By Bread Alone

Analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour springs and germinates no more.” ~ Henri Frederic Amiel

Life is a mix of predictable cycles punctuated on occasion by the unexpected. The most obvious rhythms we experience are those caused by the machinations of the universe. Our planet turns on its axis, its revolutions give us a 24 hour day. Our orbital path around the sun provides us with a year, which is roughly 365.24 days. And the inclination of the earth on its axis – despite the occasional shift due to large earthquakes and the like – bring a regular pulsation of seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn.

Life is predictable on the whole, yet full of surprises. It is for this reason that the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” For example, fashion week in Paris saw unseasonable warm temperatures this year, rendering the autumn wardrobes packed by many of the attendees unwearable. On a less serious note, in 1971 a Soviet oil drilling rig accidentally punched a hole in a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Poisonous gas began leaking from the hole so the Soviets, in a effort to divert a larger problem, set the hole aflame. The hole has been burning ever since.

To be effective in living you must be well-prepared for the predictable and adroit in handling the unexpected. If you become prejudiced against surprise, where your first flush of feeling in relation to unforeseen events is “I hate surprises,” then you will likely confuse a blessing for a curse. If, on the other hand, you develop the ability to handle everything that happens within your scope of responsibility with equanimity and poise, then you can turn even the most shocking and unfortunate surprises into stepping stones for victory.

This sounds good, but how is it done? For starters, you have to make room in your consciousness for the unexpected to happen. Rather than steeling yourself against the capriciousness of life by trying to make everything routine through schedules, habits and inflexible opinions, keep it light by cultivating a lust for the adventure of life. Moreover, be spontaneous on occasion. Spontaneity – the exhibiting of actions, impulses, or behavior that are stimulated by internal processes – is your opportunity to infuse life with the creative impulses that come to focus in you.

One of my favorite poems on spontaneity speaks of a time not too long ago, where wells ran dry in the autumn. This was a predictable side-effect of the rhythmic pulsations of of the seasons, yet the children exercised their spontaneity in relation to an event that could have disheartened an otherwise happy person because of the inconvenience.

Going for Water by Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

Enjoy this lovely autumn day!

11 thoughts on “By Bread Alone

  1. That’s why it’s so important to accept that human society is not linear but emergent and if we really accept that and try to find ways to enhance our humanity in every way then not only will we be prepared for the eventualities we expect and the unexpected emergencies, we will also be able to enjoy and benefit from the unexpected but wonderful things that also happen all the time.


  2. Colin

    This really seems like a balanced approach to life. We all know both the people that lack spontaneity, and the people that lack grounded patterns, and while these people might be successfully living life, they probably have some unrealized potential.
    Concerning spontaneity, if you approach each new situation as a situation where you can learn something new or do something you have never done before, life will never be boring. It can accelerate progress, as well. I will remember this post the next time I find myself being curmudgeonly!


  3. Kolya

    It’s so important to free ourselves and let joy be known, whether there’s water or drought. Circumstances are what they are, and we can either be miserable or joyous – the choice is ours.


  4. David R

    If we doubt our ability to make creative use of life’s oportunities, we will tend to try to force everything into predictable forms and routines. When things inevitably break through those arbitrary borders, of course there is anguish, and the concern to bottle things up is redoubled typically. And yet, most of life’s great blessings involve at least significant elements of spontenaiety. Even within a familiar context there can and should be freshness, newness, surprise and exploration. The alternative is stagnation and death. “Oh, life goes on, even after the thrill of living is gone…” How repulsive! Why not give life the room to blossom in unexpected ways?


  5. Kimberly

    I love your choice of poems.One of the joys in life is surprise, I guess when it does happen it had to get through the constriction of habit and routine. We probably make little room for it to occur. Thanks for your thoughts.


  6. Ricardo B.

    Well put. Flexibility – to have a range of appropriate adaptive responses in meeting external forces – is a very helpful trait to have, especially in today’s world where things are changing quickly. I feel if we can derive our security from our own internal resources rather than forcing predictability onto our world in an effort to create stability, we will be better off when the unexpected occurs. The balance point lies in relation to where our sense of identity is centered. The further out our identity, the more it is subject to the external, ever-changing patterns of evolution; that makes it tricky to keep balanced.
    My dad once told me to put value on my education, for that’s one thing that can’t be taken away. I believe the spirit of his advice was to rely more on your inner resources, for they are not beholden to the shifting tides of life. You cannot predict all that is going to happen, and you will certainly drive yourself mad in an effort to do so. I think many an optimist has turned nihilist as a result, and we definitely do not need more spewing of bitterness in the world today.
    Oh, and Autumn rocks!


  7. Lady Leo

    Beautiful poem. I appreciated your preamble. Spontaneity can be delightful or as your initial qutote suggested be ground into dust by over analysis. Greeting life with equanimity and dignity will serve all situations well. It means we are prepared when the moment delights us or throws us a curve. Loved this post.


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