Today I once again don the robes and loincloth of the Meathead Philosopher.
“Change is the only constant in life”Heraclitus
The wise words of ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. Change is inevitable and inexorable. We cannot stop it.
Yet, for many of us, that is exactly what we are trying to do.
Trying to stay young. Trying to be on-trend. Trying desperately not to lose the things we have worked so hard to get. It’s natural to want to preserve oneself and one’s things.
But sometimes this act of holding on to an ideal, a possession, or a persona causes us more pain than losing it.
I have a thing for beautiful, stoneware pottery. The robust, earthy nature of it. The delicate balance between form and function, crying out for the piece to be both admired and used. Over the years I have collected many wonderful examples from some amazing and well-known artists.
Kelley has a habit of breaking pottery. Not the shitty stuff that you get free with an Easter egg, oh no, that stuff is safe. Only the really nice stuff makes it on to Kelley’s hit list.
Over the years, in particular when she was pregnant, Kelley systematically went through my entire ceramics collection like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
This was upsetting to say the least.
Many people would question the sanity of ever using such exquisite pottery in the first place, regardless of the ceramicist’s nightmare that is my wife.
But the makers that I love make pottery to be used, not simply to be looked at.
What defines a cup? If not it’s use, then what. Can something not be functional and yet still a work of art?
As beautiful as those cups
are were, the joy of using them exceeded the pure aesthetics of them.
And so I opted for the choice of using them and accepting that one day they would become cups no more.
As always, the Stoic philosophers are on hand to give a little advice.
When you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubled… What you love is nothing of your own: it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool. So if you wish for your son or friend when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are wishing for a fig in winter.Epictetus, Stoic Philosopher
What Epictetus is getting at here, at times with harsh truth, is that we come into the world with nothing, and that is how we leave it. That’s not to bemoan our lack of ‘things’, but to understand that everything that comes to us, our belongings, our loved ones, our health, is a gift to be enjoyed in the now, the present.
Let us ponder the words of another great sage, Master Oogway.
This year, for all of us at Wild Life HQ, has been one of change.
We have lost dear loved ones, had to deal with and care for aggressive dementia of others, let go of jobs and roles, and finally to leave our home of 10 years.
It’s been hard. Change always is.
But one thing that really helps us is the mindful act of being present in the now.
In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle discusses tackling ‘problems’. This concept has really helped.
Rather than seeing things as a ‘problem’, per se, we can view it simply as a situation, in and of itself, neither good or bad. This takes the emotionality out of the equation somewhat.
Now we can view the situation in a more rational manner.
If we can change the situation, we should. But if we cannot change it then no amount of worry or anxiety, anger or frustration will change it.
At this point we can accept the situation for how it is and work out how to move on from here.
I used to view the act of surrender as defeat, as some kind of second place quitter mentality.
I now feel that I understand it better. This is what Stoic philosophers refer to as the ‘art of acquiescence’.
Imagine falling into a fast moving river. You have three choices. If you can swim to the bank and free yourself from the current, that would be the obvious choice. But if you can’t you have two choices left.
Fight in vain against a current that is too strong for you to overcome, or lay back and see where the river takes you.
Either way you end up at the same place. The first way, near drowned, battered and exhausted. The second, with curiosity, mindful awareness and with the energy to take back control when the situation allows.
Sometime you lose a battle to win the war.
I am not suggesting you shouldn’t feel angry, sad, or hard done by. They are all valuable and necessary emotions. But by being present in the situation, by accepting and allowing the change to play out, we give ourselves a greater opportunity to enjoy what we have right now.
When we worry about losing something, and cling on desperately, we often are unable to appreciate that thing for what it is.
‘Live life like it’s your last day on earth’ is so often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
“I’d eat what I like.”
“I’d have a massive party.”
“I’d buy all the things I’ve ever wanted!”
Would you though? Or would you cherish every single moment as it is?
If it was raining, you’d rush out and feel the magic of every raindrop, because it was the last time that would happen. You wouldn’t grumble about the weather.
You would savour that Rich Tea biscuit, without moaning about it not being a chocolate Hobnob.
If only we could live each day like it was our last.
Well, by keeping this idea in mind we can give it a damned good try.
And this includes the things we don’t want in life. We can look for the hidden lessons in every situation. There always is one.
We can start viewing things that happen for us rather than to us.
We can start spotting the opportunities inherent in every crisis.
Perhaps some of the best examples of all of this are communicated by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps.
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.”Viktor E. Frankl
Remember, this is not a reason to give up and just accept your lot. If you have the means to change it, do.
But sometimes we need to accept that some things cannot be changed the way we want it to. At least not yet.
My own struggles are of course not on the scale of genocidal holocaust. Not even close. And for this I feel blessed.
We moved to Ireland nearly 10 years ago, to set up and be guardians of Drumnaph Nature Reserve. We have put our hearts and souls into this place. It became a member of our family.
But for a number of reasons, we now find ourselves moving on. It’s not the ideal situation we would have chosen, but it is the situation that we find ourselves in.
In all honesty there are aspects of leaving Drumnaph that leave me heartbroken.
Watching the sun rise over the distant mountains every morning. Seeing the hares peering through our kitchen window. Running through the snow under the light of the full moon.
But rather than focus on what we are losing, we are choosing to focus on what we have had the privilege to experience.
We were always going to leave Drumnaph, either by choice or carried out in a box. We have been blessed to experience it in ways that few others have had the chance to.
Our literal blood, sweat and tears have soaked into the earth there, and so many memories have been created that we will carry with us.
For those that don’t know our story with regards to Drumnaph you can watch these two episodes from when we were at the beginning of our journey.
We all have changes ahead of us, and many of them will be painful. But as change is constant we need to remember that this too will pass.
At Wild Life HQ we like to think of ourselves as snakes shedding their skin. Yes that right, the bloody English ones have brought the serpents back to Ireland!
Before a snake sheds its old skin it becomes very dull and lethargic, its colour fades and the skin looks brittle. Eventually the snake frees itself from the old skin to emerge with magnificently vibrant colours, sensitive and tender, but seemingly made anew.
Maybe this is why snakes have been revered in mythology for so long – as a real symbol of renewal and rebirth.
So when you are feeling dull, lethargic, faded and brittle, don’t give up. You are about to burst forth bright and renewed.
But back to my cup metaphors. As Ajahn Chah, Thai Buddhist monk puts it:
“For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”Ajahn Chah
Every moment is precious
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