In “Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion”, Sam Harris, the neuroscientist who battles superstition, and popular religion, tells us that “the insights we can have in meditation….confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world..”
Matthieu Ricard writes in “The Art of Meditation” that “The ultimate reason for meditating is to transform ourselves in order to be better able to transform the word or, to put it another way, to transform ourselves so we can become better human beings in order to serve others in a wiser and more efficient way. It gives your life the noblest possible meaning.”
Mary Oliver sings, i think, of a person who has realized what Sam and Matthieu are talking about (in her poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)” (published in her collection “Devotions”)
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,
he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled….
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and tempering word.
The Roman philosopher-statesman, Seneca, who was asked by Emperor Nero to kill himself, writes (“On the Shortness of Life” translated by Gareth D. Williams) around 50 AD that “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.”
“Life”, he tells us “is long enough, and it’s been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest things, if the whole of it is well invested.” He thunders further on in the book: “Men are thrifty in guarding their private property, but as soon as it comes to wasting time, they are most extravagant with the one commodity for which it’s respectable to be greedy.”
As the essay unfolds, we feel Seneca pouring from the depths of his soul. Seize the day, he says. “Even when you’ve seized it, it will still slip away; and so you must compete with time’s quickness in the speed with which you use it, and you must drink swiftly as if from a fast-moving torrent that will not always flow.”
Matthieu Ricard likens time (“On the Path to Enlightenment”), to “gold dust” and cautions us not let it run “through our fingers”. He writes: “Every moment of our lives has tremendous value.” He encourages us to “be aware that every second of our life is inestimably precious”, and asks that we “make the best use of it for our own good and the good of others.”
In “The Writing Life”, Annie Dillard reminds us that this hour, this minute matters. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
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.”
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.”
Juan Mascaro ends the introduction to his translation of “The Bhagavad Gita” with words that are enshrined in my heart: “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.”
As one reads Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be named the United States Poet Laureate, sing (in her poem “Praise the Rain”) “Praise beginnings….” , one hears her whisper between words that every moment is another opportunity to begin anew.
The Irish poet-philosopher, John O’Donohue, writes in “Benedictus: A Book Of Blessings” that “our very life depends directly on continuous acts of beginning.”
“There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning”, John joyfully goes on, because “the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning.”
In “In Search of Wisdom”, a solid-gold conversation between a psychiatrist, philosopher, and monk, we read Alexandre Jollien observe that “every moment of life can become the occasion for liberation….”