As we’ve discussed before, John Adams was one of those people whose racing mind gave them little rest. He was always doing, doing, doing and more dangerously, always thinking, thinking, thinking. His friends saw the pain this caused him and he saw it himself. As he said many times, all he wanted was “tranquility of mind”—stillness—but it was elusive.
Only later in life, after the loss of his wife and the end of his career, was he able to slow down a little. Only in the process of reading and re-reading some of the classic texts of ancient Rome did Adams finally begin to achieve the mental breakthroughs he had craved for so long. And when he did, things began to change.
In 1819, in the morning after a horrific March storm, Adams was hit with an epiphany. Despite the fact that the storm had ruined his farm’s harvest, all he could see was beauty. He could see it in the utterly ordinary and plain winter landscape:
The icicles on every sprig glowed in all the luster of diamonds. Every tree was a chandelier of cut glass. I have seen a Queen of France with eighteen millions of livres of diamonds upon her person and I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to all the glitter of her jewels did not make an impression on me equal to that presented by every shrub. The whole world was glittering with precious stones.
Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s reminiscent of Marcus Aurelius writing so vividly of the ordinary way that “baking bread splits in places and those cracks, while not intended in the baker’s art, catch our eye and serve to stir our appetite,” or the “charm and allure” of nature’s process, the “stalks of ripe grain bending low, the frowning brow of the lion, the foam dripping from the boar’s mouth.”
There’s no anguish, despair, or discontent present in the marvelling mind. There’s complete tranquility and stillness—the height of brilliance. It’s always in our reach. Beauty surrounds us. The flame dancing atop the candle’s wick. The arm hairs standing up when it’s a little colder than usual. The brake lights moving in perfect unison when green turns to yellow. The leaves floating, swirling, and bouncing off the sidewalk on a crisp fall morning. The rising sun’s light piercing through your curtains and waking you up before the alarm was supposed to. The beautiful and the simple, the extraordinary and the mundane—never assume that you comprehend. Instead, marvel. Delight.
In this moment, nothing is better. Nothing is prettier. And life is good.