I love that. Renounce and Enjoy. Three words that make a mantra. Yesterday I was listening to a great podcast by a blogger I follow, Jacke Wilson (History of Literature – Upanishads II)
I was soothed by his voice, and interested by his content because;
a) I love literature and it was titled ‘ History of Literature’ – no brainer then.
c) I have been fascinated by the history of spiritual development ( wanting to have some myself, being a Godless creature. I may need to realign that – I don’t think I am Godless, but unwilling to belong to the nomenclature ‘God’ as it carries so many connotations.
I really enjoyed sharing his curiosity- it mirrors my own- what is there? who am I? and I have been discovering slowly over the past few years that I am drawn to the understanding about the connectivity of everything to everything else. I have moments that beam into my day where I feel this truth. There’s no reason for it, no rational explanation that I can expound, no theology that I can share, just that momentarily I FEEL it.
This week has been extraordinary for one reason – Death is in it. It is playing as a soundtrack in my head and I have no idea why – this is how it started. I was driving across the country as is our usual custom on a Sunday, preparing for the work week in a different county to our home. I spend this time either talking to my husband, listening to the radio, or in quiet contemplation. On Sunday I talked. I talk to him and he listens. It is a way of thinking for me. I had been considering a T.V drama I had watched wherein a potential terrorist was going to blow him and his partner to smithereens in a public place to maximise the devastation. In the drama it shows the young man with his wife, explaining how they would be together after death, and used the metaphor of it being like moving from one room to another. Bear with me – I do not advocate terrorism (au contraire) but this is important. Watching the drama play out brought something positive to me. The metaphor was one that I could feel. I have no strong belief about afterlife – my gut feeling is the body dies and we are gone. But my whole life I have understood something other than this rationalisation. I was 11 when I encountered a death that was meaningful – my uncle, much beloved. He has remained alive in me all my life, he has influenced my thoughts and my behaviours, he has helped me to be more the person I want to be than I would otherwise have been. Is this life after death then? My husband and I have always been disturbed by the possibility of either of us dying- we don’t want to be left alone. This is what this drama brought out in me. We will never be alone. If I die first I know my loving presence will be felt every day by him, his presence will be felt by me if he dies. It occurred to me in that discussion that possibly those who have died may feel the vibration (forgive the word) of the love that continues in the living. Who knows? Maybe Shakespeare knows I love him. Perhaps not personally, but maybe he feels the weight of love. How heavy is love anyway? Perhaps it should be better described as the lightness of love – for isn’t that what love does? Illumines and sheds burden?
Later that morning the radio played a marvellous monologue by a Bishop about Death – and learning to live well with the knowledge of its inevitabality -“Courage is not being unafraid. It is to be very afraid, yet to overcome our fear and refuse to flinch. It is the best lesson life teaches us.”
Three Score Years and Ten
Jacke Wilson explains that Gandhi said if all the Upanishad and Hindu scriptures were to disappear but the first verse of the Upanishads were to remain, Hinduism would still exist. On being asked to make a summary of Hinduism , Gandhi chose three words ‘ Renounce and Enjoy’.
And what Jacke does on the podcast is to bring his humanity to his attempt to understand what he’s doing on earth – he speaks directly to me, tells me it’s o.k to be human in the face of spiritual challenges. Like me he wants much of the world but not all of it, he wants some of religion, but not all of it, he wants more from the world, and more from religion than is available.
I fall down all the time at trying to be the person I want to be – but I keep trying , and I don’t even know what direction I am travelling in, I have no ultimate destination in mind even, I just know there is more to me than the me I have found to date. And like Jacke, its literature that led me to that well of sustenance.
And literature generally leads back to people, so really it’s other people that have illumined parts of my psyche that would otherwise remain in the dark – dead people too – Shakespeare, Montaigne (via Sarah Bakewell- thank you!), T. S. Eliot, Rumi, Iris Murdoch, William Golding, Herman Hesse.
Many thanks go to Jacke Wilson for bothering to do all thinking, the reading and the recording for the podcasts. They are on my list of what to listen to – I recommend them heartily. Here’s the link to the first part of the one on the Upanishads HIstory of Literature, Upanishads Part 1