The Secret of Life …

It’s been a while since we last posted anything on the blog. I’ve spent most of the last year doing a weekly mindfulness video-cast on the Grampian Mindfulness Collective page, and that’s given me plenty of opportunity to think of life from a mindfulness perspective, even if I’ve not had the chance to share some of those thoughts here. So, now that we’ve finished the GMC video-casts, it’s good to get back to blogging.

So, first of all, let me say that I have not discovered the secret of life; well … maybe I have, but it’s not as difficult as it’s sometimes made out to be. In the West, we tend to have an expectation that the revelation of the Secret of Life will be a really big thing – fanfares, flashing lights, celestial choirs and such like. Maybe it’s a result of the, largely, Christian heritage in the West; all the great Biblical events were accompanied by burning bushes, visits by herald Angels or mysterious visions in the sky, and so forth, leading us to conclude that all the really important stuff in life will be of a similar ilk.

But, what if the secret of life is just a small thing, just an ordinary everyday sort of thing; right there in front of us. In my experience, when I’ve spoken to people about this in the past, many folks go into a sort of denial; “If it was that easy, everybody would be doing it, wouldn’t they?” It’s almost like saying that if the secret of life is right there in front of me; the secret of contentment, the secret of happiness, freedom from worry, if it’s right there, why don’t I feel happy, content and worry free. There must be more to it than that! Mustn’t there?

I’m reminded of a book by Richard Bach. It’s called “Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant Messiah”, and, personally, I think it’s a great book. I remember reading it in one sitting, sitting in the sunshine one afternoon in the park, and feeling so alive when I finished it. Very briefly, it is the story of Donald Shimoda, a ‘reluctant Messiah’ who flies an old biplane around the hay fields of Indiana, USA; the story opens with a brief history of Shimoda’s experience and, for literary effect, it is written in a style similar to the language of the traditional King James Version of the Bible. Now, I don’t think Richard Bach meant any disrespect to people of Christian faith in doing this, and I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to people of any faith in recounting the story, but I think it’s a good story. What if the answer is right there, all the time?

“The Master answered and said, ‘Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.” The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!” But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies!! See the Messiah, come to save us all!” And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.” But they cried the more, “Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a savior’ … ‘For a moment the multitude was stricken dumb with astonishment. And he said unto them, “If a man told God that he wanted most of all to help the suffering world, no matter the price to himself, and God answered and told him what he must do, should the man do as he is told?” “Of course, Master!” cried the many. “It should be pleasure for him to suffer the tortures of hell itself, should God ask for it!” “No matter what those tortures, or how difficult the task?” “Honor to be hanged, glory to be nailed to a tree and burned, if so be that God has asked,” said they. “And what would you do,” the Master said unto the multitude, “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?” And the multitude was silent, not a voice, not a sound was heard upon the hillsides, across the valleys where they stood.”

What would you do if God (however you think of that idea, whatever name you use to identify with it) commanded you to be happy, as long as you live? (Come to think of it, what sort of God, nature, Dharma, Is would want anything different for you?) How do you go about being happy, as long as you live? What does it mean? How do you actually let go of clinging and allow the current to take you along? It’s true; sometimes the answer is right in front of us, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do. How do we realise the secret of life. In thinking about this, I was reminded of a song (I’m telling you, these things are lying about, right in front of our noses) by James Taylor. Appropriately enough, it’s called “Secret O’ Life”. It begins, “The secret of life / is enjoying the passage of time. / Any fool can do it, / there ain’t nothing to it.”

And there it is; no fanfares, no flashing lights, no celestial choirs. The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time! Sometimes we just get too “wise”, too “clever” for our own good – complex things like life must have complex solutions. As I keep saying: NOT SO! If we can manage to approach these situations and problems with a sense of compassion, with a sense of love, then all we require is the most straightforward of solutions. Again, “Secret O’ Life” has something to say on that too. “The secret of love / is in opening up your heart. / It’s okay to feel afraid, / but don’t let that stand in your way.” By opening up our heart to accepting (as best we can) what we are experiencing right now, in an open and non-judgemental manner, we are infinitely more likely to enjoy the passage of time. And, if that’s not the secret of life, tell me what is.

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