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Monk in the World Guest Post: Karen Kinney

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Karen Kinney’s reflection Joy in “What Is” adapted from her book Doorways to Transformation: Everyday Wisdom for the Creative Soul.

“Whatever arises, love that.” —Matt Kahn

My husband and I climb the ancient stone steps of the 17th-century church, reaching the balcony that overlooks the orchestra and choir below. I am excited because we are coming to hear the complete rendition of Handel’s Messiah, and it has been decades since I listened to the entire work. And, it will be my first time hearing it performed in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a town we have recently adopted as our home.

But upon reaching the balcony seating area, to my disappointment, there are only a few black folding chairs, some bleacher-style benches with no backs, and absolutely no view of the orchestra and choir below. We are pointed to the bleacher seating, and as we sit down on the cold metal bench, all we can see are people’s bodies in front of us. No one can glimpse the actual concert, except for a few people in the very first row of black folding chairs who attempt to peer through the wooden slats of the balcony railing. There is a blurry video projection of the orchestra and the singers on the wall to our immediate left. But not only is it out of focus, to watch it, we have to turn our heads at a 90-degree angle while our bodies remain facing forward.

At the prospect of sitting like this for three hours, I begin grumbling to my husband about the balcony seats being false advertising. And how could they sell “seating” in a place where we are unable to view the concert we’ve just paid for? However, if there is one thing I’ve learned from living in another country, it’s that you either roll with things or quite quickly die of frustration. Standards are different, as are expectations.

So, after grumbling for another ten minutes, I finally let myself listen to the beautiful music the orchestra has begun playing. I note the reactions of others in the same seating predicament as us, most of whom seem to be accepting the situation for what it is. Some sit with their eyes closed and focus on listening instead of straining to see something out of sight. Others choose to look at the blurry video projection, craning their necks at an odd angle, settling for at least a fuzzy glimpse of the action below.

As the music progresses, one anointed chorus after the next, I realize I can either continue to be grumpy and miss out on Handel’s work of art, or I can let the music overtake me and relish in the amazing acoustics of this ancient church. Handel was a genius, after all. And as each chorus is sung, I am reminded again of the extreme beauty of this musical masterpiece. The challenge before me is the age-old struggle of what is and what is not, and I will myself to focus on what is.

Slowly, I begin to absorb the notes into every fiber of my being. I let myself remember my years in high school choir, performing this piece with the school orchestra every December for an auditorium full of people. Right before the “Hallelujah” chorus rolls around, I stand up in anticipation and feel moved as others around me stand as well. Handel’s music fills the cavernous space of the church, and thunderous applause echoes in appreciation.

My experience of the concert could so easily have gone a different way. But the music had won, overcoming and subduing my inner struggle; it had captured my spirit and raised it to a higher plane.

Calling myself back to “now” in each moment and taking note of all the good that surrounds me is a powerful practice that assists me in finding joy—especially when circumstances fall short of my expectations. Sometimes, the simplest choices of where to point our focus are the hardest. But as we allow ourselves to marinate with appreciation in the what is of our days, we have the power to alter every moment of our present.


Where have you been focusing your attention of late?

In what ways can you shift your focus from the tyranny of “what is not” to the gift of “what is”?

Karen Kinney is the author of two books, a visual artist, freelance writer, and teacher living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She has pursued a multifaceted art career, exhibiting work nationally and internationally, and her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications. Learn more at

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