“Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.” ~ George Saunders
I have been struggling for the past few days to find words.
Words to explain why we must…absolutely MUST “clear away everything that keeps [us] separate from [that] secret luminous place…[and] nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly”.
Why selfishness is illogical indeed, how it both nourishes and feeds on fear…and then it destroys us…and through us, it destroys others. So many beautiful things, people, moments, chances, lifetimes…needlessly, illogically shattered, stunted or “just” dimmed.
Why no matter how valid the circumstances and experiences we use as excuses….it’s the unwillingness to overcome the sickness of selfishness (and fear) within ourselves that lies at the root of what doesn’t thrive in our world…the sad reality of un-successes, silences and submergings in our lives despite apparent achievements and pleasurable distractions.
We blame society, we blame our past, we blame finances and the incessant pressures in life. We have a habit of blaming everything and everyone so as to avoid looking in the mirror and taking that one step through a painful, yet necessary moment of self-awareness, of discomfort onto freedom, love, and doing justice to who we truly are…to our light.
Yet this is the only way to wake up once and for all…to heal and to live. And we’re not just doing it for ourselves…we’re doing it for our children, for our friends, for everyone else. It starts with one…it can only start with one. And that one is each of us opening the door, even if only a little bit at first.
I always think of those words…“Everyone dies, but not everyone lives” and I wonder why or how anyone would choose to go through life half asleep, live with half measures, settle. It’s one thing to become overwhelmed and temporarily have a bit of a melt-down…it happens to most if not all of us once in a while, and for many reasons. But to stay in that place and then somehow convince ourselves that numbness, avoidance and focusing on external “achievements” represent a recovery and/or an acceptable option or solution? That I will never understand.
And so I didn’t find the right words.
Because the words are not right when one “preaches” to the choir. The right words are the words that will touch and open those not in the choir. But if we don’t speak the same language, what do words matter? And to communicate, there must be willingness for it, interest and openness, otherwise all one ends up doing is talking to rocks. And although I like the expression, I can tell you no amount of talking (not even wondrous poetry!) does in fact melt a rock, let alone moves it even one fraction of a fraction of a millimeter.
Then I found this article today…or it found me: “George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates” by Joel Lovell in the New York Times Magazine. It has the right words. Whether or not that makes a difference I don’t know. But they made me cry, and made me smile. So I chose an excerpt to share.
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?
Well, yes, good question.
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.
So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.
Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.
One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”
And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.
Congratulations, by the way.
When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….
And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.
Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.”
Here is the link to the entire article: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=MG_GSA_20130802&_r=0