Losing and gaining

I depend upon a portfolio of small jobs for my income. I like that diversity of work and also I enjoy each of these.  Its like having a tasting menu, or as the French call it, menu dégustation. Dégustation is the delicate tasting of various foods prepared by the chef- a supreme sensory experience.  That is how I like my work too as a creative person.  So when people ask, ‘What do you do?’, I bring out these five or six different things I do, with much pride as a chef would.

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Yesterday, I heard that one of these jobs that I took such pride in, would be longer be mine in nine months time due to end of the contract (which realistically could have been extended as there was more to do but the person in charge was happy with the state of the project!).  In other words, I was sacked!  I reacted in a typical way which was about feeling rejected, hurt, and humiliated.  I know that I have other income streams to depend upon so I wouldn’t suffer financially.  And if I really wanted to, I could go to the Tribunal to contest this.  But Eric Fromm, the philosopher and author of ‘The Art of Being’, advises against such immediate action or rather reaction.  He asks us to reflect and learn from such painful experiences rather than choosing the easy way of confrontation and anger straightway.  Other philosophers ask us to separate ourselves from our ego (which is always the first to get hurt)

First, consider that time heals.  I remember from the past when such things had happened and I had cried for days. Yet today, those things do not bother me and they certainly did not hinder my progress.  Second, what is the lesson from this?  In some ways, it wasn’t my problem that the person in charge was happy to accept an incomplete piece of work.  Or perhaps, even that they didn’t even see it as incomplete in nine months time.  Maybe I would finish it to my satisfaction.  Being a perfectionist, my immediate reaction was that I had failed in some way.  So again, I realised it was my ego that was crying, not the real me.  I realised how much I have let my work define me. Despite losing this work, I was intact- I could always find more work but what did I achieve by needlessly thinking on about the end of contract?  Fromm says, ‘Modern man has many things and uses many things, but he is very little.  His feeling and thinking processes are atrophied like unused muscles.  He is afraid of any crucial social change because any disturbance to the social balance to the him spells chaos or death- if not physical death, the death of his identity.’

Many things that we depend upon for social status such as work, money, power, media presence, etc. are but fleeting.  They might go at any point.  They are indicative of relative happiness where we are comparing ourselves to others, not of absolute happiness.  But if we can become grounded enough to see our true self which is unchanging and unaffected, we can become absolutely happy. Nichiren, the 13th century Buddhist monk, uses the analogy of wind, i.e. something that may blow hard and cold, but passes in the end.  He said, ‘Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, praise, censure, suffering, and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline.’  Am I being a worthy person?  Yes, it hurts when work is elevated so much socially but it will pass.  In the meanwhile, I will get stronger and better.

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When children grow up

My younger son is now at a stage when babyish words, songs, cuddles, etc are an embarrassment.  He has his smartphone which he uses to organise get togethers with his friends and his own time.  He doesn’t need me to wake him up or remind him to do his school work. I don’t have to pick him up from school or take him there.  He was the last of my babies- who has grown up.

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Needless to say, it is sad for me.  Although there is much more time I have for myself, there were many days, when I felt unwanted and abandoned.  It took me many weeks to dissociate my feelings for myself from that of what was happening to my son.  He had to grow up, of course and I knew that.  Gradually I have learnt to be grateful for this time that has suddenly been released to me and be grateful for that independent young man he has become.  Life is a series of losses- as we age, we lose people, we lose things and ultimately face the biggest loss of all, life itself.  However, that is what life is and if we can accept that and learn to be grateful for everything, then all our love and humanity will be revealed in what we do.

Ego and loss

This week I learnt a valuable lesson about loss- that loss is about ego.  If one loses something or someone, one is really thinking about oneself and how that loss is hurting them.  The loss is not really about what has been lost but about the feelings connected with that object or person.  If one can disconnect from one’s ego then one can see beyond loss and be more able to forgive and remember the thing that was lost, rather than what we are feeling and how hurt we are.

First I lost a lovely silver earring that had been given to me by my colleagues when I was leaving my first job. Yes, I felt sorry and sad for awhile- one of those colleagues was no more and it was a way of remembering her.  But then all in life is about loss- whatever we gain, we will lose one day.  So as soon as I realised that, I stopped thinking about the earring and was able to deal with the day.

That same day, I had a lovely lunch with a former colleague.  He had attended a pottery workshop I had organised almost a year back and had made a cup which I had got fired and painted for him.  He had been asking for this cup and so I was pleased to finally meet him and give him this cup which I had stored for such a long time.  Upon getting to the tube station, I realised that we had left this cup behind at the restaurant. I offered to go back and get it back but he said he was not upset about losing the cup.  But patently I was hurt and perhaps that showed on my face as I saw him sneaking off.  Anyway, I thought I must leave him to find that cup and I walked to the trains a little sadly.  Along the way, I thought about why I was feeling sad and hurt.  Again, it was about my ego. I felt bad that I had organised the pottery, got that cup fired and painted and then stored it for a long time and brought it to this colleague.  By saying that it was not important to retrieve this cup, he was in effect saying that my contribution was not important or even that I was not important.  On that journey back, I fought hard to disentangle my ego from the cup and my colleague. I thought about how kind he had been to me, always and the good times we had.  A cup was simply getting in the way of remembering and honouring that.  In any case, it was his cup and if he had

decided to leave it behind, that was his problem, not mine.  I felt happy and light again. mike's pot

A week later, what a lovely surprise it was to get an email and this picture of dandelions in that cup!  So he had actually gone back and found that cup (contrary to what I had been thinking). Having disassociated from the loss via my ego, this photo now gives me double pleasure.  This is now my simple formula for living a joyful life-

Ego+loss= Unhappiness

No ego+loss= happiness

hanging a picture

I never knew how much deliberation and care would go into hanging a picture.  My friend had given a lovely chalk and pencil sketch to me as a present for my birthday in November.  But for nearly two months, it stayed under a desk while I looked at it daily and wondered where I would put it up.  The thing was that his style of drawing was very different to mine and I couldn’t see a way to put it up without a stylistic conflict.  It was not a huge ethical dilemma, a world changing event, it wasn’t something of even local importance but it became something deeply important to me.  I wanted to hang the picture to acknowledge his very personal and beautiful gift to me but without a conflict.  I wanted artistic harmony.  After all, even though I paint, I have never been able to give any of my paintings away, even though I have been asked many times- I am too close to them, it’s like losing a baby for me.  Sometimes, I even wondered if people would take a painting of mine and then throw it away.  They would be throwing a bit of me away.  Anyway, I think this is my struggle.  But I was deeply appreciative of my friends’s generous gesture.  So finally a couple of weeks ago, I decided to put it up.  It meant I had to move several of my own works as wall space has become very precious.  As I debated and adjusted, lifted, nailed, then took off everything again to do it again, it became like a Zen meditation for me.  After the initial struggle to find the space, the exact location for it became a joyful adventure.  As soon as I started to smile, I knew I was winning.  How strange that hanging a picture should take that long but how satisfying the journey.  As for the result, you can judge yourself.  The chalk and pencil sketch on the right is from my friend, the rest of the pictures are mostly by myself except for the two of the calligraphy works- one by a teacher in Istanbul and the other one by William Morris.  The top and bottom left are my works.  IMG_3429

It is a strange mixture but it works.

Acts of Kindness

When things are not going well for us, we tend to go inside (both physically and literally) and huddle.  There, in our state of misery we stay until we think that things will get better and we can emerge from under the covers and re-engage with life.  Yet the longer we stay in that cover, the longer we take to heal.  Reaching out and opening up to others helps to make our own sorrow go quickly.  It is not simply about positive thinking.  It is about taking action.  When our own heart is full of sorrow, it is then we need to reach out and help others overcome their own.  In doing so- whether by listening or helping with chores- this active engagement with others and with life, helps us to overcome our disappointment and sadness.  In such ways, our problems become our ‘mission’- they are no longer obstacles but they are opportunities for growth and renewal.  After going through the pain of several miscarriages, I went on to help others who had suffered similarly.  When finally my son was born, alive and kicking, I realised that even if I had another miscarriage, I was already healed.  Kindness towards others helps us heal mentally and physically-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21900202

There are many new movements around the world, calling for ‘Random acts of kindness’- latest trends on twitter is about someone leaving money in secret locations or buying coffee for others. However, we don’t always have to spend money.  The kindest act someone has done for me which I will never forget consisted of being there and being silent. She just held out tissues while I cried after losing my fifth baby after five months of pregnancy.  This woman did not say irritating  or hurtful things like, “Don’t cry”- “You can always get pregnant again”- “it was only a miscarriage”- “At least you are alive” etc etc which others did in misguided acts of kindness.  She did not have children of her own but yet understood how difficult it was for me.  I bumped into her two days ago after ten years.  I only had to say, “Do you remember?”  She nodded and I squeezed her hand silently. One never forgets true kindness.

Memory, grief and creativity

Portraits

The loss of someone or something can be a source of immense creativity.  The grief of losing a loved one can be alleviated somewhat by the outpourings of the heart, whether that be a piece of writing, a drawing or even something like gardening.  I wrote this poem in the memory of my uncle who died nearly two years ago and yet I seem to think of him every moment.

I open the  chest of drawers,

of my memories.

In the drawer marked ‘childhood’,

As sure as the black and white photographs,

You live on

In the warmth of love.

 

Lesson of mindfulness from my watch

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This is my watch- about 12 years old- an unusual design and so, many people ask me where I got it.  It has a sentimental value for me because it was bought so that I could hold my children when they were small as it has no spiky bits.  But since last week, this watch has become even more valuable to me.  All because it taught me mindfulness.

I was at a celebration last week because an affable colleague of mine received knighthood.  The venue was the beautiful Goldsmith’s hall in the City of London, shining in the resplendent glory of golden chandeliers, skilfully crafted tableware and oil paintings. Wine, conversation and food flowed; and time passed until, it was time for speeches.  I looked at my watch.  It was not there!

I recalled where I had been all day.  Perhaps I had lost in the crowded tube, perhaps in the ladies toilet, perhaps when I was at the drinks reception (I have a habit of fiddling with it), perhaps a pickpocket had skilfully taken it off- my mind raced around London, looking for clues about the missing watch.  The sound of clapping disturbed my thoughts.

It was time for my colleague to speak.  And it was time for me to give him my full attention.  I spent two minutes rationalising about the situation while he ascended the podium.  It was time to let go of this watch.  After all, I had another watch to replace it.  Okay, the other watch was not an unusual design but still, a good make.  Perhaps I would find it in the hall somewhere (I sent a message to the Senior Houseman).  But at the moment, I realised that I was sitting right in front of my colleague and I needed to listen to what he was saying.  I needed to respect his evening.  I also needed to enjoy the moment and be in the present, not in the past or future.  So after this small battle, I stayed focussed and really enjoyed his speech, being genuinely happy for him and his family.

Surprisingly for me, I even managed not to talk about my watch when the speeches were finished- there were things that were of greater importance than the loss of a 12 year old watch.  I tried to broaden my world and enjoy the last of the evening.

And when I returned to the cloakroom to get my coat on the way out, there was my watch waiting for me!  The cloakroom manager had found it- I had no idea when I had dropped it.  I was of course, very happy to get it back.  But I was happier to have learnt the big lessons of mindfulness and that of respecting people, rather than worrying about material things.  Of broadening my heart and learning to live with a loss (even though this turned out to be not true).  One day, this watch will breakdown and I will have to part with it.  But having already lost it once, I know it won’t be a big deal then.