What should we cherish?
What scares you most in the world outside your own and your family’s health? Losing your job, perhaps? Being cheated out of money? Rows with other people? Poverty in old age? Do any of the world issues – wars in Ukraine and Israel, climate damage, another pandemic – feature in your nightmare of what might go wrong? Does the plight of the starving and the very deprived give you much time of concern? Do the increasing number of fires in the Amazon RainForest worry you enough to give a few dollars to help restrain them?
We all have busy lives to lead. We have the young, the old and the damaged who depend on us. We are here for a mere 100 years and we want to enjoy it, to experience all we can, to learn who we are, to have a good time in whatever way we choose. These are reasonable objectives. The survival instinct that helped humanity develop has also bred in us a curiosity to discover and an ambition to succeed. This has enabled the technological miracles that have taken place, mostly in the last 200 years. It has grown humans closer to being creators. With AI we may be making the next big leap to perpetuating ourselves.
When low cost everlasting energy is available to all and eating becomes an option only for enjoyment and we can control the weather as we please, we shall have arrived at a version of eternity. We are some way off that at present and our lifespan is still only about 100 years. In thirty years time it will likely be 150 years, and in one hundred years time, probably 300. But length of life is not the criterion for its success. We need a new view of life, a view that defines what successful means. Each of us has the opportunity to say what that is.
If longevity doesn’t define success, what does? Think of moments when you have felt blissfully happy, marvellously content – when ‘God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world’. If you find it difficult to do so I pity you deeply. I also have to add that I think you may be mistaking happiness for possession, power, achievement, sensual pleasure. All of these produce a brief recognition of contentment but little lasting satisfaction. That doesn’t mean they are not acceptable, just that they are ephemeral and transient.
I have seen some who were truly happy. They were not just old people reflecting on a distinguished career. Many were young, a few innocently so. A child is well able to achieve happiness if his or her home and parenting are good. The happy are not perfect, they do not lead lives of unblemished discipline and behaviour. What do they have in common?
First, a curiosity in and an ability to read other people. Society has its limitations and anyone who doesn’t want to be social has no obligation to be. But to be fascinated by what makes others the kind of people they are, what drives them to do the things they do and what causes them to find such joy in their surroundings is a lifetime learning of unparalleled interest.
Second, an appreciation of the simplest things in life. A leaf can be given personality by your interest in it. A melody of love can make you more content than receiving a Peace Prize. A memory of a stirring moment of peaceful triumph – let me give you a tiny example.
Before the farming accident that stopped me being a farmer I was working on a busy estate in Hampshire, England. It was harvest time. We worked long days – 6am often until nearly midnight. The day in question had been demanding. I had not stopped bringing in the harvest from the moment I climbed onto my Ferguson tractor first thing in the morning. It was ten o’clock at night. I was driving back to the farm. It was almost dark so my tractor lights were on. A gentle breeze blew across my face, a welcome relief from the heat of the day.
I stopped the tractor for a few moments and switched off the engine. There was complete silence, not a sound to be heard. Not a rabbit stirred, no night-hunting fox came out of the dark. For the first time in my life I could consciously hear the silence. It was a prayer, a privilege, a gift, an honour.
No other moment of my life has been quite so perfect. No other time has brought me stillness to calm whatever disrupted my being.
No other moment has told me so clearly not that I have a soul but that I am one.
What a precious fulfilment of being – to cherish.
A story about your soul, your being would be a wonderful response. You could send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be forever grateful.
25 October 2023