I was once asked by a magazine to do a ‘Ten things life has taught me’ piece.
It was a while ago and there’ll be nothing here that is new to you or your experience. So, forgive me, if they feel a bit musty, like some battered book in the second-hand shop.
But for a beginner like me, as I re-read my answers, (which took some courage) they all seem strangely fresh:
1) Life is difficult. Sometimes things go well for me, but most days bring problems, large or small. And always will. I am learning to allow and accept difficulty as part of life, like day and night. ‘Hello, difficulty – and what are you telling me about myself and the world?’ What particular light shines through these cracks? Why does this problem so trouble me? I like the story of St Francis meeting a slug. ‘Ah, Brother Slug,’ he said. ‘What message to you bring for me today?’ Animate and inanimate are all messengers. And this too shall pass.
2) Everyone’s an explorer, but starting from a different place. Columbus set off in search of Asia, but failed – he only found America…and that’s OK. And this is the thing about exploring; you don’t know what you’ll find. Our best laid plans are best forgotten. Authentic explorers seek the truth of this moment, and treasure whatever they find; but know also that the adventure is never over. We don’t get there – we are there.
3) How you travel is where you arrive. Some people are in a mad rush for ‘answers’, thinking there must be something out there which solves everything. They can be quite self-punishing, constantly dissatisfied. The wise, however, attend only to the journey, looking ever more deeply into their daily experience. A journey of such awareness is a constant arrival… and rather pleasant for those around, as well.
4) Make a friend of impermanence. Much unhappiness is caused by my insistence that certain things must last forever; it helps me feel secure and in control. But only impermanence is permanent, so we learn (painfully, joyfully) how to let go gracefully…and find that life goes on, and life gives again.
5) The road-side dandelion is under-appreciated. Sometimes we are so busy with our plans or responsibilities that we notice nothing else, which is a shame. We are kidnapped and blindfolded by our particular obsessions. I don’t always succeed but I try and remove my blinkers daily; looking at the sky on my morning run helps. But other ways are available. As the poem says, ‘What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’
6) Abandon all labels – political, religious, social…because while labels can be handy short-hand, they are profoundly stupid, making both the label-giver and the labelled less human. When we label ourselves, we demolish our glory; when we label someone, we devalue them and ourselves – oh, and feel more justified in hurting them. As someone observed, ‘Nationalism: it starts with a folk dance and ends with barbed wire.’ And religious culture can do this too, hardening into ‘Them and Us’. Truth is too big, ungainly and wild for labels.
7) Stay present. Whenever possible, I bring my consciousness into the now, the only healthy place to live from. As I put it in one of my books, ‘Yesterday is stale bread, tomorrow is no bread, today is fresh bread.’ Those who live in the moment are wonderfully present to people and circumstances; those who live in the past or the future are in a dream, emotionally absent and unavailable. Warning: Living presently does mean giving up control.
8) My thoughts make me mad. There’s a difference between having a thought, and a thought having us. Our monkey-minds have thoughts all the time, but sometimes we are kidnapped by one, and poisoned by its convincing illusion. When we are mindful, we notice our thoughts/opinions/feelings/reactions, but do not identify with them and bow down in absurd worship. Instead, we speak with them and then offer the Swedish greeting: ‘Thank you for coming, thank you for going.’
9) The path is kind and can be trusted. When we don’t trust the path of life, we become negative and a cul-de-sac of rage or complaint. I’ve discovered trust late, and travel the better for it, though fragile at times. When I lose trust, I become variously mad and dangerous to myself and others. And strangely, trust (or acceptance, another word for trust) creates the best change. Where there is trust, creation conspires to help you and shift occurs.
10) Remember the wave. If a wave is to rise high, another wave will need to dip, and vice versa. So there are no celebrity waves; for each individual wave is a communal activity. And, of course, in the calm they are all one and all made of the same wet.
Your own ten will be much better than mine, obviously..