Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Calm is such a beautiful word, don’t you think? Just whispering it softly could make one believe that everything really will be ok. Words are such a passion for me. I have a “bag” of favourite words at home and in there you will find “grace”, “dignity” “serendipity” “cherish” “love” “epiphany” and my children’s, my grandchildren’s and my parent’s names. I’m actually not sure that there is anything quite as moving as the names of one’s own family. My Mother was christened Norah McKay – she absolutely hated it, but now I think it’s pretty cool.
Something I have discovered in this weird period of lockdown is a growing passion for some of the writers I’d previously spurned. Take Jane Austen, why did I not know how totally brilliant she was and that she knew everything you needed to know about being a woman at any age. And as I’m just into the first chapter of Middlemarch – I know I know I feel totally ashamed that I hadn’t read it before – I feel I’m on a whole new literary journey into the wonder and excitement of female writers throughout the centuries.
You see back in the day I was a Thomas Hardy girl all the way and can proudly boast to have read The Mayor of Casterbridge 20 times before I was 25. Yes really, and that was cover to cover. I was obsessed with Graham Greene, although I never got why anyone would actually choose to be a Catholic, and his treatment of moral ambiguities in political settings. I still relive the dark haunting magic of Brighton Rock, when I visit the South Coast seaside town. And yes I even had a thing for Hemingway (I know a bad choice for a woman’s woman but have you read Old Man and the Sea – pure gold).
I guess back then, as the brooding, lost and quite lonely young woman I was, I was deeply touched and strangely comforted by Hardy’s pessimistic view of the world. And I still weep at one of my all time favourite lines:
“Susan is pretty, but her face often has the hard, half-hearted expression on one who expects the worst.”
And this line got me thinking is there really anything so wrong in expecting the worst? Sometimes my greatest emotional difficulties in life have been caused when life hasn’t lived up to my hugely inflated aspirations of what it “should” be delivering. I think I actually got happy when I stopped investing in the future and realised we seldom have any control over much at all. Terrible things have always happened and I’m guessing always will. Whoever would have thought that that COVID-19 would be such a close neighbour – well actually Bill Gates did but that’s another story.
This acceptance idea really isn’t as grim a thought as it seems. Having studied Yoga, and the philosophy of yoga, for many years (I’m still very much an amateur) I have worked continually, and often very badly, in the pursuit of trying to live in the present. It certainly is a hard gig this “present living” and so often I drift off course lamenting “oh why oh why didn’t I take that dream job that would have transformed everything …blah blah blah. And, of course, if I could just have that house, life, cake, handbag … then everything will be just fine.
But, like a stream gently pounding away as it slowly and surely changes the form of the rock, continually drawing back into the present moment starts to change the shape of the mind. In the sublime Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita the mind is likened to a chariot of wild horses. One has to keep drawing in the reigns to gain control and keep the whole thing steady. And this really is lifelong work.
If you suffer, and I mean to use this word, from a very active mind like I do, I wholeheartedly recommend that, like me, you meditate on this idea every single day for the rest of your life:) It seems that there is never so many quick fixes with this mind stuff – one just has to keep coming back time and again. But when the medicine starts to work boy it is the most life changing/exciting trip I’ve ever been on.
I’m here to tell you after 10 years of meditation, I have transformed myself from a ruthlessly ambitious, neurotic, obsessive worrying hypochondriac into a normal-ish person. Most beautiful of all however is that I now feel at peace in my own skin. I would not trade this feeling for all the tea in China. It is as good as it gets.
Now young people, listen up, maybe you are lucky and you already feel this – I don’t have the evidence but I suspect if you do you are in the very fortunate minority here. But do not lose heart if you haven’t. Do not believe them when they say you are so exciting, such fun, so attractive, make things happen. If all the air, life and joy leave your body when you close that bedroom door then I have something else way more beautiful for you to believe in.
On the outside I had great life in my 20s and 30s, on the inside I was like an empty shell. But due to the work I’ve done on the inside, I now steer away from drama but my life has never been so exciting. I’m getting old now, but feel so young, vibrant and curious. I rarely worry about things going wrong, because the worst has already happened to me and whilst life is great now at some point in the future it will all go wrong again. It’s just how it works. Whilst I’d do anything not to be alone when I was young, now I choose to spend a lot of time alone yet I’ve never felt less lonely. I have lines around my eyes, my hair is shimmering with silver white strands and I’m way podgier than I would like – yet I’ve never felt more beautiful.
Oh I wish I could bag these ingredients for a wonder cure for any kind of misery and angst and give them back to my young self. I wish I could give them to you if you are struggling at whatever age you are at. It really is there for the taking. I think I’m talking most about serenity and non-attachment. Of course one has to adhere to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – I’m not sure how much serenity can be found in Syria right now or any other war torn county. But if we have enough health, enough wealth, enough love we really have won the lottery. And yes even in lockdown.
So yup I’m getting bored now – maybe like you. I miss my family, my friends, my two little Grandchildren. But I’ve learnt, through my difficulties, that boredom is a great teacher and forces one to get creative. Apart from loving my new book I’ve taken to teaching my Grandchildren each night just for 15 minutes on zoom. We’ve done elephants, giraffes and planets and now dipping into biology. Seeing their little faces drinking in the weird and wonderful facts about our lovely lovely World, makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery. Reminder to self to write this in my gratitude diary.
If we get our mind right, everything else flows. And this is what I now have written above my desk. My mantra.
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
Stay safe, stay well and stay kind