The philosopher Epictetus, once a slave, advised us to deal with those things over which we had control, and stop worrying pointlessly over those we have not. Worry and fear are always about those things over which we have no control — or very little. All we can do is take care.
I cannot count the number of people I know who have been involved in motor accidents, some injured, some fatally. But of all the people I know, only one person has been ill with the current virus, and fortunately did not need hospital treatment. But despite this, we worry more, because we are accustomed to road accidents and because this situation is new to us. We rely on past experience and worries, and project those into the unpredictable future. We do not live in the reality of the present, but somehow with one foot in the past and one in the future, and this divided mind is the source of our fear. It is the way the mind works. As Mark Twain said: ‘All the worst things in my life never actually happened.’
The ego decides how it wants the future to be and when things turn out differently, it is unprepared for the new reality, and instead of accepting things as they are, generates fear and anger like a spoilt child. The ego wants everything to be static and under its control, but almost nothing is really under its control. Everything is changing. That is what life does and what we do too because we are part of it.
There is the divided mind which likes to worry, particularly if there is nothing else to occupy it; and there is the quiet observer, the listener. This is the intuitive awareness that is always there for us and is never ruffled or despairing — like a good parent is always there — when we are prepared to turn to it. Sometimes in meditation or out walking in the land, you are aware of a quietness, a calm that can take in any troubles and worries, and rest the tired spirit. Not for nothing did Ajahn Chah call meditation ‘The holiday of the heart.’
You may think you lack such a wonderful thing, but if you go out in the early morning you hear birdsong without any intention of doing so. And this awareness never leaves you, waking or sleeping; it is your true nature. No human being lacks it, though some go to great lengths to suppress it because of a desire to control it, which stems from fear. John Richards told me that the Greek testament actually says: ‘If the eye is undivided, the body shall be full of light.’ This is the ‘Wise mind’ the Zoroastrians speak of which leads us back to wholeness.
All it requires — and this is a lot — is trust, patience, and the willingness to open ourselves to the world as it is, not as we would like it. It is in the willingness to give, and give ourselves, and be grateful for what we have.
It is to be like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, as Roger Sale* writes so beautifully: ‘To be able to go, without meaning to, into a strange and magical land, and to be able to accept each moment there as it comes and for what it brings — it is like having it always to be morning, to be always setting out, and that is one of the most enchanting and elusive of life’s possibilities … Dorothy is fully awake. She does not worry or fret or plan, and so everything can be fully itself.
*Roger Sale: Fairy Tales and After.
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