gaudium essendi

The day I walked into the woods above Lake Chickacoo, Thoreau under one arm and a canvass chair under the other, with an entire day lounging before me like Lauren Bacall, was the day I again found the sweetness of being. There among the High Bush cranberries (viburnum trilobum) and old stands of birch (betula) I found bottom. And under the spell of a Spring sky I knew that I knew more than I could tell.

walking stick and birch 2 On some level we will always be without words for such experiences, perhaps even struck dumb. What, after all, can you say about the ineffable? But to be struck dumb is also to be at risk of forgetting-by-not-naming. And here, forgetting is a small act of infidelity towards life.

So to "mindfully tag" a meaningful experience is not only to remember it, but in some way to surround it with your flesh–to recall it through your cells. Just as naming a fear clears a way for at least its partial management, so, naming a sublime emotion opens a pathway for its return. And wouldn’t it be glorious if we kept that path clear of debris? God knows–even though these are transient slices of time and therefore underscored by incipient melancholy–how all of us need far more emotionally sublime moments…moments that is, of gaudium essendi, "the joy of existing."

And we’ve all experienced gaudium essendi…that "joy of existing" that comes in the ripple of time when you notice yourself catching of your breath at the smile of an infant. That gaudium essendi you feel in the warm shiver that spreads through your nervous system while listening to a particularly fine melody progression.

Philosopher/playwright Gabriel Marcel, (I’m indebted to John Toren for this reference) went so far as to call gaudium essendi a primordial fact. Raising "the joy of existing" as potentially an existential proof of the Divine. And I think it’s also possible then to notice that even that wake of emotional twilight following the prow of joy, points to God. Because it’s part of the experience. That we sometimes use that inchoate sadness to (unconsciously) block gaudium essendi is of course our loss on many levels.

It’s against this potential loss, and toward the health of our souls, that we can employ the Latin gaudium essendi. (It seems to me that Latin somehow lends itself to this particular process.) When next the time comes, name and remember…so to keep the path open for many returns.


  1. Thank you so much for the article. I discovered it about a year ago, but keep coming back to it. So lovely. Any suggestions as to where I can find more material about this?

  2. Thank you so much for writing Emily. Very happy that this post resonated for you. (I actually edited it slightly and added a new ending about a year ago.) The joy of existing or the joy of being is something that of course goes back to antiquity. The old desert mystics and fathers refer to it, as do the ancient philosophers. But your research can start anywhere, and perhaps, primarily within yourself. Joy to you.

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