The Well of Being: An Extraordinary Children’s Book for Grownups about the Art of Living with Openhearted Immediacy
By Maria Popova
“This is the greatest damn thing about the universe,” Henry Miller wrote in his magnificent meditation on the meaning of existence, “that we can know so much, recognize so much, dissect, do everything, and we can’t grasp it.” Paradoxically enough, the fragment of the universe we seem least equipped to grasp is the truth of who we ourselves are. Who are we, really, when we silence the ego’s shrill commands about who we should be, and simply listen to the song of life as it sings itself through us?
That’s what French-born, Baltimore-based artist Jean-Pierre Weill explores in The Well of Being (public library) — an extraordinary “children’s book for adults,” three years in the making, that peers into the depths of the human experience and the meaning of our existence, tracing how the stories we tell ourselves to construct our personae obscure the truth of our personhood, and how we can untell them in order to just be.
Succumbing neither to religiosity nor to scientism, neither to myth nor to materialism, Weill dances across the Big Bang, the teachings of the 18th-century Italian philosopher and mystic Ramchal, evolution, 9/11, and life’s most poetic and philosophical dimensions. He tells the lyrical story of a man — an androgynous being who “represents Everyman and also Everywoman,” as Weill explains in the endnotes — moving from the origin of the universe to the perplexities of growing up to the mystery of being alive. At the center of it is the unity of life and the connectedness of the universe, “our encounter with One, well-being.”
What emerges from Weill’s ethereal watercolors and enchanting words is a secular scripture, at once grounding and elevating — a gentle prod to awaken from the trance of our daily circumstances and live with openhearted immediacy, a message partway between Seneca’s exhortation to stop living in expectancy and Mary Oliver’s invitation to begin belonging to this world.
I see that you’re reading.
As the train is late let me take you on an excursion to the place we long for.
I ask of you one thing: bring attention to your thoughts, those that take you from this book, quiet them… and value this listening as if it were a mysterious gift yours for the taking.
Let us string a bead of thought, an article of faith.
Our existence is not an accident but a mystery… We can entrust ourselves to this mystery, for we are part of it. Indeed we are it.
I don’t say there isn’t much work to do, for there is.
And some tracks lead to excruciating darkness, where a person can tumble from the sky on a clear September morning.
Yet is the world not whole? Is it not beautiful?
For now, let’s consider well-being a choice, something you can try on and wear. When we put on the hat and coat of well-being we incline towards joy without special occasion.
At the heart of the lyrical story is the somewhat discomfiting yet necessary reminder that although our self-delusions are an adaptive crutch and the masks we wear are a protective survival mechanism, unless we learn to revise our inner storytelling and let ourselves be seen, we will continue to keep ourselves small with the stories we tell ourselves.
We organize our circumstances into stories, stories we pick up along the way and carry with us.
Stories that declare, I’m lacking.
Why me? stories.
I’m alone, stories.
What will I amount to? stories.
Stories about who we should be.
Or think we are.
They are interior maps whose familiar roads we travel. Over and over. Yet when we apprehend these maps, these stories, these patterns … we awaken and rise, as it were, to a new perspective, to new possibilities.
Complement the immeasurably wonderful The Well of Being with Seth Godin’s very different and yet similar-in-spirit “children’s book for grownups” about creative courage and living with vulnerability, then revisit Dostoyevsky’s existential epiphany and drink from Anne Lamott’s well of being with her soul-stretching inquiry into how we find meaning in a crazy world.
Published February 26, 2015