On the last day of 2018, my younger brother died after a long illness. He was finally at peace. Two weeks later, my first grandson – Oliver Stanley – was born, prematurely. He is in the preemie ward at the hospital in San Francisco. Jim died slowly and Oliver is taking his time coming into this world. Feeling one life pass and another come into being … and having just turned 70 myself … I am experiencing an almost organic sense of life.
In that spirit, I am moved to pass on some advice to my grandson. Some day he will see it, when he learns what words are. It may not make much sense at first.
One: Remember to breathe. Deeply. Find a rhythm. Rhythm is the secret of life.
Two: Learn to practice. Improvement for its own sake. Right now, your body is building your little muscles, learning to operate in gravity. Strength requires resistance. Resistance appears as you learn to separate yourself from your surroundings. Practice builds the muscles to do the work.
Life is an exercise in paying attention. Facing all this incoming information, you are putting patterns together that will last you the rest of your life. With practice – and patience – you can make yourself into whatever you can imagine.
Three: Learn to pray. Praying is just looking inside, learning to see with the heart. Where are you in there? Imagine you are part of something greater (trust me on that one) and quietly look inside for what that might be. Praying is not asking for help, imploring the angels to swoop. Praying is, with a little practice, playing a note in a much larger chord. You will look for experiences that remind you of what it is like to be a part of something more.
Just like the sea reveals invisible forces playing on its surface, like the unseen wind bends fields of grass, the world is shaped by currents you cannot see. They are in-visible. What you can see outside is just the beginning of the game. Prayer develops a sense of what is behind all the clutter.
Four: Learn to let go. You will spend a few years learning to grasp things – fair enough, since you don’t have anything at the moment – but the time will come when you feel like you can’t take any more … the structures you have built up in your head won’t bend any further to explain things. That’s when you need to let go. Let go of thoughts, wishes and desires that worked once, but now are just piling up in the corner. Structures in your mind are just structures in your mind. Beliefs are not things.
You can’t reach if you don’t let go. Life is a stream, not an object. You can’t hold the river. Nothing stays the same, regardless of how we try to keep life a certain way by pinning words on things. You can’t push it either. Too many things go into every moment. Everything is in motion. It’s just a matter of speed. The world is alive. In your early years, life will come to you. Look forward. Pasting the past onto new experience, as comforting as that can be, will obscure what it is you may not have seen before. For me, at age 70, life is beginning to roll away. I don’t mind. I have playing in the stream for decades. Trust the magic of beginnings.
Five: Listen to your feelings: you are in for a lifetime of wondering what’s right and wrong, good and bad and so on. What can you know for sure? With practice in paying attention and being honest with yourself, you can always know how you feel. The way to grow is to answer for how you feel in a way that is good for everybody. It sounds simple. Knowing how you are feeling means learning to look inside. Answering for that feeling means expressing that energy in the world, being responsible for your self. Why do it in a way that is good for everybody? Because that is the way life works.
Six: Don’t take other people personally. Everyone else is busy trying to sort out the same stuff you are. If they say they have it all figured out and it’s not good for everybody, they are wrong. The point in being alive is to express who you are. At first, it is up to your Mum and Dad. You are in luck there. They will get you off to a good start. As you grow, your idea of who you are depends entirely on you. Others can never know and can never judge what you are thinking.
When others see you out in the world, it is always from their point of view. A shorter person will see you as tall. A taller person will see you as short. How someone sees you depends on them, not you. Your guide, all that you know for sure, is how you feel about stuff. If something out there in the world bothers you, there is a corresponding internal awareness of something you know to be true. Respond to that. Everyone else is in the same boat. The first words we hear are people telling us how to be. They are just repeating what they were told.
Seven: Be guided by joy. Joy is only rarely shouting out loud. Most of the time, joy is a quiet, sometimes almost silent, note. It can be a whisper that rings with a chord quietly connecting to the universe and it can be an avalanche that is overwhelming. It can be too much to deal with at one time. Everyone will teach you how to put joy aside to get stuff done. That where prayer comes in. A quiet moment of reminder … who you are behind the scenes. Joy is not a color on the spectrum. Joy is the spectrum. Joy is sad and happy at the same time. Joy is the experience of the fact that it is all here, now. Joy all the time and we would never go anywhere or do anything. Bring your life into accord with opportunities for joy … without making a big deal about it. No one can do that for you. Joy is the stream of being at the heart of everything.
Everyone has rules – designed to deal with the way life comes and goes. And everyone breaks them. No one is good all the time – we wouldn’t know what good is. Talk to your parents – you are in their hearts. Keep your word – make it mean something. Express yourself. Ask for help when you need it. When in doubt, reach. Look people in the eye and pay attention to what you see there.
For now, we will teach you how to break the world into bits and pieces, so that you will fit in. The day will come when you will see how to put it back together again. You won’t ever really forget how it was when you didn’t have to breathe. But you weren’t you then, so to speak. You are always a part of everything. You will just forget that for a while, in order to get stuff done. Ultimately, each one of us finds that there is only one way to deal with this messy human life – and that is to be brave and follow your heart.