gaudium essendi–joy of existing

walking-stick-and-birch-2The 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 Venus, 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.

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.

To mindfully tag—not dissect—a sublime experience is not only to remember it, but in some way to surround it with your flesh—to call it back to you through your cells. Just as naming a fear clears a way for at least its partial management, so, naming a sublime emotion, a vertical moment, 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 melancholy, inchoate sadness—all of us need more emotionally sublime moments…moments that is, of gaudium essendi, “the joy of existing.”

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

Philosopher/playwright Gabriel Marcel, went so far as to call gaudium essendi a primordial fact. Raising “the joy of existing” as a potential existential proof of the Divine. I too think it’s possible to notice, even in that wake of emotional twilight following the prow of joy, that such an experience points to something beyond us, a something I name God.

And yet life comes, in its way, swinging its nooses. For sometimes, what Virgil called, lacrimae rerum, that is, the tears in things, comes to block gaudium essendi. This is spirit-soul deprivation.

I propose then, against this potential loss, and toward the health of our souls, that we employ the Latin phrase gaudium essendi. (It seems to me that Latin somehow lends itself to this particular process.) When next the time comes, when next the “relish of life” comes: name and remember…so to keep the path open for many returns.


  1. Naming is part of gratitude, isn’t it, of being present? It’s often why I take the trouble to write–it forces naming beyond the too-familiar “awesome” or “awful”, and in my experience helps expand me to allow me to experience and hold more within my consciousness. Keep naming things; you do it so poetically. 🙂

  2. Steve – love this post. I have been newly learning to embrace that very thing – and to acknowledge what moments allow for it. Thank you for the reflection.

  3. Beautiful, Steve – and the teleological, cosmological, moral and other arguments for divine existence really do need some help!

  4. Mindfully word tagging the sublime emotion wraps it with flesh. A wonderful word expression for incarnation. Thanks for gaudium essendi.

  5. How perfect to read this after visiting Walden Pond today. Funny, because I was thinking about what his existence there was like, what I would think of such an experience. As the strong, brisk wind blew his spirit and words around my son and I, I decided I would like it very much. The joy of a lack of deadlines or projects or phones and emails. As long as the stupid teenagers there only to complete some extra credit did not stand on my foundation and disturb my communion with nature as they did today!

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