I’ve just finished reading Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’, (which isn’t about birds!) It’s quite hilarious at times and rich in warmth and down-to-earth wisdom. At one point there is an account of her visit to a priest because she is feeling chaotic and vulnerable in her writing. She talks about the unpredictable nature of being a writer, of working in a space where you can go from success to failure in the blink of an eye, or the turn of a page. She feels thrown by the fickle way the world responds, by never knowing how a piece will be received, wanting the positive response (of course) but not knowing what she will get, from one book or essay to the next. The priest agrees that she is in need of some peace and quiet and reflects on her search for serenity amidst all the chaos that she feels. Abbreviated, he responds as follows: “The world can’t give you that serenity. The world can’t give us peace. We can only find it in our hearts … But the good news is that by the same token, the world can’t take it away.”
“The world can’t give us peace” I have thought about this a lot. I have thought about my recent post here where for weeks I was trying to get a particular matter resolved, one that some people said was not even my problem, to the point that I felt angry and frustrated and depressed about the situation. (For anyone who has checked in on that post, the matter has thankfully since been resolved) The thing is that somehow in the midst of chaos, in a world gone wrong in so many ways, where we all need help sometimes, where you don’t know if you are going to get the response you hope for, or when the wheel will finally turn in a different direction so that we might all finally enter a different trajectory, one that moves in line with the greater good- within all the fear and uncertainty, we need to find peace as individuals in our own hearts, a kind of a still point and sense of stability. We need to find peace within an uncertain world. We need peace despite the world. And even as we often turn to the beauty and wonder of nature as our solace, we know that sadly nature is part of the world too, and we know it is at risk, under threat here too, and could be ‘taken away’ from us. So what then? Do we need to go deeper, and find other things in our hearts, other tools to help us? Maybe a spiritual life- prayer or meditation, or a passage in a book we love, a verse, an essay, a poem, something innocent that you happened to overhear: those pockets of wisdom, and gifts from the hearts and minds of those individuals that we love to see in writing or to listen to, because what they have to say just helps us to feel better about things. So yes, we figure out that there is enough wisdom in the world to offer us sanctuary. And hopefully we have enough of our own wisdom to recognise that we all need to turn to those things that make sense to us, that resonate in our hearts when the rest of the world seems so troubled and unstable.
Pantajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga talks to us about, amongst other things, non- attachment to outcome and contentment within uncertainty (in Sanskrit: Santosa) as cornerstones to peace of mind, to peace in the heart. I try to keep that in mind, because really, we can’t rely on other people’s responses, we can’t wait for people to change, for the world to change, so that we can feel peaceful. Somehow we have to be peaceful anyway. So if I decide to get on the phone to the relevant authorities, to do my civic duty or because I believe that our natural resources need to be protected, or if I put a lost dog in my car, at physical risk to myself, and take it to the vet, that is my choice. I choose to get involved with things that are outside of my own house and home, not knowing if or when I will get a favourable response. I am doing what feels right to me anyway. That is one way to find peace in your heart: to do the right thing anyway, without being attached to outcome, and to make peace with that fact. You do the thing that your heart tells you to do, despite uncertainty, even if others don’t agree or understand. And in my experience you can always find someone who understands what you are on about. You ‘dance like no one is watching,’ because usually someone is, and they may even wish to join you. So yes, we can return to those same sanctuaries, the things we believe in and love to do or to read about or to listen to again and again especially when we feel that the rest of the world is just not on our side. And you carry on with the things that you are passionate about. The world is in fact abounding in wisdom- with words and deeds that are powerful and compelling and inspiring. And if you are looking for something to turn to for today, here is the beautiful and heartfelt Desiderata.♥