Recently I was listening to some old time music and found one particular song stuck in my head: A.P. Carter's Keep on the Sunny Side. As this song obsessively played again and again in my mind, I began to wonder what exactly "keep on the sunny side" means. What follows is a reflection on the song and our practice.
The song begins with a statement about the nature of our lives:
There's a dark and a troubled side of life
There's a bright and a sunny side too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view
which is followed by the chorus:
Keep on the sunny side always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day it will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life
At first it seems that the song is telling us to always be cheerful, even in the face of the "dark and troubled side of life." This view certainly resonates with a strong trend in our culture to prefer the bright, sunny and even perky.
As a result of this tendency to get caught in the idealization of the bright side, when the dark side of life visits us we often view it as something wrong, something that has to be fixed in some way so that the dark will go away. Yet when we look objectively at our own lives and the lives of others, what do we find? Just as the first two lines say, there's a dark side and a bright side. We really aren't able to have just one side of life even though we frequently wish life were other than the way that it is.
The last four lines of the song point to another possibility: not separating ourselves from life but living with faith and trust.
Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior always
To keep us every one in His care
Another way of talking about this is in terms of presence. When we're totally present for an experience, it is just what it is in this moment. It's not good or bad, not dark or sunny. It's just what is. It is only as we anticipate an experience or look back upon it that we see it as dark or sunny.
In doing this practice, we learn how to be present for our lives. We begin with the simplest things: meeting sensations of breathing with mindfulness and acceptance while also recognizing when we're not being present for them. In a step-by-step way, we go on to meet other aspects of our experience such as painful and pleasant sensations in the body, pleasant and disturbing emotions and obsessive thoughts with mindfulness and love.
As we do this, we learn that we can be present for our lives. We're learning to let go into our lives, or to surrender to Life. We're learning to trust Life, to not see ourselves as separate from it. We are, in other words, learning to "keep on the sunny side" where faith and trust reside.
Have you noticed this in your own life?