Saturday, 16 January 2016

Go placidly, not passively, amidst the storm

“A man seeks employment on a farm. He hands his letter of recommendation to his new employer. It reads simply, `He sleeps in a storm.’

The owner is desperate for help, so he hires the man.

Several week pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley.

Awakened by the swirling rain and howling wind, the owner leaps out of bed. He calls for his new hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly.

So he dashes off to the barn. He sees, to his amazement, that the animals are secure with plenty of feed. He runs out to the field. He sees the bales of wheat have been bound and are wrapped in tarpaulins. He races to the silo. The doors are latched, and the grain is dry.

And then he understands.

`He sleeps in a storm.’

My friends, if we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our [beliefs], our lives will not be cursed with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of `I could have, I should have.’ We can sleep in a storm.

And when it’s time, our good-byes will be complete.”

I love this extract taken from Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom. A book set over an 8 year period exploring the lives of two extraordinary men. One is the authors childhood Rabbi Albert Lewis and the other is a former drug addict criminal Henry Covington who spends his time serving a community of homeless people and addicts in a run down former town church. “He sleeps in a storm” is an extract from a sermon delivered by the Rabbi

Now generally I am much like the man in the story. I sleep well and deeply. This hasn’t always been the case I used to suffer terribly from insomnia. I suspect that this is because so much of my mind was chaotic and certainly I didn’t tend to the things I needed to in my inner or outer life. Like so many of my generation, I lived a meaningless and unfulfilled life. Deep down inside I knew this, my mind never rested and as a result, I did not sleep.

Thankfully this is no longer the case. I tend to what needs to be tended to and as a result I am able to rest when it is time to rest and give myself fully to what life asks of me when I am awake. I am able to do my work calmly, without becoming overwhelmed by it. As a result, despite the many challenges, my life is rich with meaning and fully of life. As I often I like to say I live a wonderfulfilling life.

That said over the last couple of weeks I have suffered once again from insomnia. This has been due to an ear problem which has now thankfully been resolved. It did remind me though of those old days. This brought both gratitude and empathy to my heart and mind. Gratitude that I know peace, even in the storms of life as well as empathy for those who suffer from restlessness at night. For as I know it can feel like a living hell.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed by life’s troubles and become paralysed by the fear of what might be. This can lead to the opposite extreme of indifference to life and a rejection of it all. This is no way to live. We can live in the world, recognising all that is life, without being utterly consumed by all that is wrong. We are not powerless, in the face of the storms present in life, but then again neither can we control it all. We cannot do everything, but we can play our part in the drama of life. We can live our lives in the storm of it all, without getting destroyed by the whirlwind as it blows and we can rest when it is time to do so.

This brings to mind some wisdom I discovered while reading Forrest Church’s masterpiece “Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow”, written while he was dying of oesophageal cancer. He asked knowing that we will die, what should we do? To which he answered we should live, we should laugh, and we should love. He then recalled a lesson he learnt from his children, about living. One day, when they were young, he was walking them to school, on a busy New York street. Suddenly a car swerved round a corner and almost killed them all. Forrest was incensed by this, but he remembers, "my kids just laughed, romping blithely down the sidewalk, jumping from tree to tree as they always did, trying to touch the leaves." The kids were celebrating, nay singing the joy of living, and they "had the right idea. Why didn't I think to jump and touch the leaves?"

Forrest believed that it was living, loving and laughing that took real courage, they required heart, while dying didn’t really take much courage at all, in his eyes that just came naturally.

Now to really live Forrest suggested a simple little mantra:" Want what you have. Do what you can. Be who you are." He didn’t suggest that this would be easy but it is the only way to live and in so doing we will live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for by the love we leave behind.

“Be Who You Are” means to live authentically, to live by your own truth, to follow your heart’s desire, this takes real courage.

“Do What You Can” means doing what you are able to do in the world you find yourself. To play your role in life, remembering there are no small parts only small players. Don’t try and be the director and control everything and everyone else, you can’t control the wind, but you can play your part and do the best you can.

“Want What You Have” is really about wanting all that is your life right here right now, not fleeing from anything or wishing your life away. It’s about not dwelling and counting the many blessings that are present right here, right now. It’s about thoughtful wishing not wishful thinking.

Now this all brings me to the following beautiful piece of wisdom "The Desiderata". Simple spiritual and practical design for living...

“Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

“The Desiderata”, begins with these beautiful words “Go placidly amongst the noise and haste” please note it says placidly not passively…In my experience there is nothing passive about living spiritually. The spiritual life is an active life. We are not merely observers here, we are active participants and life demands that we play our roles, while not becoming the director and attempting to control the roles that others are here to play. It is wanting what you have, doing what you can and being who you are in verse form.

The Desiderata has been around for a hundred years now. It first came into my consciousness about 20 years ago and it has been beautifully haunting me ever since. It kept on reappearing, even in my darkest and most secular days. Even when I thought such things were nonsense it has kept on knocking on the window of my soul. I was given a framed copy of it recently by someone I had been doing what I can to help, as a token of their appreciation. It now sits proudly on the desk in my vestry.

The “Desiderata” was written a hundred years ago by Max Ehrmann. It was copyrighted in 1927 but was first penned several years previous to this. It has spoken to several generations since then. It has developed its own life it would seem, including a myth that attempts to make it timeless, it does appear to have that quality about it. The myth began following a reproduction of it by Rev Frederick Kates for a collection of inspirational works for his congregation in 1959 on church notepaper, headed: 'The Old St Paul's Church, Baltimore, AD 1692' (the year the church was founded). Copies of it were circulated and the myth began to grow. It really took off when a copy was found at the bedside of deceased Democratic politician Aidlai Stevenson in 1965.

I like the myth, it does lend a timeless and universal quality that makes the myth into a true mythos. “Desiderata” is a beautiful and practical poem and a wonderful design for spiritual living in my eyes. One that I try to follow, despite the storms of life. It enables me to do what I can. To truly live faithfully and to rest and allow life to be what it can be, while I play my role, the best I can.

We can all go placidly amongst the noise and haste, we can live and we can rest when the storms of life really blow. We can give ourselves fully to the life we have been given. We can want we have, do what we can and be who we are. We can all live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for by the love we leave behind and when our time comes we can once more step into the great mystery and the final eternal sleep.

No comments:

Post a Comment