Recently I was very moved by an interview I heard on the radio with a most impressive and inspiring human being. He is Eddie Jaku, a 100 year old man who has written a book called ‘The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor’. In the prologue he writes:
“I have lived for a century and I know what it is to stare evil in the face. I have seen the very worst in mankind, the horrors of the death camps, the Nazi efforts to exterminate my life and the lives of all my people.
But I now consider myself the happiest man on Earth. Through all of my years I have learned this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful.”
I believe that happiness, or contentment, is a skill we can learn and the more we practise, the better we get at it and it becomes a habit. People like Eddie show us that it is possible, it’s not an unattainable goal, but it requires sustained effort. I agree with Eddie about the importance of kindness:
“Kindness is the greatest wealth of all. Small acts of kindness last longer than a lifetime. This lesson, that kindness and generosity and faith in your fellow man are more important than money, is the first and greatest lesson my father ever taught me. And in this way he will always be with us, and always live forever.”
Practising kindness, I am convinced, is good for us and everyone else. Most of us would like to live in a world where there is harmony and life is easier because people aren’t rude to us and don’t take advantage. We humans are very sensitive beings and it is so easy to get offended and blame others, or the weather. Even the smallest things can set us off. Sometimes I am taken aback at how much a random, unwarranted, scowl or rude comment from a stranger can hurt. The person is gone in a moment, but the feeling I am left with can last a long time if I let it. I have a choice over whether I let it fester and bring that negativity into my encounters with others, or whether I pay attention and bring some kindness to the situation. I can choose to recognise that the person is gone now and in this actual moment I am not being insulted or accused, so I don’t need to replay the scenario and remind myself of my own innocence and how horrible a person they are. I can check in with my own feelings, which maybe are not entirely proportionate to the situation, and be kind to myself, acknowledging that I am sensitive and there is nothing at all wrong with that. Maybe on this day I am feeling even more sensitive than usual, because I am worried about something or someone. Perhaps it is the anniversary of the death of a loved one, or someone I care about is in hospital. If I recognise that it is the same for everyone, we are all to a greater or lesser extent walking wounded, easily triggered, and we all need kindness and healing, then my need for victimhood diminishes. That rude stranger probably forgot about me the moment I was out of their sight, they have probably been rude to a couple of other people by now. What a grim day they must be having, what pain they must be in to lash out like that. I find it can take a while for the effect of the shock to wear off, but if I just let it be, accept it as part of the range of feelings that I will inevitably pass through during the day it will gently change into something else, like the way the colours of the rainbow change mistily, there is no sharp dividing line and yet the colours themselves are distinct.
* * * * *
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I first heard that poem a few years ago when a colleague, Jonathan Horwitz, recited it at a shamanic gathering we were both teaching at. It continues to resonate with me, because it expresses, simply and elegantly, a core belief of mine. For me, the ‘thread’ represents ‘living’ rather than merely ‘being alive’. In order to follow it I believe it helps to have a regular practice to give a rhythm to our life, something which both grounds us in the physical world and connects us to the spiritual realms, and helps us maintain our equilibrium between the two. Personally, I get that from my daily meditation. Others may find it in the ritual of walking their dog every morning, or playing guitar for half an hour after work, or wild swimming, or sitting with a cup of tea and watching the sunrise or sunset.
* * * * *
Harvest time is well past.
The fruits are gathered in.
That was a golden time of abundant splendour.
Now something else is in the air,
a different quality of light,
a thinning of the air.
Nature has given us her riches,
and now she prepares to rest,
and so must we.
The trees are shedding their leaves,
just letting go.
They trust that
at the right time
more leaves will come
and the cycle will repeat itself.
If we wish to achieve harmony with our environment,
then we need to do as the rest of nature,
let go and quieten down.
If trees didn’t let go of their leaves, they’d rot on the branches,
instead of falling to earth and providing rich humus to nourish new growth.
Think about it.
Are you holding on to things in your life which are no longer appropriate?
Maybe habits, beliefs, relationships?
Are you slowing down in preparation for the quiet time – that is, Winter?
In order to breathe in, you must first breathe out.
If you pour water into a full glass, it will simply run down the sides and be wasted.
If we don’t let go, we’re not making space for new and fresh ideas, practices, relationships, etc—, and we stop growing.
And if we don’t slow down and quieten down then we use up all our reserves.
See how Nature shows us her example, slowing down, resting, conserving and gathering her energies so that come the Spring her reserves have built up again and the Earth can burst into life , green and vibrant.