Saturday, 4 June 2016

RECONSIDERING THE DESIDERATA

My generation in the west, the hippie generation in the 1960s, had a thing about posters, a sort of revived popular art form that allowed us, like our children and childrens children after us, to cover the walls of student accomodation with all sorts of wonderful artwork. I wish I still had mine, as some would be worth a fortune!
One of the most ubiquitous, seen almost on every wall, was the text of what was called the Desiderata... Some wise and humane words of advice (words you will find below) about how to Live. We thought at the time that they came from some 17th century gravestone, but in fact they were written by a psychiatrist. No matter the source: these words in the pre internet days achieved the feat of becoming a cultural meme that spread across borders.
Subsequent generations may know the words, or stare at them blankly. I first read them when I was 16 years old, and they had a profound impact on my life.
In fact over the years, those words keep reappearing in the mind, and I have yet to find them unhelpful, or untrue. No! More than most wise words, these really are wise... Not tied to any religious tradition (that is a clue in itself to their twentieth century origin), not filled with brutal commands, threats of punishment, exclusivities - the kind found in most religions. Humane, wise, mature.
Going quietly in the noise and bustle... i have never forgotten those words of advice. There is a whole world of treasure found even in this simple injunction. Go quietly! Even in the 1960s the world was almost unbearably noisy... Not just with cars, planes, radios, TV, engines, mechanical noises of all kinds, but the noise of antagonistic ideas, views, arguments.

Since then, the noise has grown considerably louder. People in fact can go crazy with their own mental chatter. So: cutting the noise has always been part of the way I like to live my life. Only in silence, inner and outer, does the underlying sense of the world and our place in it appear. 
The Desiderata also contained advice that the young me no doubt quickly dismissed, about keeping interest in your career, looking out for trickery and so on. But all that is as true now as it was then. Readers of this blog will be amazed and how many scam emails turn up, sent by goodness knows who for the purposes of cheating and deceit. How can such nastiness exist? Well, we are on the earth plane of existence, and this world of ours contains many nasty characters. Within each of us, too, lies a shadow side, so its part of the human experience - dealing with our own weaknesses and failings, but not to the point of self-destruction.

The words on love seem also deeply true. It can spring from nowhere.. As perennial as the grass. Then there is advice on discipline... Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself. My word, how many people I have known who tend to create truly terrifying versions of angry judgemental Gods ready to leap on any minor infraction of some mispronounced mantra! What utter nonsense, so just always... Be gentle with yourself in the very big words.

Now at the age of 62 I think I have earned the right to give my young self my own little Desiderata. So... The original masterpiece is at the end of the post. But what follows is Baba Desiderata 2016!

My advice to the young me:

Be sure to walk your own path, listen to your own heart. It will be different from most people in the world around you, so you will need courage.

You are going to fail many times. But pick yourself up, keep going.

The mysteries of life will unfold by regular meditation. Never forget that meditation belongs to no particular faith or creed. It is a way to harness the incredible powers of the human mind and will.

Your view on God will change many times as you progress in life. Dont be afraid to experiment, to learn from each religious tradition and be fearless in cutting away the dead wood of religions and movements.

You will find that people are stubborn, mostly greedy and contracted. But you will also find real gems out there. The great souls will mostly be hidden from the curious and violent. But their presence saves us from disaster.

In the world, you will have to deal with suffering. Much of this is because everything is always apparently changing, breaking down, shifting. But you will find security if you look, there are many clues to the unchanging.

Love those you love, avoid those you dont. You cannot love everyone. But forgive others 1000 times over. We are all frail.

Old age has fantastic blessings, so do not be afraid to embrace it.

Be grateful for the incarnation. Beauty is all around, every second of every day. Never go sour on life, it is a waste of time.

THE ORGINAL DESIDERATA
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, "Desiderata".[1]