Feeling small

Sometimes, in life, one comes upon horrific challenges and one feels very small. Or one goes a certain distance in rising to the challenge and then one falls down. And one feels like a terrible failure. Abraham Lincoln mused a great deal on the significance of failure and success. Any man tested by history must muse on such things. Otherwise, how can he learn to play his part?

Lincoln has been a light for me, since my early 20s. He once said: "Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Yes. I think, in part, success is the ability to fail and then to get up again, brush the dust off one's back and figure out what is the decent thing to do. Failure is the greatest teacher of perserverance. But you must be careful, it can teach apathy and a sense of being small and not up to supreme challenges. You must not be fooled by failure - otherwise you will never learn from it the lesson it would have you learn. And if you fail to do that success will always elude you.

Lincoln has more to say:

"Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man's character - give him power."

Adversity is part of life for all men. How we learn to face up to it, is, ultimately, down to how we mold our personality and our character. We have the power to transform ourselves. Yet, if we seek out profound change - which usually involves a profound relationship with a wise person - and if we try to build a life based on that, it is no easy task - though it is an essential one. It requires intelligence and inner simplicity. It takes determination, faith and above all love. There are challenges all along the way. Financial challenges. Familial challenges. The challenge of loneliness - of seeing something deep very clearly and having virtually no one to share it with. The challenge of silence and the challenges of being - which must be grasped - for if it is not - we inadvertantly seek solace in action - and the consequence of such misguided focus is that we become pray to boredom and misunderstanding of our true nature. We must find balance in action and non-action...but that can be tough - especially if one is trailblazer. When you go alone - who is there to temper you and reflect with you. And if you are lucky to have such a soul companion on the way - who is to say they or you are right or that your concurring and reflections are sound?

What Lincoln is saying above though is significant. All men face challenges. But the real test of a man is when he comes into his own in some way - whether it be financially or talent-wise or political power. Hamlet was not up to it. Mozart and Beethoven brinkered on the edge of madness thanks to their genius. There must be ways to deal with it.

A great yoga teacher I had the privellege to meet insists on cleaning his own toilet regularly...It makes sense - if one cannot stand side by side with the lowliest of the low - how can one ever dream to rise to a higher station and do it in a way that keeps one grounded and related to the building blocks of existence on this plane? That is not to say that all kingly or noble men must wash their own toilets - but it does point to the hidden urgencies implicit in success. Success comes with an urgent need to stay small. Not the small born of a sense of inadequacy. But the small that comes with a feeling of being united with out innate compassion and sensitivity. A loud, brash person can never listen. To listen you must be very still and very small - in order to get out of the way of yourself and in order to be party to the miraculous symmetry of real affection. One can have a vast presence and yet be small. I think that is what Tolstoy meant when he said in tribute to Lincoln that he was one of those rare men who sort not to see the world in himself but to see himself in the world. Tolstoy added that, "He was the only real giant in depth of feeling and in certain moral power."

Lincoln has stirring words for dreamers and believers. He says:

"You can have anything you want if you want, it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose."

I lived in Korea recently...and I left that country with a tinge of sadness. I hate nationalism. And Korea is a very nationalistic country. Nationalism amounts - more often than not to an unpleasant sense of place - rarely does it embrace forgiveness and a sense of our universal humanity. Korea is a country that wants to win. It is in a hurry to win.

It is ironic because in Korea people study very, very hard. They become so very tied up in academic standing and competitiveness - that they seem to become wandering robotic knowledge-bases. Education is not cultivating cleverness - that is such a shallow thing. Korea seems to raise its glass to that though and it saddens me. Intelligence has nothing to do with education. It is born of going to the root of things. Something which our education often fails to awaken us to.

The last quote of Lincoln's that I would like to share is this one:

"It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong."

How true this is! My journey to India represents for me the courage to dare to do the right thing. It's not an easy thing to do. And there are many alternatives that have come to my mind - all much easier to do - but all much, much harder to live with(the easy way out is always that way). Intuitively, I know all those alternatives are wrong and unsuited to what I must do and, being aware of that, I somehow remain sane and up for the mad challenges which my dharma is dealing me (dharma is a word from sanskrit, which encapsulates the sense of what our inner potential, when awakened, needs to do in the times into which we are born and raised - in order that we might live a balanced and fulfilling life).

I have just come back from India to visit my family in suburban England. India is colorful. India is hot and humid and chaotic and rampant. In India my life is non-stop work - with some yoga thrown in. Here in England I get to rest my way through the holiday season and rest a little. It is a very welcome break and I am very grateful for the change of scenery. It allows one to breathe. Here there are not a hundred fuming motorbikes at every traffic light. Here there is no dust to brush away in the courtyard in the morning. Here the poverty is manageable. Here there is affluence. Here there are carol concerts and chaffinches, pink and undulating in their flight against the gray sky. It seems there is more honesty here too. I don't meet people with a sense that - due to my skin and circumstances - people will rip me off. Here there is customer service that is easy to reach and does what it says it will (even though they may be in India - thanks to outsourcing!). In India, there is none of that. In India, the numbers of people seem to swell to bursting point. Here the cultural references are easier for me - but that is slowly changing as I learn the way of things amidst the mosquitos and the monsoon. India is a strain. India is culturally rich. England has orchestras and high street fashion. It has reality TV and America is not so much a distant land of opportunity and promise - it is just an extension of the Anglo-saxon culture across the pond. Bigger and more prosperous - but it is certainly not the land that has replaced Moksha - as it is for many Indians.

I recently read in a book by an American Ayurvedic doctor that England is a land of Sudras. The Sudras are a class in the caste system of India. Members of this class are the peasants and working class of the society who work in non-polluting jobs. Below them are untouchables - above them are the warriors, the business people and the priests. I found this strange when I first read it. But when I came to England it began to make sense. Yes, England has priests and warriors and business people - but there does seem to be a sense of working class equanimity here which gives a sort of evenness to life across the board - even though there are some very rich people here, as well as some very destitute people - there seems to be a common cultural smorgasbord which they all feed from - you can see this very clearly in the media and the entertainment and the literature of the land. In India religion and movies are the binding realities - but even so, there rich and the poor lack the feeling of equanimity that one feels in the European and American cultures. Perhaps this is in part due to the terrible corruption in India. Perhaps it is due to the problems of overpopulation. By and large, the ladders of possibility that one must climb in India to make a better life for oneself - are much steeper and far rarer than those that are available to Westerners.

Perhaps that is why I found the stark realities of the caste system such a trial when I first went to India. Why can't there be more evenness? Why can't there be a clearer sense of fairness across the board - England - and America even more so - has succeeded with that - why can't India? That being said, India has riches that we lack. I find that India has more lively myths - they are deeper myths (for those who are ready to dive into them) and this is a profound statement - if one is at all interested in finding meaning in life. That being said their modern myths are pretty terrible. We have the myth of the new man - a very healthy and essential myth. But they have macho women slapping movie stars - their version of Rambo...and the refined modern man is harder to find - because he swamped out by the weight of the masses and their lust for bravado and blood.

Even though the British came to India and tried to decimate India's sanskrit heritage in some ways, in other ways it introduced the technology of a modern democracy. And the weight of that experession is on "technology". India and democracy are old bedfellows - at least in the sense of dialgueing important issues. In a way democracy, in the form of enlightened dialogue, had its roots in India.

So I am living at the intersection of two worlds and their fertile intersection can be many things. It can be overwhelming. It can be fascinating. It can give me pause for thought. Deep thought. And it can yield many frustrating and painstaking contradictions. One can also feel small. Small in the sense of inadequate. So much poverty. So many problems. How to face up to them? Sure, I know they are not my problems. It is not job to take on the weight of the world. I know that. But it is perhaps not so easy to be comfortable with that when you live in a busy city in India - with slums and desperation seemingly around every corner.

I know so many Indians that want to escape India. Hence how America has become moksha (the Sanskrit word for englightenment) to them. Some of those people who so revere America as an ideal - get to go to America and perhaps they become prosperous and liberated in many ways. I have seen that often. But I have also seen how in their lust for the West - they lose their own culture. Or - as is the case with some Indians - they become disdainful of Western culture...because though it has given them security - there is this niggling feeling in them that the West as a whole have compromised their integrity to be prosperous. They have sold their values and their families for pleasure and plastic. So there are the tradionalists and the money hungry - and amazingly - they seem to exist together as split-personalities in the Indian psyche. Because side by side their wonderful heritage their runs a river of pain and poverty which craves the order and space of places like America and Europe (speaking in relativities here).

At the end of email messages I quote the following quotes:

"Every day is a winding road"

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." -- Patanjali

The first seems to sum up the reality of existence for all of us: every day is actually a winding road. Some days are full of emotional wonders and other days are somehow more non-descript. Some days one is more philosophical - and other days there is such a blur of motion that one sees everything through fleeting comparisons and references...On other days work seems to swallow us up and one fails to seem to find relevance in anything. I could go on and on about the changing shades of a different individual day.

Living in India, and reflecting on my life in general in these few precious days of rest at my family home...I think sometimes I do feel very small. In suburban England it often appears that the madness of our world is conveniently confined to the television screen...Close enough for comfort - distant enough for us to go on with our own lives and not be too disturbed. But living in India - it is not that way. I don't have a television - and I do wrestle daily with the dirt and the inequality - and very often it is far too close for comfort and never distant enough. The contrast with the feeling I get staring out upon the estuary and the spacious fields of my family home is huge! It is a refreshing and stark contrast...When I look into my neices eyes or walk around the lake I feel a sense of wonder about this northern paradise... It is not paradise - for it is cold and the harsh, dry air makes my skin dry and faces gray. But Christmas trees come with presents and plenty of good food and everyone has so much plenty...that I wonder if they know or care to know the value of what they have. The winter can bring on harsh depressions and the monotony of life - wherever you live in the world - can be a trial to the mind.

I feel small when I think of my past and future in India. Not because it is so big...so unfathomable (and yet I MUST try to fathom it)... but because of the contrasts with the sights that greet me when I come home. There is such a cauldron of problems...such an endless catalogue of struggling and corrupt and needy stories in India - and we, in the West with out wealth and Christmas cheer seem so alien - and at time so sane (the sense of order, the electricity which is not mired in constant power cuts, the sense of things getting done; the managable numbers of things and people) - and yet at other times so insane (the way everything here seems to be reduced to jokes and sex and boose and intellectual and artistic interpretation - all of which so often lacks soul. India has its own version of these things of course - unquestioned religions and endless traditions which stifle and destroy spontaneity and freedom).

The second quote which I sign off my emails with I will repeat:

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." -- Patanjali

It is this quote - which I keep coming back to. It this quote which is the thread for me behind Lincoln's line: "Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." I don't think you can do that without believing in what Patanjali is saying. What Patanjali is pointing too is the ultimate reason why we can and must succeed...no matter how small we may sometimes feel.

Devour what he says. Let what he is saying impregnate your consciousness. How dare you put yourself down! How dare you boost yourself up! Be still with what is...and perservere...Never, never give up. And what's more, you might get to be a new man (or new woman for the politically correct!) my son; a man adapted to the times and yet reverent of the profound and perennial wisdom of the ancients - a wisdom which went to the heart of the challenges of the human condition. No matter the problems it found in that inner journey, it resolved to make sense of them and triumph. As Buddha once asked the question: "Is there an end to suffering potential in the human mind?" - so must you...and you must go into it deeply...until no verbal answer appeases; until no emotional response, no loss or gain... has the power to conquer and corrode you - until you recognise yourself - he who is Master over his own mind and heart - he who is related to everyone with equal sensitivity, whilst remaining compassionately detached and aware at all levels of one's being. It is no small challenge and consequently, as I am learning, one is bound to feel small at times.

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Mind is the closest thing to our Reality...Be careful how you use it. Businessman, yogi, teacher, addicted to laughing...