If you look up the word “subtle” in the dictionary, you will find a word that’s ill-defined, indistinct, faint and mysterious. That’s what it is. It’s something elusive. It’s not obvious. Subtle insights penetrate depths of being.
If something is hard to understand, it’s probably subtle. Feeling self-aware is subtle. Feeling spiritual is subtle. Such things are subtle because no one is quite sure how to explain them.
Feeling self-aware of subtle things in your surroundings with your senses can blow your mind (in a good way)!
When you’re self-aware, you’re never bored. You’re conscious of your feelings and desires but you’re not manipulated by them. You can see where your thoughts and emotions are trying to take you but you’re not taken.
You’re free to cultivate peace of mind like a philosopher gardener discarding negative emotions like weeds and watering positive emotions like flowers. You’re free to listen to “A Whiter Shade of Pale” repeatedly without need to analyze or dissect.
Feeling love is enough. The subtle enjoyment of yourself as you: living, breathing, thinking, feeling, loving and attending to this miraculous world with your senses is enough.
And so we begin. Cue music: “Flying.”
Like flightless birds (possibly peacocks or more probably, turkeys) we fly on the ground self-aware of surroundings.
The Cambridge dictionary defines subtle as: “not loud, bright, noticeable or obvious.” When you achieve something in a quiet way without attracting attention, you are subtle. Something subtle is “small but important” (like you and your enjoyment).
Something subtle is “delicate in meaning or intent” and “difficult to analyze or describe.”
Subtle goes with words like “nebulous” which means muddled and ambiguous, “complex,” which is something with many interconnected parts and “rarefied,” which is something high, lofty and exalted (source).
How do you describe a spiritual experience that you have standing in stillness with a ptarmigan? It’s subtle. Suddenly you’re aware of a world that wasn’t there before.
Perceiving something subtle takes sensitivity and a penetrating intellect. Subtle things are like the silent ‘b’ in the word “sub” which is hidden in the word subtle and also hides beneath surfaces.
A subtle liar is cunning. He’ll advertise big enjoyment then let you down when expectations aren’t met (they never are). People fall for it because they picture the ultimate enjoyment as being rich like a shark or dragon billionaire on TV but it’s a subtle trick (called envy).
We might not like feeling envious, afraid, irritated, angry, sad, frustrated, impatient etc., but “What are you gonna do?“
There’s nothing you can do except maybe become self-aware. But how do you do that?
Think catch and release fishing.
You cast your line and wait. When you catch a fish, you look at it, then let it go. So too with an emotion or thought. You catch one, look at it, then let it go (or act on it – if it means surviving).
People love to imagine winning the lottery. They equate happiness with Las Vegas decadence, which is fine, if you want your enjoyment shallow. If you’d like something deeper, something profound, like a personal “Revolution” for a rock and roll philosopher, well then: go subtle.
Subtle enjoyment will give you chills (in a good way)!
Imagine hearing the song “Lemon Tree” in a store. It makes you think of your underwear which has a lemon pattern. Your eyes fall on a picture of a lemonade stand and you smell lemon-fresh Lysol in the air.
Just as you’re thinking, “That’s funny,” someone walks up to you and offers a cookie sample. What kind? Lemon (of course).
What are the chances? It’s like the world is trying to tell you something (about lemons?). It’s subtle. And you smile. You enjoy a thrill and you wonder, “Is it me?” (for more on this phenomenon see: And then…).
As journalist Brian Bethune observed, “Humans have an innate tendency to ascribe random and natural events to conscious agents and a hunger to belong to something larger than ourselves – both militant atheists and fervent believers can agree on this” (Maclean’s, Ap. 2015, p. 41).
If you want to experience subtle enjoyment, look at the world with soft eyes.
Lisa Miller, clinical psychologist at Columbia University Teachers College, says that a strong self-concept, religiosity, spiritual connection and, “An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever you identify with as a higher power” actually “confers a protective effect in all kinds of disorders” (Maclean’s, Ap. 2015, p. 41-42).
The trouble with self-aware subtle (spiritual) enjoyment is that it disappears in noise, aggression, decadence, bright lights and vacuous parties and these are the things people are attracted to.
Subtle enjoyment goes unnoticed because people don’t see it. They think it’s boring because they don’t know it.
To breathe, to watch the sky, to eat a lemon, to watch birds fly, such things are boring to people acclimatized to constant mental stimulation without downtime but that constant stimulation makes everything seem boring. Attention spans are waning! Bored people get depressed.
Bored people get addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol. Bored people don’t enjoy work or school very well.
Quiet activities and stillness in nature might strike a lot of people as boring, but the most profound moments of pure transcendent enjoyment can only happen when your mind is quiet and the world inside you is not quite boisterous.
When a profound feeling of subtle enjoyment hits you, you know you should be bored, but you’re not. A subtle feeling of peace and calm can hit anywhere, anytime.
So, be ready.
Something subtle is hard to see. It’s something discreet and low-key. Enjoyment is like that. It doesn’t have to be in your face. It can be subtle. Sometimes all it takes is a little Boogie-woogie.
Go! Be subtle. And then, enjoy it.