I don’t know what to write. I asked she-who-must-be-obeyed for ideas. She said ‘write about new year resolutions, and how if we’ve made any and already broken them, we might like to try making some that are realistic.’ Or words to that effect. Why do we set ourselves unreasonable targets? Wouldn’t it be better to accept ourselves for what we are, and set reasonable targets? In my last letter I wrote that the best Christmas present would be to accept ourselves and each other as we are. To be aware of our own gifts and skills and faults and failings means that we have our feet firmly planted on the earth. The Latin word for earth is humus (as any gardener knows), so this is humility. It has nothing to do with grovelling. Rejoice in your gifts and skills, and be aware of your failings. And then, look carefully at how your qualities affect what you do, and how you do it. All this is part of mindfulness.
If you watch Gavin and Stacey (and if you don’t, you should) you see a group of people, at the same time both ordinary and extraordinary, who simply accept each other for what they are. They don’t try to change each other, and they don’t force each other to do what they don’t want to do. Many of us are assailed by the expectations of others who want us to do what we are not comfortable doing. We are fools to try and satisfy them. It never works when we try and force a square peg into a round hole: we end up harming both peg and hole. Of course, we live in an imperfect world, and we sometimes have to try and please the boss if we want to be paid, and so on, so there are bargains to be struck, but there comes a point when we have to accept that peg and hole are just not compatible.
This is not all about self. We need to be aware of the relationship between self and society. We all have our part to play, so we can’t just do what we want without considering our impact on other people. Most of society’s problems result when what ‘I’ want takes precedence over what anybody else wants— ‘because I’m worth it.’ What a load of rubbish! But when we succeed in matching the peg to the hole and play to our strengths, we are able to let the divine light in each of us shine out to light the way for others. ‘And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.’ (Marianne Williamson). If you’ve got it, flaunt it—for the benefit of the world!
How many Christmas presents have already been chucked out? When will we realise that fulfilment is an attitude of mind, and not a product of a new kitchen, or a new 3-piece suite, or anything we buy from St Tesco’s or St Asda’s? Eternal life is what I’m talking about. Eternal does not mean everlasting, and neither does it mean life after death. It means timeless, outside time, independent of time. It means living in the present moment, not fretting about past or obsessing about future. We can’t control the future—we are not in control of anything, and the sooner we realise that, the better. We can’t control our biological processes and as we see from recent events we can’t control the weather or what is happening on or beneath the earth’s crust.
Accepting that I can control nothing is liberating. It frees me from trying to be in control and perfect— which is just as well since I am an imperfect muddle. It frees me from trying to impose my will on others—which is just as well since I might be wrong (a hard admission, that!). It’s a recognition that I’m human and will one day shuffle off this mortal coil. This is what Ash Wednesday is about: ‘dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.’ Some people think this is gloomy. Not for me. I think Ash Wednesday is a wonderful festival of being human. To be reminded of our mortality reminds us to put the past to bed, stop fretting about the (uncontrollable) future, and to get on with the here-and-now, moment by moment, allowing each other to shine for the good of all and the glory of the Creator. I do not find this at all easy. Maybe I need to stop trying.