All this week, I have had to visit hospitals for various problems. Yesterday, I received news about the glaucoma in my eyes- that an operation might be needed earlier than thought (I have had three operations already). This made me both anxious as well impatient to do as much reading and writing that I could. Of course, I felt depressed too. This morning, I got up and went for a walk. The sun was shining and I looked down at an avenue of Victorian brick houses, washed in the rain and glorious in the early daylight. Those houses had been standing there for more than a century- and I thought of the loves, the lives, the fights and the illnesses of the people that would lived there, now gone and unknown. Then I thought, ‘I am alive and that is all that matters. Not what has happened and what may come. Now is the moment to live. Now is important’ So I walked back, in a happier mood than I started. The treasures of the storehouse of my belief in myself are more important than anything else. That is all I need to celebrate today.
‘As the Buddhist teacher Nichiren states: “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all.” “Treasures of the storehouse” refer to money and other forms of material wealth. “Treasures of the body” are skills and abilities, as well as physical health. “Treasures of the heart” are the riches that we build within our lives. This indicates the kind of inner strength that cannot be defeated by any tribulation. It refers to the power to live out our lives in a creative way, with constant joy, fulfillment and vitality.’ Daisaku Ikeda.
(photo credit: Sumita Sinha)
I have been listening to many inspirational speakers as the grey skies of winter, tiredness and a series of strange incidents try to put a depressing shade to my life. I have been calm, reflective and quietly bemused. Listening to the these speakers helped to put things in perspective, find a balance and be inspired. One of the things I heard from Marianne Williamson (she, whose quote about not hiding yourself is of often attributed to Nelson Mandela) was about life purpose.
I heard this sentence, “If you have life, you have a purpose.” True and so profound. How often do we think about our failings and compare ourselves to others? Yet our own unique life is waiting within- all full of purpose. We don’t have to be young, beautiful or thin or rich to be of purpose. The Universe does not create without purpose. Even if we are old, disabled, ill, or whatever- as long we are alive, we have a purpose. What is that purpose? That is something we have to find ourselves. And if we are willing to look, we can surely find it. To waste our valuable life hours, comparing ourselves to others or envying others, is a slander of our own beautiful and unique selves. But remember purpose is NOT one’s career. Purpose is about our calling, our passion and our special talents whatever those may be- baking a cake, putting up a beautiful Christmas tree, writing a research thesis, singing, dancing, making others smile- and being ourselves. No one can give us our purpose. We have to find it ourselves. Thanks to the person who wrote, “we are here to create a purpose for life” on that window of a boarded up building which I can see from where I work.
I was buying some socks this week and I asked the shop assistant what size the socks were. She said, ‘Well, you can read it.” I explained that I could not read the light olive lettering on the brown packaging, especially in the dim light inside the shop. So she read them out to me. I have glaucoma and have experienced reduced vision recently. However, I am sure even people with good eye sight would have struggled to read the packaging.
The point is that we assume so many things about other people, especially their abilities and disabilities that we can appear to be almost rude and heartless. Once, when I was crossing the road a little slowly and carefully after I had my stroke, a car driver opened his window and shouted sarcastically, “Take your time, dear!” I know I am young and the driver wouldn’t have known that I had a stroke but why assume that every young person has good health? I employed a deaf assistant for over five years. She could not find a job for a long time because she was deaf but that is another story. She was a fine lip reader and we got along fine too. She used to tell me how often people would be angry at her for not listening! Or when cycling, other drivers would assume she could hear and do things like shouting at her to watch out as they jumped the light. Once, I was using the toilet for disabled in an airport, the cleaner told me disapprovingly, “You don’t look disabled to me.” I could have lectured her for half hour as to the reasons I needed to use the toilet for the disabled and thereby missed my flight, but I just smiled and left.
The key word here was, “you don’t look….”. Do we all need walking sticks or wheelchairs to announce we are differently abled? We all have disabilities. We are all different. All it takes is to recognise that we are all humans with different abilities and the world would be a much nicer place. Stephen Wiltshire is an amazing artist who can draw anything to the finest details even after seeing it for a few seconds. He has drawn the whole of London in detail after flying once over the city! He is also autistic.
Stephen was mute when young. At the age of three, he was diagnosed with autism. The same year, his father died in a motorbike accident. Now those would have been enough for anyone to become discouraged with life, especially a child. But he began to communicate through drawing. He also learned to speak at the age of five. At the age of eight, he started drawing imaginary cityscapes. When he was ten, Wiltshire drew a sequence of drawings of London landmarks, one for each letter, that he called a “London Alphabet”. Now at 39 years old, he has a permanent gallery in London and received many awards including a MBE. Stephen can draw beautifully. I am not good at detailed drawing. I have different qualities- some better than his and some worse. This is what makes me what I am.
Today, let us all be proud of who we are and celebrate our differences!
The title of my post today is the title of a poem by Derek Walcott reproduced below-
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
One of the most crucial things about following our hearts can be that we forget our own needs, including the need to love and respect ourselves. Following a hectic pace to achieve our ambitions, our health suffers, we start to look dull and tired and are feeling frustrated. But if we can’t love and respect ourselves, how can we pursue our true happiness and cultivate the world with our unique talents? Time taken to respect ourselves and take care of our health is the best use of time. Nichiren advises us, “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!”
Two projects that I had been working on for several months fell through. These were projects in the charity sector- ones that committed me to give money, labour and time. However, it appears that the people who were to be the recipient of these humble gifts did not want them now, having initially told me to go ahead. I felt like Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha, who practiced the Bodhisattva way. One day, a Brahmin begged for Shariputra’s eye, and Shariputra gave it to him. But the Brahmin being revolted by the smell of the eye and threw to the ground and stamped it into the dirt. Following this rejection, Shariputra gave up the Bodhisattva way of life and fell into endless suffering.
Often we are willing to give anything to others and yet they reject our offer of love and kindness. Should that make you stop? You can think of the endless sacrifices you have made to get that far and appeal to their heart; or argue your case with logic and try to appeal to their head. But they won’t listen. What do you do?
Simply, you don’t stop. You don’t go Shariputra’s way and fall into endless suffering, berating yourself and others. You don’t stop being yourself- kind, good and benevolent. Why?
Because that is the way of the Universe. Josei Toda, a 19thC Buddhist philosopher, who viewed the Universe, the earth and mothers as bearers of life, said,“The activity of the entire Universe is essentially a function of compassion.” The compassionate and benevolent Universe has a way of bringing gifts to you that are not loaded or selfish. So even if you offered your gifts to someone and they were rejected, someone else will value them. The Universe does not disappoint because it is an endless storehouse of treasures for everyone.
So I replied to these people- “something else always comes along and the funding can be used elsewhere. Best wishes, Sumita.”
That way I left my heart’s door open without any criticism, any resentment or suffering for theother gifts of the benevolent Universe to come through. And as I write this, I had a telephone call which gave me a great benefit and I am sure others will follow. Please keep your heart’s door open for the rainbow of gifts that the Universe sends us.