By Bharati Sarkar
Life can be viewed as a vale of sorrows or as the wonder that it is. It is all a matter of individual perspective. A few adjustments in your focus can alter your life forever.
Why are you dying of thirst when you sit on the banks of the Ganga?
—Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Why are we, most of us, leading lives of deprivation, of stress and anger, hurt and recrimination? Why are we not happy when happiness is our natural state of being? Many of us have understood that by changing our own perceptions and lifestyles, we will contribute towards changing the world around us. All of us experience every negative emotion; most are tardy in developing positive attitudes; many live unbalanced or unhealthy lives and some abuse the goodness that life offers for free.
There is an abundance of positive energy within and around us, simply waiting to be harnessed. We have deep wellsprings of creativity eager for release. There is an endless reservoir of joy in the gloomiest heart, if only we knew how to connect to it.
Sarah Ban Breathnach wrote a book called Simple Abundance (Bantam), a day-to-day guide to comfort and joy for women. The six practical, creative and spiritual concepts she looks at are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy. Taking the same universal concepts applicable to all, let us see how we can review our lives.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order and confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
Even the nicest people take too much for granted. Such is the complexity of contemporary life. Most of us live in a daily fog of repetitive and often mindless activity geared to the business of survival. Where is the time for anything other than getting through the day? Most homemakers, despite (or perhaps, because of?) so many labor-saving devices find themselves exhausted, irritated or bored at the end of the day. Many people who work at offices and factories are disgruntled, stressed or live in fear of losing their means to earn a living. Health, wealth and happiness are goals we all attempt to reach, sometimes in an unhealthy frenzy, often by unethical means, and generally through uncreative work that robs us of our human dignity at the end of the day. Why do we do this to ourselves? Most of us, at some point, have stopped to ask ourselves, is this what life is all about?
Surely, as we all know in our hearts, it is not.
With the industrial revolution, life changed dramatically and perhaps, permanently. Technology has given us immense gifts. But it has also robbed many generations of their right to live with dignity. Taking pride in the work we do is something we are all taught but it is not easy to be proud of work you hate but have to do. Pride in work can come only when the work you do bears its own fruit. Not just the wages you are paid for it, but the good that results from it being done. The basis of the pride and satisfaction you feel in the work you do with your own hands or mind, is not the same as getting work done on a mass scale with the aid of men and machines. But, this is the life we have inherited from our history and we must be grateful for its gifts while finding ways to reduce its ills.
To begin with, we need to be grateful for what we do have. The first thing you have is your life. The meanest life has something potentially powerful about it. Our ability to conceive and create beauty. No matter how poor, deprived, unhappy or otherwise difficult your life may be, you have the power to change it. Most of us, with our ordinary lives, a family, a job, generally good health, in a nation that is not a battleground, have so much to be grateful for. Just look around you. Imagine being alone, ill, hungry, or living under the constant threat of death or worse.
Things to be grateful about: Sunny days and rainy days. A cup of hot tea. A satisfying meal. Your child’s smile. A friend’s encouragement. A comfortable chair, a cosy bed. Music. Books. The cinema. The sound of birds in the morning. A sky full of stars. Moonlight. Candlelight. Neonlight. The list is endless, on any ordinary day. There are greater things to be grateful about. Human intelligence; human kindness; love and laughter. We encounter these daily, and take them for granted. By being aware enough of them to be grateful, we acknowledge our own state of grace and become ready to invest in more.
‘Tis a gift to be free,
‘Tis a gift to come down
Where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves will be in the valley
Of love and delight
—19th century hymn
If you are observant, you will notice that the happiest people are those who lead the simplest lives. Whether materially wealthy or not, a life of extravagance and excess usually shows up in dark circles around the eyes or in peptic ulcers. Lately, even the very rich are opting for elegantly simple lifestyles. After all, there is only so much you can eat and drink, only so much you can own that you have the time to enjoy. Most of us yearn for a simplified life to counter the complexities of contemporary living. And a simple life is a choice that is well within our means. The best things in life are still free.
If you are looking to simplify your life, begin by making an inventory of all your possessions at home. Give away what you don’t use or need. Make a simpler daily routine, take some time out for reflection or doing ‘nothing’. Make room for daily connections with the people who mean most to you. Add physical space in your life by getting rid of clutter. In time, the energy of simplicity will show you how to cultivate minimalism even further. Simple means more, not less. More time, more space, more beauty and more energy. It means more of everything that is truly meaningful.
But four young oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat-
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.
Does the Divine have a sense of order? There is so much wildness and chaos in the universe, which was born of chaos. Yet, see the order in night following day, the seasons following each other, the cyclic order of life in its many manifestations. In our own lives, without some order, we would be lost. The more orderly a home or workplace, the simpler it is to function efficiently. As children, our most valued security was the simple routines of life. A time and a place for things to do and be.
Without making a fetish of it, three rules will make your daily life magically easy. Order is a set of rules that become a habit and form a framework of reference. So:
• What you open, you must shut
• What you pick up, you must put down
• What you use, you must replace
Hundreds of books and articles on ‘how to’ be tidy, clean up clutter, bring order into your life and so on, have been written and read. Yet, except for the fortunate few, who seem to have a natural talent to be orderly, most of us lead supremely cluttered lives. Particularly in these complex times, when 24 hours seem miserly to get a day’s work done.
But, by following some simple rules (you are free to invent your own), we can in fact turn chaos on its head and bring a semblance of order in our lives. The way to do it is to start with the small things. Never attempt to change your universe in a day. Actually, once the small things are taken care of, the big ones somehow automatically follow. When we talk of order, we do not imply an aseptic lifestyle. In fact, some untidiness around you is perfectly acceptable. Excessive order is a neurosis. The ordered mind and the ordered heart can live comfortably with a bit of friendly clutter.
The yang returns cyclically to its beginning, the yin attains its maximum and gives place to the yang
—Kuei Ku Tzu (4 BC)
All of us know life without harmony. Whether it is in our health, our attitudes or the world around us. Lack of harmony is the greatest underlying reason for our individual and social ills. Harmony is a natural state. Each healthy living cell in the universe seeks and maintains a state of harmony. Ill health follows when cells are unable to maintain this balanced state for any given reason. The celestial harmony is what keeps our universe from exploding or imploding.
Then, what is it that makes human life, whether individually or as a species, so lacking in harmony?
There are more reasons than is possible to numerate here, but the primary reason is, unfortunately, stupidity, and an honest look will prove this to be true.
We all know what is ‘good’ for us, at some levels even without being told, but historically, mankind has been inexorably moving towards self-destruction, lemming-like, arrogantly pleased with itself. Just read the daily news.
Harmony should become your touchstone, achieving it your primary aim in life. And as in everything else, it is best to begin with the small things that are easy to change. The opposite of harmony is dissonance, discord and chaos. So, make your next choice with care. At every step and every moment in life we make choices, mostly unconsciously. So, starting from the next moment, choose harmony, accord and balance, consciously. It may begin with how you speak to someone, how you dress, what you eat. It could be what you really think of your cranky boss, your mean neighbor or an annoying relative. And so on. As a species we have so much to do to bring harmony and balance into our universe. The steps that need to be taken, however, are equally simple. But who among us will bell the cat? Obviously, it has to be you and me, at the individual level.
Most of us honestly wonder why people cannot live in peace with each other, agreeing to disagree but without hatred and rancor. Imagine the real progress that would become possible if global socio-economic barriers were removed, or at least reduced to practical levels. Poverty would become an evil word (as it surely is), war would become an anachronism (as it should be) and the enormous resources now used to promote destruction could be diverted to building a better world for all mankind. Utopian? Sure, but what is wrong with the desire to seek that which is good for us all?
World leaders need to be bold and far-sighted, rise above the narrow concerns of office and passing events to collectively create an environment to promote real world peace.
Let your mind be quiet, realizing the beauty of the world, and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store
It would take a truly sorry soul not to see the inherent beauty of life. From the tiny wild flower peeping through a rocky cleft to the panoramic view of the whirling universe on a clear night. A child’s spontaneous smile or a cup of steaming, aromatic coffee on a cold morning-life is beautiful. If you do not see it at all times, blame your perspective or perceptions, not the absence of beauty.
The wisdom we need to cultivate is to see beauty in that which is not apparently beautiful. This wisdom is not the prerogative of saints. Anyone can own it. Every child has this wisdom and will happily play in a pool of mud for hours in utmost peace, seeing the beauty of the mud and the happiness of playing in it. If we have lost this inborn ability, whom do we blame?
There is beauty in the graceful hospitality of a poor farmer who shares his food with you, not knowing where his next meal will come from. There is beauty in the tired mother who patiently cares for her difficult child, expecting nothing in return. There is beauty in the starkest landscape, the meanest soul.
All of us appreciate the beauty of symmetry, regularity and neatness as in a geometric pattern, a photogenic face or a tidy room. Most of us fail to see the beauty of a gnarled tree, the lines of struggle and survival on an old face or a house in disrepair that has seen many generations pass through it. Some of us regularly ignore the tremulous beauty of dawn, the splendor of a thunderstorm, the magic of twilight. Is it the surfeit of beauty around us that blinds us to it?
Today, take a fresh look at everything and everybody you see. Look with care and see the immensity of the beauty that surrounds you.
I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight!
The fresh Earth in new leaves dressed,
And the starry night;
Autumn evening, and the morn
When the golden are born
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Why do we automatically respond with warmth to a joyful personality? Why are we repelled by gloom? Happiness is our natural state of being, and joy our birthright. The American Constitution includes the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right along with food, clothing and shelter.
Being joyful is being in a state of wonder and grace. To feel a deep joy is to be on a spiritual level par excellence. It is in our moments of joy that we transcend all that is mundane and communicate with the universal spirit. Our laughter is the prayer we offer for the gift of life.
A joyful being is naturally compassionate, has enormous self-esteem and a true respect for life. A joyful being will face adversity with courage and embrace death without fear.
Joy will transform your life completely, trashing all that is negative with its blinding radiance. Once you have accepted the freedom of joy, you cannot return to the secure caves of gloom that may have been your home for many years.
Let gratitude, simplicity, harmony, order, beauty and joy be your six tenets to a life of plenty. Make them your mantra and see how you shine.
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