Friday, December 31, 2010

A Timeless Story

The Final Word of 2010

Self at Trevi Fountain, Rome, some nights ago!
 We all instinctively hate the word “final.” How many parents or teachers say to younger or older children, “you’re not allowed to do that, and that’s final!”? We love the word “beginning” and all that it entails: the joy of setting out and all the various expectations of the journey and the almost paradise-like feeling of expectation of reaching our destination. And yet we know that there will be a final setting out and a final destination for each one of us. As Paul Gilbert re-iterates like a chorus in his recent book that I am currently reading, The Compassionate Mind (Constable, London, 2010): we were born into this world, neither with or against our will, just found ourselves here as we grew in consciousness of that rather random and chance act of the copulation of our parents (scientifically speaking) – random and chance insofar as any one of many millions of sperm could have fertilized the mother’s egg on any random number of occasions. Thinking about the chances of our arrival in this world could be infinitely deceased if we were to add other factors like the chances of this or that woman meeting one’s father, the chance encounter, the train taken, the job accepted or rejected, the health of either partner etc. Think about that extraordinary infinitesimally small number, one in literally billions when all parameters are added into the equation. Does this mean that we are significant or insignificant beings? I’ll leave the pondering of that question to the good reader of these lines.

Anyway, I am writing these few lines from my family apartment in Isca Marina, a very small seaside town some ten kilometres south of Soverato in Calabria, Southern Italy. Being many miles from my home in Dublin, Ireland gives me some little more objectivity, if not insight, into beginnings and endings this the final day of 2010, that is December 31st of that Annus Domini.

What comes to mind is a story I would like to share with the readers of this blog. It is a traditional American Indian story with not a little insight and wisdom into life. Again I owe the thought of placing this story here both to a pupil I had the privilege of teaching last year and to the author of the above mentioned book. Both used this story in order to get things straight in their minds. With this background given, I hereby offer this story as one suitable for all of us as we end one year and begin another or as we end one task and begin another. As I’ve pointed out in my opening paragraph, every beginning and every ending are always against the background of our mortality.
The Story:

One day an old American Indian chief was walking by the river with his grandson, thinking about what wisdom to impart to the boy, the living symbol of the future generations of his tribe. Finally he told the little boy that our human minds are similar to the river along whose bank they were walking: they were both ever-flowing. But within the water there were different currents, and likewise, said the old chief, there were different and contending currents within our human minds. Then, he used another image from nature to point out the complexity of the human mind – wolves. He continued that he himself, like all others, can sometimes feel two contending wolves in his mind – one is gentle and kind, and is a peace-seeker and a peace-maker, while the other one is angry and aggressive and is a hate-maker and a war-maker. The little boy listened and nodded his assent to these words from the old man’s mouth. Finally, as the story goes, the young grandson looked at the old chief and asked the obvious question: “Who will win, Grandfather?” The old man replied wisely: “The wolf that I feed!”

New Year’s Wish:

So my New Year’s wish for my readers is simple. May you have the strength of mind and the wisdom to feed the gentle and kind wolf within you over the coming year. Auguri tutti e felice anno nuovo da Isca Marina, Calabria, Italia.

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