“I’ve often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they’re on, why they don’t fall off it, how much time they’ve probably got here… I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society…It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.” -Kurt Vonnegut
To learn and to love - the birthright of a human. Yet how often need we be reminded?Why not collect the best information, and present it to our children. Something to get them updated not on culture per se - but on more fundamental matters. On the rules of engagement pertaining to a meaningful life. To start, we introduce them to the great mystery right from the beginning.
“The worst things that can happen is that you die. But you will die anyway. So don’t worry” - His Holiness the 16th Karmapa
With this out of the way, what else might we share with a new comer to our planet? Perhaps we should set up more expectations.
"We often forget that aging is actually living … that to age is to live, and to care is to be human." -Ai-jen Poo
The process of continual change, of never quite feeling at home - that’s the raw stuff of life. But the feeling of disenchantment and separation from the world comes only from false expectations. Getting rid of these comes not from acquiring new ideas, but from an attitude towards life.
“People with even a tiny bit of equanimity will help create safe comfort zones” - Ram Dass
Equanimity is a sense of not minding what occurs - of learning to fully accept and open to whatever is occurring - and only then acting to change. Now, the manual should be honest, and let the children know that this isn’t easy to cultivate. But first, a recognition:
“My home is in my head” -Bob Marley
For better or for worse, many of us spend lots of time in our thoughts. So better make those thoughts conditions for future happiness. Without a doubt, gratitude is the way - but how is it cultivated?
“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy” - Khalil Gibran
So despite everything changing and flowing, we can always reflect on those few cherished regularities in our lives. Sunshine. Hot coffee. A cool breeze. A big hug. A big breath. There is always something positive that can be reflected on. And the more often we do this - the more likely looking gratefully at the world will become the tendency of our minds.
The child might then wonder, after reading the manual, if curating our thoughts is enough to feel at home? It’s then that mindfulness will be introduced.
“Make yourself at home in the natural state of pure presence - just being, not doing anything in particular” -Jamgon Kongtrul
The world is so beautifully complex, that there is no way to control external circumstances. The thoughts and situations that make up our life, are almost entirely unchosen. That is fact. Now imagine if you could see things from a different viewpoint.
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it” -Eckhart Tolle
Don’t become a jellyfish, you can still have integrity and grit. But at the very least, don’t fight the unfolding. Flow is the quality of experience, and once you can go with it, then the content of experience can be dealt with. Treat the world as if there’s no where you’d rather be. Engage with situations as if there’s nothing you’d rather do. All of this is to be done with a detached lightness. The manual should finish with a reminder to enjoy, laugh and love - but not to fall under the delusion of ultimate progress. As Shunryu Suzuki so aptly reminds us all:
“Treat every moment as you're last. It is not preparation for something else”
It is as it is.
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