We have just experienced the throes of a general election and watching our politicians thrash around sparring with each other is the antithesis of finding the silence in one’s head that signifies wisdom (and sadly, yes, a wise politician probably doesn’t exist). It takes real understanding of the human spirit to not seek to be enslaved by preconceptions or our vain pursuit of money and yet we all fall into the trap of chasing the wrong things. One reason for living like the vortex going down the plughole is that we are starved of time. Forced to live at a frenetic pace things must happen fast including the way we think and how we manage our behaviour towards others.
Living in London is like being in a foreign country- friends often telephone once or twice a year and lunch or dinners are planned months in advance. No one seems prepared to drop everything to facilitate a pal. We attach a value to our time and when we weigh up the costs of doing anything for anyone we put our needs first. We belong to an era where we almost should be ashamed of our surfeit of wealth and the ease at which we can have anything our heart desires. Although we complain bitterly about the state of the roads, the wastefulness of politicians or the cost of living, the truth is we have never had it so good. Take a walk in your local supermarket, for example. There is no other country in the world where every whim is catered to: organic, free range, in season, out of season, ready made, top quality goods at cut price bargains, the list goes on. The NHS may have its faults but by golly, it’s a Godsend when we need it. And by the way, it’s free. And yet heinous acts of barbarity and pure evil plague all walks of life. Domestic abuse is most rife in the richest parts of the country. Teenage pregnancies and the wrong priorities are the norm. Disenfranchised youth who perceive they have no real future. How therefore can the hidden metaphor within the river searching for the sea be relevant?
A man lives beneath the shadow of a huge dyke, which contains two main rivers. When asked if he fears waking up one night up to his neck in water, the man replies: “The water goes to the sea.” A response that is both poignant and evocative. The man living under the dyke is wise without knowing it: he sees life as undefined by his world; his thinking is logical, simple, practical and beautiful/sublime. He does not see infinite possibilities in his life but he sees a reality that simply is. No more. No less. Not embellished, not dressed up as something it is not. Without saying it, he is also aware of his mortality and accepts it.
Consider this other example: a rich doctor lives in a magnificent home. He has lived there for forty years and his pride and joy is the vine that he has grown within his grand conservatory. Every year it bears the most delicious grapes and the doctor is very proud of how the vine produces an excellent crop year after year. As he shows me around the conservatory, I ask him how the vine is pollinated- do bees manage to get into the conservatory and how do they get in since all the windows are tightly shut? The gentleman looks at me and admits he is flabbergasted.
“I never thought about that,” he replies. How lucky to be so simple in our thinking that we never ask any real questions; the fruit appears as if by magic. That is all that matters.
Religion gets a lot of flak in our harried world but for some it offers a pathway to the unfolding self: five minutes sitting in a church often fills me with immense sadness. It is usually the only time when the truth of who I am is revealed. I think of the hardest parts of my life within those five minutes. That experience comes naturally and I cannot fake the power of confronting myself. Communing with God demands that all artifice is shed at the entrance to the church. The other pathway is suffering, loss, rupture and enforced detachment: like the orphan who must muster superhuman strength in the face of adversity. The Romans had a saying for it: out of poverty is born genius. We are all King Lear and may have to lose everything in order to discover the truth behind the lies; without hardship or suffering it would be impossible to find our way in the maze of life. When we grow too used to having everything we want, we forget to value what we already have. We Brits are probably the best in the world at talking about the weather because we so hope the sun will finally break through the clouds and when it does, we are literally over the moon with happiness. By talking about the weather we are wishing it would change for the better. We are all vulnerable and frail beneath the veneer and it does good to be aware of that. Removing the conscious process of what we want, what we need, what me must have and undoing the control we must exert on all things, leaves us with the simple truth that the water goes to the sea. And so do we.
Photo copyright SvD.