Don’t fret the un­know­able stuff

Mind­ful­ness Man

Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY - Martin Ste­pek

THERE’S a fa­mous story The Book Of Chuang Tzu, where the au­thor tells us he has just awo­ken from a dream in which he was a but­ter­fly. Then he re­flects that he can’t be sure that was in­deed the re­al­ity, or whether he was in fact a but­ter­fly dream­ing he was now Chuang Tzu.

This story, played out in sci­ence fic­tion films like The Ma­trix, can be headachein­duc­ing be­cause there’s no way of know­ing for cer­tain which al­ter­nate ver­sion is the real one. Of course we all have fa­nat­i­cal friends who would tell us that in fact there might be a tril­lion al­ter­nate uni­verses, in one of which Chuang Tzu would in fact be the but­ter­fly.

Pon­der­ing such un­know­ables can be fun. The prob­lem is, we of­ten get to­tally wound up by more se­ri­ous un­cer­tain­ties in life. Take Brexit. Try to leave aside your po­lit­i­cal view of it.

There is no way of know­ing for cer­tain what the im­pact of Brexit will be. Be­fore you rush to dis­agree, con­sider th­ese points. Im­pact on whom? Bri­tain? Scot­land? South La­nark­shire, where I live? Hamil­ton, the town in South La­nark­shire where I live? Me per­son­ally? With or with­out my fam­ily?

And for how long are we talk­ing about this mea­sured im­pact? The first three years? Thirty years? Till 2100? Till the next mil­len­nium?

Even if we agree on the who and the how long, doesn’t it de­pend on the pre­cise de­tails of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, of which we don’t yet know the out­come? Also the over­all global eco­nomic growth fig­ures over the next few years? Or the spe­cific deals Bri­tain might be able to do with other coun­tries? Not to men­tion the pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, which if the re­sult was Yes, would pre­sum­ably af­fect Scot­land’s im­pact, the rest of the UK’s im­pact, and the im­pact on the EU, which would also de­pend on whether Scot­land stayed in, was out, or was out but ne­go­ti­at­ing to re­join the EU?

Now, this is just ba­sic stuff. Truly com­plex stuff is how your mind works. How you re­spond to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. How you cope with ill­ness, deaths, job is­sues, age­ing, fam­ily and friend­ship ups and downs, and so on. Th­ese are all un­know­ables un­til they hit you.

And yet we fret over them end­lessly just like we do with Brexit, and just as poor old Chuang Tzu was do­ing about whether he was a hu­man or a highly so­phis­ti­cated but­ter­fly ca­pa­ble of dream­ing he was an an­cient Taoist philoso­pher.

An­other an­cient philoso­pher, Gau­tama Sid­dhartha, bet­ter known as the Bud­dha, had very clear views on how we waste time and en­ergy on con­tin­u­ally ru­mi­nat­ing and de­bat­ing what is not know­able. “The Bud­dha” means the awak­ened one, and I think he was ex­cep­tion­ally awake when he made the fol­low­ing ob­ser­va­tion.

Con­tin­u­ing to de­bate some­thing you can’t find a def­i­nite an­swer to leads to “a wilder­ness of opin­ions”. This is such a no­ble truth. While we’re in­ter­minably de­bat­ing, with oth­ers or just in­side to our­selves, the full po­ten­tial of this won­der­ful life slips away mo­ment by mo­ment by mo­ment. Over a life­time we can throw away decades on point­less pon­der­ings and ru­mi­na­tions.

Take an ex­treme ex­am­ple. Sup­pose you have ter­mi­nal cancer. What is bet­ter use of your time, to lit­er­ally wake up and smell the roses, or to wake up and won­der if to­day will be the day you die? We all do lit­tle ver­sions of this ev­ery day, by get­ting dis­pro­por­tion­ately up­set over triv­ial things. Mean­while the smell of the roses wafts by un­no­ticed, and 100 mo­ments of your life are lost for­ever.

Be mind­ful. Learn to pay at­ten­tion to your thoughts, moods, re­ac­tions and your five senses. Learn to let go, gen­tly, with­out fuss or ran­cour, of the rub­bish and the poi­son. It doesn’t mat­ter if you never know whether you were in fact a hu­man or a but­ter­fly. What mat­ters is you have aware­ness of be­ing alive. Use it fully be­cause it doesn’t last for­ever.

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.