that I am clean and relaxed in paradise and so a shower should be the next step on my docket. Or perhaps I’m socially fulfilled and so I should call a friend to play video games with.

Indeed, I expect I will never bridge the gap between this world and my ideal, but it pleases me to try. To putter in my proverbial enclosure, laying bricks until I can invite those I care about in and declare, to echo Mr. Wonka, “if you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it”.

So, what do you think, friend? Am I late to the party in discovering this obvious truth, that of course taking steps towards an ideal life is tautologically equivalent to self-improvement? Or is there some nugget of insight in realizing that these small steps and sometimes arbitrary goals we set up for ourselves are in fact our ways of bringing the ideal into the world?

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