Reading gives me great pleasure. It both entertains and adds to my education. Not surprisingly, I relax most weekends by reading, interspersed with gardening, listening to music, cooking, and less frequently these days, fishing. This weekend going through the Review section of the Weekend Australian my attention was drawn inexorably to an article titled “The Pursuit of Happiness.” It turned out to be a review of a book with the improbable title of Law and Happiness.
I wonder if we will ever give up the wrong-minded notion of the pursuit of happiness. It seems quite obvious to me that you don’t catch happiness – it catches you! The only thing you can do is prepare your mind in the right way.
Many of the executives I work with are very driven people. They work extremely hard in progressing their careers and contributing to the success of the organisations they work for. They strive to meet their kpi’s and the key objectives of their particular enterprise. They concentrate so much on their doing that they neglect their being. This often results in some dysfunction.
I was at a seminar the other day, when the presenter asked a question which went something like this. “Put your hands up if you would be uncomfortable alone for an hour or more with no mobile phone, TV, computer or any other electronic devices.” The majority put their hands up! What is wrong with us that we need to be continuously stimulated by these artificial means? For me, I relish every hour I can spend in contemplation, meditation or just relaxation. The Eastern traditions and indeed the mystics of the Christian tradition tell us that stilling the mind is more helpful to our long term sense of well-being than stimulating it. Not only do we benefit from getting our mind in order but so do those around us.
You have probably heard the story (versions of which circulated on the internet some years ago) of the Chief Executive that took a vacation and went to a tropical destination to do some fishing.
To assist him catch fish he hired a guide named Joe. Joe was in his forties and lived in a modest house by the seashore with his wife and two children. Every morning Joe would arise and walk on the beach with his family and together they would swim in the crystal clear waters of the surf. Three days a week he would take his clients out to sea in his boat and hunt for bill-fish – mainly marlin and sailfish. They would fish until he was able to conjure up a prize catch for his client and then they would return to harbour.
On the days when he did not fish Joe would spend a lot of time in his hammock reading until lunch time. After lunch he would spend an hour or two maintaining his boat and fishing equipment. Then he would pick up his children from the nearby school. Most such afternoons he would spend with the children on the beach, at local beauty spots exploring the natural environment or learning how to do useful things like mending fishing nets or careening the bottom of his fishing boat. After dinner he and his wife would walk to a nearby café for a coffee or a drink and catch up with community issues with the locals who frequented the café.
The Chief Executive really appreciated Joe’s talents as a guide. He could reliably help him catch a trophy fish – but more than that he had considerable knowledge about fishing tackle and techniques, marine biology, oceanography, meteorology and other subjects which helped him be the consummate fishing guide. The Chief Executive saw here the potential for a profitable enterprise. He explained to Joe that he could help him put together a group of venture capitalists to help him build his “underperforming business.” Instead of inefficiently taking one client out at a time, Joe could command a fleet of fishing boats each accommodating multiple clients. With some strategic advice he could branch out into related businesses – perhaps build a high rise hotel on the beach. With some astute marketing, he explained Joe could become a celebrity and appear on TV. He could use his success to market franchises to work out of other fishing villages along the coast. “And if you did all this,” said the executive, “then you could become rich.”
Joe somewhat bemused but listening patiently, asked, “And what then?”
The executive quickly responded, “Well then you could retire somewhere by the beach, relax and do some fishing and reading, and spend some time with your wife and kids.”
How many of us eschew “the good life” whilst striving to gain the means to live “the good life”? If we slowed down and appreciated what really matters we could have it now! But again this is a matter of preparing the mind and appreciating the reciprocal relationship between our thinking and our environment.
Carl Jung told this story in “Mysterium Coniunctionis” related to him by his friend Richard Wilhelm who had travelled to a remote province of China.
“There was a great drought. For months there had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions; the Protestants made prayers and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: ‘We will fetch the rainmaker’. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself up for three days. On the fourth day the clouds gathered and there was a great snow storm at the time of year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumours about the wonderful rainmaker that Richard Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.
In true European fashion he said: ‘They call you the rainmaker. Will you tell me how you made the snow?’
And the little Chinese man said: ‘I did not make the snow; I am not responsible.’
‘But what have you done these three days?’
‘Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here, they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Therefore, the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao and then naturally the rain came’.”
Now, I don’t know whether you believe in “Rainmakers” or whether you don’t. But I can confirm this – when you are in order the world around you is in order also. In the terminology of Anthony De Mello, once you arrive in this state, whatever seems to be the case in the world, “All is well.”
So, my exhortation to you would be to slow down, not strive so hard at conquering the world, but take a little time to come to grips with yourself. Here is the key to you own well-being.
André Paul Guillaume Gide (22 November 1869 – 19 February 1951) was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. From July 1926 to May 1927, he travelled through French Equatorial Africa. One morning, after spending the previous day travelling fast through the jungle, Gide urged his native guides to get moving. They looked at him and with firmness said: “Don’t hurry us – we are waiting for our souls to catch up with us”.
That, I think is the nub of the problem. In our frenetic Capitalist society, we don’t allow enough time for “our souls to catch up with us”!