Think clearly and make top de­ci­sions Mind­ful­ness Man Martin Ste­pek

Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY -

TO­DAY is an im­por­tant date in my fam­ily’s life. Seven­tyeight years ago on this day, Septem­ber 17, 1939, the Soviet Red Army marched into east­ern Poland, al­most un­op­posed, be­cause the Pol­ish army were at that time des­per­ately try­ing to stop the Ger­man army which had in­vaded two weeks ear­lier from the west.

My fa­ther had just turned 17, his younger sis­ters were 14 and 12, and his fa­ther and mother in their mid-40s and mid-30s re­spec­tively. They lived in the east­ern part of pre-war Poland, called the Kresy or bor­der­lands, which is now in western Ukraine. That same day the Red Army rolled into their lit­tle farm­ing vil­lage. The whole com­mu­nity was in a state of shock. As the day turned into early evening there was a knock on the farm­house door. My grand­fa­ther, Wla­dys­law, opened it. A Jewish friend was there, look­ing afraid.

“The Rus­sians have pulled to­gether a list of po­ten­tial trou­ble-mak­ers who might lead any re­sis­tance to their author­ity. And you’re one of them. The or­der is to find the peo­ple on the list and ex­e­cute them im­me­di­ately.”

This friend was a mem­ber of the then-banned com­mu­nist party in Poland. Yet he had risked his life to warn Wla­dys­law, a Catholic anti-com­mu­nist. Wla­dys­law had in re­cent years been ha­rassed for his plu­ral­ist views by the im­me­di­ate pre-war rul­ing party in Poland, which was far-right and an­tiSemitic. While pon­der­ing this warn­ing with his fam­ily and dis­cussing what op­tions they had, there came an­other knock at the door. Ev­ery­one froze. Was it the Soviet hit squad? Wla­dys­law went to the door. It was an­other friend. This time a Ukrainian. The Ukrainian con­firmed the Jew’s warn­ing and added that the Red Army and some lo­cal Ukrainian al­lies were on their way to the Ste­peks’ home. If Waldys­law didn’t leave right now, he would not make the next day alive. The Ukrainian per­son­ally took Wla­dys­law to the near­est train sta­tion where he could try and make his way to his rel­a­tives in the south.

Through the acts of kind­ness and courage, and plac­ing hu­man­ity above tribal loy­al­ties, my grand­fa­ther sur­vived for al­most an­other four years, as head of a lo­cal re­sis­tance unit fight­ing the Nazi forces in the area. The Jewish friend al­most cer­tainly died in the Holo­caust, and the Ukrainian was ar­rested on his way back to his home, im­pris­oned and only nar­rowly es­caped ex­e­cu­tion for be­ing sus­pected of aid­ing Wla­dys­law.

We all have many peo­ple to whom we owe much, even our lives. Mid­wives, doc­tors, nurses, teach­ers, par­ents, among the most ob­vi­ous. But also the un­recog­nised. The peo­ple who sweep our streets, empty the bins, keep our pub­lic parks and road­sides main­tained. The folk who main­tain reser­voirs, pipelines, wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion plants.

We have so much to be grate­ful for, and so many to whom we owe grat­i­tude. Mind­ful­ness recog­nises this through on­go­ing sub­tle aware­ness. The green tea I take in the morn­ing re­quired hun­dreds of peo­ple to get it from the bush the leaves grew on un­til it reached the per­son at the till who scanned it and let me put it in my shop­ping bag. I make sure it’s Fair­trade so that I don’t in­ad­ver­tently sup­port ex­ploita­tion of labour.

It’s all about clear think­ing. The clearer we think the bet­ter the de­ci­sions we make. The bet­ter the de­ci­sions the bet­ter our lives will be, and the lives of those around us, all else be­ing equal. And we can de­lib­er­ately de­velop clearer think­ing by prac­tis­ing mo­ment by mo­ment. Sim­ple ob­ser­va­tion and aware­ness of the breath for ex­am­ple. Right now, no­tice your in-breath, its cool­ness, its fresh­ness, the way the lungs fill and feel strong. No­tice the out-breath, its slow mea­sured re­lease, the de­fla­tion of the lungs, and the sense of quiet peace as the now warm air leaves your nos­trils. This is true men­tal de­vel­op­ment. Five senses, an ob­ser­vant mind, and an op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise it at ev­ery mo­ment. Martin Ste­pek is founder of Ten­forZen, of­fer­ing guided mind­ful­ness ses­sions in handy, 10 min­utes a day, au­dio cour­ses. Au­thor of four books, he is fre­quently asked to speak on mind­ful­ness, his re­mark­able fam­ily her­itage, and on busi­ness. See ten­ and www.mar­tin­ste­ or email martin@ten­

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