Vocation — the Secret of Happiness

Roman Krznaric writes of the truly remarkable Marie Curie in “How to find Fulfilling Work“.

Born into a studious but impoverished family of Polish intellectuals in 1867, Marie Curie….was a gifted student. She dreamed of studying medicine….arriving in Paris in 1891, aged 24, she commenced her medical studies, and gradually found herself being drawn to doing research in chemistry and physics, an interest she had partly inherited from her father.

It was the beginning of an extraordinarily intensive life of scientific endeavour that would last over forty years. Curie normally worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, continuing at home until two in the morning after returning from the lab….Her brilliance and dedication were rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, and another in Chemistry in 1911. She became France’s first female university professor, and one of the world’s famous scientists.

Curie was absolutely committed to her career. She lived an almost monastic lifestyle in her early years in Paris, surviving on nothing but buttered bread and tea for weeks at a time, which left her anemic and regularly fainting from hunger. She shunned her growing fame, had no interest in material comforts, preferring to live in a virtually unfurnished home: status and money mattered little to her. When a relative offered to buy her a wedding dress, she insisted that “if you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” Before her death in 1934, aged 67, she summed up her philosophy of work: “Life is not easy for any of us,” she said. “But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

In “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation”, Parker J Palmer tells us that “Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be.”

“Emerald Lake” — painting by Deepa Krishnan

Daniel Dennett, in a 2020 TED Talk titled “Dangerous memes”, points out that “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Matthieu Ricard  observes in “In Search of Wisdom” that “the definition of perseverance, one of the six “perfections” of Buddhism or paramita….is “the joy of doing good.” “Good” here is not simply a good action; it is something that inspires us deeply. It is joy in the form of effort.”

Peace 🙂

Our responses to mistakes reveal who we are

In the introduction to his book “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking”, Daniel Dennett, the cognitive scientist and philosopher at Tufts University tells us that he is an “experienced mistake-maker”. He writes:

Many of the students who arrive at very competitive universities pride themselves in not making mistakes — after all, that’s how they’ve come so much farther than their classmates, or so they have been led to believe. I often find that that I have to encourage them to cultivate the habit of making mistakes, the best learning opportunities of all.

In “Antigone” (translated by Dudley Fitts), written probably around 440 BC, the Greek playwright Sophocles has Tiresias, a blind prophet, say:

….all men make mistakes,

But a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong,

And repairs the evil.

The only crime is pride.

Anita Feng, the Buddhist teacher and artist, agrees with Sophocles in her essay “How to Make a Spectacular Mistake”. She writes that “Mistakes are inevitable”, and points out that “in order to live a meaningful life, we have to, first of all, resist buying into a narrative of failure. Instead, we pick up the pieces and transmute them into a fitting, beautiful change. In other words, it’s all about the repair.” 

Anita then goes on to illustrate the idea of repairing mistakes with kintsugi — the Japanese craft of pottery-repair.

The process basically consists of repairing broken pottery with lacquer that’s dusted and burnished with powdered gold. Rather than trying to hide the flaws, the pieces of bowls or pots or plates are lovingly reassembled and the lines where they were broken become highlighted with gold, marking them as precious objects honored and even prized for their imperfections.

In kintsugi, the reality of brokenness represents an opportunity for the transformation of consciousness. What a wonderful metaphor for our lives….

Anita writes: “This kintsugi art of golden repair requires, first of all, a clear-eyed seeing of what is. All the fabricated stories about how impossible the situation is, or how our devastations might be assigned, categorized, or clung to — all are brushed away. A space is made clear for repair.

When we are willing to learn, and make “space for repair”, we will start to see, what Kathryn Schulz, the Pulitzer winning author  (“Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error”) means when she writes that “however disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes may be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.

Peace 🙂

Photo by Motoki Tonnon Unsplash