Mind over matter
“The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” —John Milton
I have several primary sentences etched into my mind that pop to the fore whenever I feel rattled or defeated or down in the dumps. Milton’s sentence makes my top three. It reminds me of a truth I have learned from experience that personal contentment is not determined by circumstances, but by the way we think about and react to them.
It was a little off-putting the first time I read Milton’s inspirational sentence from “Paradise Lost” in context and learned that the speaker was Satan himself preaching a sermon to his fellow fallen angel Beëlzebub. Satan, also called Lucifer or “the lost Archangel” by Milton, had been cast out of heaven for leading a rebellion and condemned to eternal damnation in hell, from which there would be no exit. The bombastic Satan, ever the manipulator, sought to convince Beëlzebub that, if they just apply their minds to it, they can even take over “this region, this soil, this clime” and rule from Pandemonium, hell’s capital. “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” he reasoned.
John Milton’s life story makes the case for mind trumping matter. John and Mary’s only son, John, died at age 1. Mary died three days after giving birth to Deborah. Milton’s second wife, Katherine, died three months after giving birth to a daughter, who also died.
In addition to many bereavements, John Milton was totally blind for the last 22 years of his life. A writer unable to write, he dictated all 10,000 lines of “Paradise Lost” to secretaries.
Come what may in 2021, strong sentences that we’ve programmed into the gray matter between our ears can carry us through.