Gifts can be found everywhere in life – and often in unexpected places. I learned this many years ago while I was hurriedly packing for a move to Singapore. I came across an old letter (you know, those things we used to write by hand on sometimes scented paper) written by a friend’s husband while they were living in London. Reading it again after so many years made me stop and think more seriously about the message it contained – especially since I was in the middle of a major move.
Reflecting back on that move now, it is easy to see in hindsight that instead of trying to resolve the problems in my life in a different way, I ran away from them. It was my reflex reaction whenever I became overwhelmed with ‘life’. What if I had read this letter before I made that fateful decision to sell everything and move – a move that became a costly mistake that created far more pain than the pain I had run from? What if I had had the courage to follow the letter’s simple wisdom? Within it was the antidote to the kind of worrying that filled my future with the darkening clouds of a gathering storm that sent me hastily packing.
To remind me of the gift within this letter (written in 1974), I copied this extract in my diary…
Well at this stage I am starting to evaluate the idea of foreign travel, and what do I find? This latest theory is that the modern travel bug which is biting countless millions today is really a symptom of mass boredom. The irony is that for all their refuted glamour – and let’s face it the glamour is manufactured by the travel advertisers – places and people don’t vary very much.
London is very big and busy but in no time, going to work on the London underground, or traveling down Oxford Street in a double decker bus is every bit as mundane as being on a Melbourne tram. Overall, we are dominated by our need to make money and live, to find shelter and to stave off depression. Personally I think I have coped well with London seeing that it is the very antithesis of everything I like – grey skies for days on end, crowds, noise, “canned” living, lack of physical work. Perhaps this is because I just needed a spell from the farm in which I was becoming too involved. I am getting value from being here and finding that I just don’t worry one iota about it. And I am learning one new and intriguing thing – man’s only salvation and hope for sanity lies in living in and enjoying the present moment. Nothing else exists.
Our Western culture keeps us living mainly in the future, but also in the past – anywhere but now, where the battle is being won or lost. So I am doing my damnedest to make do with the moment, even if it is adding a column of figures. After forty years I have learned that, as Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
You probably still remember the day Joan and I abused each other obscenely out on the horses. Objectively we had everything – health, fine weather, beautiful animals, a farm to come home to, not to mention each other. Subjectively we had nothing but anger and despair. So perhaps the ultimate wisdom is learning from one’s experience. Simone De Beauvior, Jean-Paul Satres’ mistress, wrote how she reached sixty after a lifetime of looking forward to this and that. Then, suddenly she was sixty and she turned around and wondered where her life had gone. So life is now and nowhere else.
Today I constantly practice these words of wisdom. Sometimes it is not easy, for my mind is like a dog that chases after a stick I have thrown away. Time and time again I find that ‘stick’ of worry lying at my feet to throw away once more. When this happens I go for a walk in nature somewhere, for nature draws me in to observe, to listen, and to marvel at the beauty around me.
The changing light…
…the different moods of the sea…
…people who exchange a few words or a smile, dogs that come bounding up to drop a ball at my feet for me to throw, dolphins playing in the waves – all keep my mind focused on the many gifts the present moment holds in its hand for me.
Afterwards I return home to my writing; my mind peaceful at last and my energy renewed. I breathe a sigh and say, “I have everything I need for today.” The sun sets from my deck and lights up the sky in glorious technicolor. Before I go to bed I write down at least one little ‘gift’ about the day for which I am grateful. And although it is dark outside, inside the sun shines on me…and I smile.