Think clearly and make top decisions Mindfulness Man Martin Stepek
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 tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org