One of my heroes is Don Quixote de la Mancha. I find him so appealing – his strength of character, his chivalry, but most of all his refusal to see the ugliness in the world. He uttered many wise sayings, but one of my favorites is:
Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be. ~Don Quixote
In his travels, Don Quixote saw the world as it should be. He saw, not a haggard scullery maid, but a beautiful lady, his Dulcinea. By seeing her this way, he transformed her into that lady. He saw, not a common wash basin, but a golden helmet. In describing it, everyone around him could glimpse the beauty just for a moment.
I sometimes think that if I can go through the world, seeing life as it should be, as it could be, I will find an indescribable joy. I will be able to help transform the world from the way it is to the way it could be. If I keep my eyes, mind and heart open to grace, I can create an energy that not only sees beauty, but that creates beauty, that transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary. This is a tremendous power that we each have, but we have to be willing to take a risk.
It takes me a lot of practice to be able to use the imagination of my heart to see the world as being filled with grace and blessing. Sometimes, I look at city streets littered with trash and I see despair and neglect and shame. I have to take a cue from Don Quixote and look deeper than that. I have to see the house that is kept neat and tidy. I have to see the neighbors out cleaning up the streets. I have to see the beauty of the city as it should be, and then spread this vision.
I have a hard time, sometimes, seeing people through Don Quixote’s eyes. I tend to judge people by the way they treat me. If someone is being harsh or unhelpful or unkind, my natural reaction would be avoidance and distance. Instead, if I can see the person in front of me the way Don Quixote saw Sancho and Dulcinea, I can transform my view of him or her. I can begin to see the person’s beauty. My favorite way to strengthen this ability in myself is to practice in the checkout line at the grocery store. This is where people are often at their worst. Instead of responding negatively to the rudeness of the person in line behind me, I work to see that person as friendly and wonderful, and treat him accordingly. When I reach the cashier, I try to see the real person standing there and treat her with dignity. If I leave the cashier feeling happier than she was before she met me, I count the trip as a success.
Hardest of all, perhaps, is to see my own life, my own self, as it should be. Rising above my own inadequacies and insecurities to see myself as beautiful and my life as worthwhile takes work. It is important that I use Don Quixote’s eyes on myself, or I will never grow and transform into the person I could be, into my best self.
Following in the footsteps of Don Quixote can be foolish and risky. Seeing the world as it could be takes a lot of energy. Transforming the world into that vision takes even more. But to see the world only as it is would be heartbreaking. “Madness,” Don Quixote calls it. To live in a world full of grace and beauty is worth the risk. Seeing the world this way raises us above the madness. Using our vision to see the world as it should be unleashes our power to transform it into that world.