I pick up a little book called Tuesdays with Morrie while on holidays in Spain. I saw it years ago but avoided it because the blurb on the back made me worry that it’d be a depressing read. It is about a dying professor (Morrie Schwartz) and his younger student (Mitch Albom). This time, I am ready. I devour it in two sittings. And I cry and cry and cry.
It isn’t that it’s unbearably sad. It’s just so touching, it moves me like nothing else has for a long time. I can feel Morrie’s energy with me as I finish the memoir. I love him. I can honestly say that he (and the endearingly honest Mitch) has changed my life. The gradual shift in Mitch’s attitude inspires me almost as much as Morrie’s wisdom.
Morrie allowed himself to let go, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help. He observed that, when you’re an infant, you need help from others and, when you grow old, you require their assistance also. However, what we fail to acknowledge is that we need other people in between times too.
Morrie told the tale of the little wave that witnessed other waves crashing against the shore. The wave wailed, fearfully: “Oh no, look! This is the fate that awaits us. How horrible!” Another wave reassured him: “Don’t fret, little one, for you are not a wave, you are part of the ocean.” As Rumi wrote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”
Morrie’s message has made me realise how closed off I’d become. I’d tell myself that “I like my own space”. I’d go home while co-workers would sit and have tea, a chat and a laugh. I’d stay alone in the flat watching episode after episode of The Good Wife. I’d spend weekends preparing classes instead of exploring the countryside with loved ones. I’d retire early rather than spend time with friends.
I still believe that there should be a balance between rest, work and play and between stillness, silence and moments of noise and interaction. But Morrie’s story has shown me that the most important thing in life is to love. To share what you have with others. To give another human being the gift of your time. Morrie said that he was always 100 per cent present with whomever he was speaking. When he was talking with Mitch, he thought only of Mitch. This resonates with me as I am often in the company of others when I’m not really there. I’m thinking of what needs to be done, or how I shouldn’t have eaten that or I might even be putting a photo through Instagram while somebody attempts to converse with me.
Morrie’s big, brave, generous heart has made me resolve to really live life, to connect with people, to appreciate nature, to question the values we’ve been brainwashed into adopting, to understand that love and peace are what’s true and priceless compared with ever-changing, unreliable material and physical possessions. One of my new goals is to do something that makes me feel alive every single day. I also promise to be present with people, as if each encounter were our last, and to ask, in the words of Robert Holden in his book Loveability: “How can I love you more?”
I have a couple of hours before I have to head for the airport. I could go for a last swim at what the locals call the “healing beach”. But it’s a bit of a walk, I mentally argue. And it’d mean packing a wet bikini. Then, I remember that I’m living life. So I set off in my flip-flops, carrying a pink towel. A line of ants and a yellow butterfly cross my path. A lone purple wildflower on this dry dirt track reduces me to tears. I offer an Hola and a smile to an old man sitting alone. He returns my smile, its corners clipped with surprise. An elderly couple stroll ahead, hand-in-hand. Yet again, my eyes mist. I beam as I spot a set of keys a stranger has carefully balanced atop a bollard.
My breasts bob and sway as my feet flap upon the sand. I feel like an ancient elephant striding across the desert. I inhale the scent of my sweat that has collected in cracks and creases. A homeless man sits on a wall behind the beach. I abandon my beach bag and strip. I don’t suck in my stomach. Not today. I duck my head into the ocean even though my hair was freshly washed this morning. I am alive.
Mitch and Morrie used to say, “We’re Tuesday people” because they usually met on Tuesdays. And I am writing this piece on a Tuesday, watching the waves surge and retreat, with tears in my eyes and a heart that’s breaking… wide open.
Image: Author’s own
Posted in Spirituality
Tagged appreciation, attitude, beauty, brainwashing, communication, compassion, death, drop, energy, family, friends, future, generosity, gift, gratitude, grief, heart, heartbreak, help, holidays, human beings, humanity, impermanence, inspiration, instagram, letting go, life, living, love, loveability, loved ones, material, mitch albom, morrie schwartz, nature, ocean, past, peace, people, photos, physical, present, robert holden, rumi, sadness, sharing, shift, silence, smartphone, society, spain, spiritual, spirituality, stillness, tears, thinking, thoughts, time, togetherness, truth, tuesdays with morrie, understanding, universe, values, vulnerability, waves, whole
|On Sunday, I put my back out at the gym. For the rest of the day, I was in a considerable amount of pain and could hardly move. I felt rather sorry for myself as I lay in bed. I was cranky and bored. I realised that I don’t make a very good patient. In fact, I am incredibly impatient because I want to get better quickly so that I can do all the things I had planned.
Last night, I went to see The Sessions in The Riverbank Arts Centre. The movie is based on a man with polio who was mostly paralysed from the neck down. He was a poet and a journalist with a great sense of humour. Despite his predicament, he was able to reach out to experience life and love.
This morning, I sipped a soy latte in the Keadeen Hotel while a large group of deaf people laughed and signed excitedly beside me. They were full of fun and togetherness.
And I just watched a clip from The Saturday Night Show with 16-year-old Donal Walsh who is terminally ill with cancer. This brave, inspiring young man spoke out about suicide and how he is grateful for every extra day he has to live. He hopes that his death will make people appreciate life more. He is sad to be leaving behind all the beautiful things of this world. Since his prognosis, he has given up school, travelled, and raised over €50,000 for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
It was as though I was being constantly reminded of how lucky I am and how I need to put things into perspective. A healthy or seemingly perfect life may not be as rich as the lives of some of these so-called dying or disabled people. If you are able to open yourself to love, able to share and enjoy the wonderful moments of life with family and friends, able to laugh and learn and experience, and able to really live life, then you are truly blessed. It is then that you are really alive.
Posted in Health
Tagged depression, suicide, love, relationships, life, illness, cancer, acceptance, gym, health, positivity, living, impatience, gratitude, laughter, boredom, mental illness, terminal illness, patience, paralysis, openness, joy, surrender, enjoyment, charity, back pain, divine timing, donal walsh, the saturday night show, deaf, the riverbank arts centre, the sessions, polio, disabled, iron lung
Yesterday, I observed a group of teenagers getting into the sea. One-by-one. Slowly. Reluctantly. When just one remained, dry and shivering by the water’s edge, his friends shouted words of encouragement: “Come on!” “Just do it!” “Don’t let my mam get in before you!”
One of the boys in the water looked up and said: “Just jump in! Pretend you’re dreaming.” I’d never heard anyone say something like that before. It got me thinking: What other things could we make possible for ourselves if we made like this was just a dream?
Pretending this is a dream would enable us to detach from fear. Fear is what keeps us stuck. If we were to extricate ourselves from the debilitating clutches of fear, we would finally start really living.
This way of thinking would also require us to stop taking everything so seriously. GK Chesterton wrote: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” This quote was the welcome message on my phone for a number of years. It’s amazing how much easier life becomes when you don’t take it or yourself so seriously.
And, finally, pretending that this is all just a dream means having faith that everything will be okay. I came across this quote recently: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Having faith means that even though things may seem painful, sad or difficult right now, you always have a knowing that everything is working out exactly as it should. Everything is in perfect order. Florence Scovel-Shinn wrote: “Replace fear with faith.” This is my new go-to quote any time I feel that familiar flutter of panic, dread or doubt. It enables me to let go.
If we could banish fear, take ourselves lightly, have faith and let go, can you imagine what we could achieve? And, more importantly, how we would feel? We would be free to really enjoy life. Isn’t it funny how acting like life is just a dream can result in really living?
And if you’re wondering what got that guy in to the sea in the end, I could lie and say that what his friend said about the dream had a profound effect on him and he jumped in, fearless and triumphant. But in truth, as his friend’s mother edged towards the ocean, he shouted: “You’re not getting in before me!” while dive-bombing into the water.
What would you do if this was just a dream?
Posted in Spirituality
Tagged detachment, dream, faith, fear, florence scovel-shinn, GK Chesterton, It will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end., letting go, life, living
Wrapped in a brightly coloured towel, I eye the Atlantic apprehensively. The wind whips around me, its haunting voice taunting me about my probable madness at wanting to swim in this weather. My skin is raised in the goose bumps that ingeniously serve to trap air between my body hairs in order to keep me insulated and warm. But I don’t feel warm. I’m bloody freezing.
Impulsively, I throw down the towel and hurry towards the ocean. I know from experience that inching my way in will only prolong the suffering so I submerge myself quickly and front crawl vigorously towards the horizon. It takes a while for the numbness to subside but, when it does, I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of my body bobbing in the ocean, my fingers threading through the soft water, the view of the rich, green fields, chiselled cliffs, the brilliant white of the spitting waves, and the knowing that, even if my phone rings, I won’t hear it from out here in the centre of a pollock hole. I tilt my head back in the golden path of sunlight that dapples over the surface of the water.
A child in goggles gazes at the world below. His kicking feet splash me slightly. An elderly man dives in and swims determinedly in my direction. As he passes, the small waves he has generated elbow me gently across the jaw. I keep going. I am swimming through the ripples created by other people, by the wind, by the ocean, and by myself. I am in the ocean and I am part of it. I remember that a significant amount of the human body is made up of water. I am in it and it is in me. And we are all part of the same.
Afterwards, I am so grateful that I went for that swim despite my hesitation. It reminds me of the time I almost hadn’t gone to the cinema with a couple of people I barely knew. Since then, I have had lots of fun with one of those people, who has become one of my best friends. I look back at that moment of doubt whenever I consider not doing something just because I’d rather the safe option.
Later, as I settle down to read Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram, I come across these words of Johnny Cigar, an Indian slum dweller:
“Our life, it probably began inside of the ocean about four thousand million years before now… Then, a few hundred million years ago… just a little while, really, in the big history of the Earth – the living things began to be living on the land, as well. But in a way you can say that after leaving the sea… we took the ocean with us. When a woman makes a baby, she gives it water, inside her body, to grow in. That water inside her body is almost exactly the same as the water of the sea. It is salty, by just the same amount. She makes a little ocean, in her body. And not only this: Our blood and our sweating, they are both salty, almost exactly like the water from the sea is salty. We carry oceans inside of us, in our blood and in our sweat. And we are crying the oceans, in our tears.”
And so, this is life. What we fear and dread outside of ourselves is just as much inside of us. And while that scary thing that we must plunge into, without thinking too much about the possible consequences and unpleasantness, can be difficult and painful, it can also be beautiful, rewarding and so worthwhile. And that too comes from within.
Image: Author’s own
Posted in Spirituality
Tagged atlantic, beauty, connection, danger, doubt, gregory david roberts, hesitation, johnny cigar, life, living, nature, ocean, pollock holes, reward, risk, safety, scary, sea, shantaram, swimming, uncertainty, water
The other night, I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - a film based on a memoir written by a man suffering from Locked-in syndrome. Locked-in syndrome is a condition in which a patient has full awareness but cannot move due to complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes.
At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of fashion magazine Elle, had a massive stroke. He woke up 20 days later to discover that he was almost completely paralysed. The determined French journalist wrote his memoir by memorising what he wanted to say then dictating the text to a transcriber by blinking his one functioning eyelid (a system known as partner assisted scanning). It took him 10 months (at an average of four hours a day). He died two days after its publication.
I don’t know whether I felt depressed or inspired after watching the movie. This man had everything taken from him – his career, his partner (who abandoned him after the stroke), his health, his speech, and his independence. Understandably, he expressed his desire to die. But then he realised that, apart from his left eye, two other things were not paralysed – his memory and his imagination. He went on to write a bestseller and set up a Locked-in syndrome association. He had lost so much but the spirit within him was still able to create something extraordinary. And then he passed away.
Our mortality is something we are born with. Sometimes, I think we ignore the fact that this lifetime will not last forever. We get so caught up in routine and obligation that we are often oblivious to the beauty and wonder of the world around us. We become disheartened and apathetic, or frustrated and angry, so gratitude and appreciation seem irrelevant.
Life is short. So, we should do the things that make us feel thankful to be alive. Last week, I took my mother to see the New York Spirit of Gospel. The vocalists astounded us with their talent. They encouraged us to shake off our self-consciousness, get up off our seats and dance, clap and sing along. The performance was all the better because we joined in.
We spend so much time passively watching the world do its thing. But it’s only when we actively participate that we come alive. So, get out there and really live. Life is a gift if that’s how you choose to see it.
The world is full of miracles and adventure, blessings and delight. And there are so many ways to acknowledge this. Money or mobility don’t have to be an issue. You can travel to foreign lands or visit spectacular spots within your own country. You could walk through whispering forests and across the backs of ancient mountains. Or simply allow the deep tones of a cello to awaken your senses.
Embrace life and each other. Laugh long and hard and often. Learn how to surf or bake or speak Spanish. Tell someone you love them. Admit to your fears and share your passions. Swim in lakes and oceans. Feel the earth’s water on your naked skin. Dance. Cry. Sing. Love. Live.
Images: http://favim.com/image/31398/; http://xaxor.com/photography/25467-appreciating-life-photography.html
Posted in Modern Society, Personal development, Spirituality
Tagged appreciation, art, book, coma, death, depression, elle, experience, expression, film, gratitude, jean-dominique bauby, laughter, life, living, locked-in syndrome, love, magazine, memoir, mortality, movie, music, new york spirit of gospel, paralysis, participation, passion, song, soul, spirit, suicidal, the diving bell and the butterfly, travel
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Anais Nin
We perceive life, situations and people not as they are but as we are. Everything we look at and everything we experience is tinged with our own feelings, desires, fears and issues. If we perceive someone to be threatening, mean, condescending, or selfish, every action that person makes towards us will confirm those beliefs. If someone we believe to be generous, loving, caring, and helpful does the exact same thing as the first person, we will probably take it in a completely different, and more positive, way.
Our thoughts impact heavily on everything around us. They are what manifest as our own personal reality. A reality we have created. If you are unhappy with the way your life is going, alter your thoughts. I guarantee you will observe a change.
Think of life as a lake. A lake is a body of water. Nothing more, nothing less. But in this lake, the mountain sees itself shimmering up at him. The trees observe their trunks, leaves and branches swimming beneath them. The sky is perfectly reflected on the water. The moon dances there at night and the clouds play chasing across its surface. The mountain, trees, sky, moon and clouds are not part the lake. Yet their images are clearly evident.
However, if you put your hands into the lake and really feel it, you will break up this reflection. Once you get past the surface of your perception, the delusion becomes blurred. This is what you need to do in life. Slice through the illusion and see things for what they really are. Yes, there is a lot to be learned from what is mirrored back to you. Simply take on this awareness. Then, somersault into living. Splash about and make your own waves. Dive into the depths of your consciousness. But most importantly of all, stop being blinded by your own reflection.