It’s often said that perspective is everything, and when it comes to navigating the incessant ups and downs of life, there’s probably no better philosophy to use as your guide. I’m also a firm believer in serendipity, as I’ve been the beneficiary of happenstance at times in my life when I’ve needed it most. This is a rather long-winded way of me saying that once again, my guardian angel was looking out for me today when one of my friends on Facebook posted the following quote: “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” I knew I had read this somewhere before, but I couldn’t recall where, so I did what everybody does—I turned to Google.
Turns out this quote comes from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost"—an epic poem that I spent 6 months studying in university. I decided to pull out my old textbook and find the context of the quotation, and that’s when I realized that the true beauty of this quotation is further enhanced by including the line before and after that which was posted on Facebook.
“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Milton’s poem, the speaker is Lucifer, or Satan, and he and his legions have just been cast from Heaven and now reside in Hell. Milton is demonstrating how resilient Lucifer is in that he is trying to adjust his psychological state to his new physical state. In effect, Lucifer is proclaiming the age-old philosophy of mind over matter. Despite finding himself relegated to Hell, Lucifer believes in the mind’s ability to transcend physical turmoil. What I love about the quote is Milton's stressing that just was we can “make a Heaven of Hell”, so too can we make “a Hell of Heaven”.
I find such solace in these words today because like many people, I tend to become more melancholy and depressed as we enter the long, cold, dark days of winter. If you’ve been following my blog over the past 4 months, you know that I have had quite a transformative year and that I am rediscovering a huge “part of me” that lay dormant for most of my adolescence and adult life. I’ve found myself riding a wave of extreme euphoria one day, to plunging to the depths of depression and apathy the next. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I’m an “all or nothing” kind of guy—I don’t do “moderation”.
So what may have simply been an innocent posting on Facebook, has resonated profoundly with me today. Great writers, philosophers, and spiritualists have been professing the liberating power of making the most of the situation you have been given and transforming whatever Hell in which you find yourself, into a place of comfort and peace. In the immortal words of Dale Carnegie: ”If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”