Lightposts for Living: The Art of Choosing a Joyful Life

Lightposts for Living: The Art of Choosing a Joyful Life

By Thomas Kinkade
New York: Warner Books, 1999. Hardback, xii + 238 pages.

In The Varieties of Religious ExperienceWilliam James speaks of the distinction between the "once-born" and the "twiceborn." The "twice-born" are those who require a dramatic spiritual rebirth in order to transform their suffering and be fully alive as their essential Self. The "onceborn" are those perpetually "up" people who seem to have come into this life with a talent for living and whom you would therefore never run into in the Self- Help section of a book store.

I read Thomas Kinkade's Lightposts for Living with some reluctance, because it is very plainly a Self-Help book, and as a still-waiting-to-be-twice-born person, the positive, cheery approach of the once-born can actually be quite irritating. Be that as it may, Kinkade is admirably committed to creating a world of beauty, joy, harmony, and healing both on canvas and in reality.

Kinkade's paintings- -liberally inserted throughout the book--are exclusively of idyllic, pastoral scenes: cobblestone country roads and firelit cottages pervaded by a dreamlike mist and luminosity. His intent ion, he states, is to make art that serves, inspiring viewers with the hope that life can truly be as peaceful and comforting as the scenes he paints. The book presents a series of life lessons analogous to the painting process, such as finding a point of focus, creating balance, and bringing forth beauty.

But something was nagging at me when viewing his paintings and reading his words: I missed the darkness. His paintings strive to be filled with light--daylight, sunlight, Divine Light--and yet without the presence of the shadow side of life, I, a messy human, feel somehow cut off from his painted paradise. I can far more easily imagine his creations inhabited by elves and leprechauns than by me or anyone I know.

Jack Kornfield once jokingly referred to the American community of Buddhist meditators as "the Upper Middle Path." Kinkade, too, speaks primarily to those who have the leisure and money to purchase and read a hardcover book on the subject of increasing one's joy. For example, he writes; "I even had a small second story deck reinforced and hired a crane to drop a hot tub into place." Such prescriptions for joy leave out many people.

All that aside, I would also like to be clear that within the pages of Lightposts for Living is an abundance of peaceful, pretty paintings, as well as useful- -even powerful--ideas, summarized in the afterword:

"Each of us, in our own unique way, is called to let our light shine. The unique, one-of-a-kind canvas of our existence is meant to be an inspiration to others-a true joy to behold and a heaven-sent blessing to those we meet and to the world around us."


January/February 2001