Enjoying the cool spring sunshine this morning, I had a moment of truth as my eye was caught by dew drops in the long grass. I was sitting in our beautiful patch of wild meadow at the bottom of the garden.
There was nothing great or overarching about this brief revelation. I did not become either omniscient or omnipotent but I did feel a deep connection with self, or at least the collection of perfectly ordinary atoms I am made of.
Thanks to a mind which could kindly be described as unquiet, I have spent many years wondering about the koan. What is nirvana and how do you get there?
The presence of fear has been the greatest barrier to achieving a quiet mind Although I suspect many other destructive emotions have contributed over the years to the tempest which has often raged inside me.
I started the morning thinking about the meaning of money, its love and its strong connection to fear.
It is not that I have lacked money over the years but the fear of lack has dominated my life. Which is odd, considering that for many years I have understood the meaninglessness of material possessions. The pointlessness of one small collection of elements from the periodic table feeling the need to control another and larger collection.
The key of course is fear. The terror evolution has saddled us with to ensure our survival and hence the continuance of our species.
The objects of our fear come in many shapes and sizes but they all seem to boil down to a fear of annihilation. Pain, hunger, cold. Those might be three of our greatest concerns.
And perhaps all the other destructive emotions which can overcome us derive from these very basic insecurities. What are jelaousy, anger and envy if not the realisation that somebody else seems to have it better than we do?
A bigger car, the better to tear around in and dominate others with our undoubted superiority. And so it goes with many other material possessions or indeed our relationships. A more attractive partner, the fitter to reproduce. More land and a bigger house, the better to keep the barbarians at the gate. Power; the power to take what we think we need and to prevent others from taking what we have got.
The initial realisation of “truth” must necessarily involve silence, isolation and letting go. Some might call that meditation and there are many forms of that practice, not all of which entail sitting on the floor like a vegetable. Although I have no doubt some find that a valid path.
But back to money and survival for a bit, if I may. There is that hallowed old trope about learning to fish and I think we all need that skill in equal measure if we are ever to create a better society.
If we had a skill from which we knew we could feed and house and clothe ourselves we may not feel fear. And given such a skill, I suspect most of us would not feel the need to amass wealth. It would become superfluous.
The problem with our society is that the ability to provide ourselves with the basics of life has always involved conflict and doing down the other. It has never been as simple as learning to fish – someone else will always claim it is his pond, his sea and will kill to maintain his “rights”.
Fear for our own survival has, since the earliest days, meant violence. Hunter gatherers kept neighboring tribes off their hunting grounds and when agriculture was invented so were property rights.
Suddenly, fear driven by the need for security meant grabbing land and excluding the neighbors and so it has continued.
In feudal Britain we still have families controlling hundreds of thousands of acres. And of course we have the more modern equivalent of the feudal landlord – the business titan controlling the means of production and distribution.
And lo! We are struck by a deadly plague and the grapes of wrath grow fat once again.
The little man can not fish. He us banged up in a government housing block and his feudal employer has laid him off.
Neither can the small shopkeepers and business people, purveyors of baubles and mostly useless trinkets, any longer fish for their supper.
And nor can the myriad of human drones on the antheap. Suddenly our rods are removed and the lakes and seas of commerce are boarded off from us, fences erected to prevent the spread of the plague.
And that is the precise point at which you recognise how fragile and foolish our society is and always has been.
The problem is that we are all so far removed from the basic necessities of life. How many of us can literally fish to feed ourselves? Or grow crops or raise animals.
Most of us these days produce sterile and ultimately useless services. Perhaps we all need access to the means of production. To land, water, the elements.
I take it as a basic truth that our society needs urgent and drastic reform but I had not intended this piece to become a political diatribe, so let me return to where I started out: sitting in the meadow at the bottom of my garden. Contemplating “truth” and enjoying a series of small revelations.
And suddenly the nature of my error strikes me as I refocus on the beauties of nature.
Let go – society is unlikely to change yet a while, and who am I to say that it should.
Contentment and peace come from withdrawing from the concerns of the world and in focusing on the bigger picture. I can feel, in a real sense, not my “connection” to nature, as I sit here in the middle of it, but my absorption in it. I am nature and it is me.
Far from wishing the world and it’s peoples to go to hell in a handcart, I wish for all of us a better life.
But I rather doubt that betterment will come from fiat.
If it comes at all, my suspicion is that it will come from inside us and not from external utopian upheaval. That the search must be an inner journey and that only from within will the answers be found. A better world must be made individual by individual.
Given certain basic needs, contentment can be found in simplicity. In silence, in beauty and in nature. In the realization that we are already where we are supposed to be and that there is nowhere to go.
And the plague? If it can be avoided then well and good. If it takes us, so be it. Perhaps all is as it should be. Perhaps, as Julian of Norwich so beautifully put it:
All will be well and all manner of things will be well.
If the fritillaries in the picture are this season’s in your garden, then I am both impressed and intensely jealous.
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How nice to hear from you Brian. They are indeed in our garden… And I am sitting in our little meadow at this very moment. Angus and Fred have just sent me a lovely Palm Sunday podcast they have made. Katie and I are gutted we won’t be able to see you at St Augustines this Easter but we must hope for better times.
That beautiful Julian quote. I so loved her Revelations of Divine Love till I poured a cup of tea on it.
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Yes, it is so very lovely. It is many years since I have read the mystics. I got waylaid by an interest in science…. I must return to those beautiful works.
“Let go – society is unlikely to change yet a while, and who am I to say that it should.”
And so your journey into the Silence proceeds apace. I feel so profoundly joyful for you.
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Thank you so much Keith. Your support and that of others has been vital to me.