Thursday, June 23, 2005

Going On Being

There is an old joke that goes something like this: "Plato said that 'to be is to do' while Aristotle said that 'to do is to be.' Then the punch line: "but Sinatra was more correct, he said (or sang) "do be, do be, do..." (Can't you just hear Old Blue Eyes singing that refrain?). I suppose we are all condemned to be doers unless we have dropped out of society or some tragedy has struck our unfortunate lives. The modern holistic movement and all the pop psychology writers place the emphasis on "being" over "doing" and grant the former more importance. Traditional Buddhist psychology also stresses the greater inportance of being as do psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists. I suppose if we look at life in a linear fashion as we age from 0 to whatever age we finally "shuffle off this mortal coil" then doing has more priority as we have to develop and grow and acquire qualifications and work and so forth. However, there are other perspectives on life. Life is not only linear, it can and is cyclic, has depth and height, soul and heart, feelings and emotions, even "emotional intelligence" as Daniel Goleman has so wisely pointed out in his eponymous book. Once we've achieved what we have reckoned to be whatever is "success" in our world view, then we may have time to be... Maybe it is the trials of life that have taught us to "do a little less and to be a little more." For me it was being hospitalized when I was forty for some 7 weeks. For others it could be physical diseases like cancer or a horrible road accident. Perhaps even the loss of a job. Maybe a bereavement or some other frustration in life. We are forced to re-evaluate where we are going, what we have achieved and what is the point of it all. This latter is not a rather general though deep philosophical question, but rather a more personal one of what have I really got out of life, what is life for me, queries which incorporate a host of other questions that relate to my life and how I am living it. Am I wasting my time or am I appreciating what I have got? We have a colleague at school who is always wishing it was holiday time - "only 20 days left to holidays," etc. Another wiser colleague replies: "There you go again, wishing your life away." It seems to me that we can be prisoners either of the past or the future. Those who are prisoners of the past cannot let go of their regrets, their failures, their once good health and looks, their former wealth, their dead partner etc etc. They become stuck in a "slough of despond" as Bunyan puts it in Pilgrim's Progress. Those who are prisoners of the future cannot let go of their fears, fear that mum will pass away, that the wife or husband will cease to love them, that they won't be promoted, that the bottom will fall out of their world in so many myriad ways. (As the old joke has it, it could be worse - the world could fall out of your bottom! Forgive this dreadful inversion!) The secret of all the great religions, and more importantly the spiritualities that spring from them, is to live in the now and to be neither a prisoner of the past nor the future. More easily said than done. The person (or persons), whom you are graced to be with at any specific moment in your life, is (are) the most important person (s) in the world for you at precisely that moment! Think, or rather meditate about that for a while and it will eventually become clear. The secret is to be now, this instant, to celebrate the sacrament of being that is now. These thoughts were provoked by my reading of "Going on Being: Buddhism and the Way of Change, a Positive Psychology for the West," by Mark Epstein, M.D. (Continuum, NY, 2001)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Creativity is undoubtedly one of our greatist gifts. There are so many ways of seeing the world. I remember once a friend of mine saying that the only way to see New York is to "look up." How true. When I finally got there in my early forties I did just that. I remember on another occasion being brought on a tour around the grounds of Dalgan Park, Navan by a geologist-botanist friend. He had such a fresh and lively way of engaging with nature. Ger brought us to see all the different trees and plants. There are two great sequoia trees there - that is, those great Californian Redwoods. "Look up at its beauty - this is a great way to see trees." Then he invited us to feel its soft bark. Try lying on the grass and smelling it! Try hugging a tree! Try doing things differently for a change. Go by a different road to work. Eat something unusual, obviously something edible! Learn a new language. See things differently. Tá sé beartaithe agam an blag seo a bheith dátheangach, a bhuí san leis an mblagadóir (?) "Imeall"! Is cuimhin liom an craoltóir Liam Ó Murchú sna seachtóidí go dtí na nóchaidí den fhichiú h-aois ag moladh craoladh dátheangach i gclár iontach dá chuid "Trom agus Éadrom." Slán beo leis na seanlaethanta. Is amhlaidh go raibh an ceart aige. Ní raibh aon eagla ar a aoínna an méid Gaeilge is a bhí acu a chleachtadh. Agus mé ag foghlaim na hIodáilise le déanaí cuireadh an chuid is mó den bhéim i bhfoghlaim na teanga céanna ar an gcumarsáid i dtús báire, agus ansin tagann na nithe eile go léir isteach. Mas féidir le héinne é nó í féin a chur in iúl in aon teanga ar bith tá tosnú maith déanta acu. Is ansin a thagann na gnéithe eile den bhfoghlaim isteach: éisteacht, scríobh agus léamh - comhréir, gramadach 7rl Tá sé tábhachtach, nó rí-thábhachtach fiú, gan eagla nó imní a chur ar an bhfoghlaimeoir, é nó í a spreagadh agus a mholadh, gan bheith á gcáineadh nó gan bheith dá gceartú ró-mhór. Tiocfaidh feabhsú de réir a chéile, bíodh sé luath nó mall. Seal gairid i ndiaidh dom tosú mar mhúinteoir óg, chonaic oide eile mé ag ceartú aistí. "Haigh", ar%2