Our values should be a constant through life’s journey.
Pinned permanently to the top of the Twitter timeline of my friend David D’Souza are some wise words from US comedian Jon Stewart on values:
“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they aren’t values: they are hobbies”
Yesterday, my friend Kate Griffiths-Lambeth kindly reposted some words I had written for her in December 2014, for that year’s Advent Blogs series. Rereading the post, the moment of writing those words came flooding back. I was, in all frankness, going through a rough couple of months. Kate was one of a number of good friends to lend a sympathetic ear and help me through. Back then, I wrote:
“I think it’s time, as it always is, to let your values guide you through. Being you has got you this far. Being you has got you much further than you would ever have thought.”
Our values, our beliefs, our guiding principles should be a constant through life’s journey. A few weeks back, my friend Heather Bussing embarked on what sounds to have been a life-changing trip to Japan.
In this day and age, we don’t need to wait for postcards. Heather was so kind as to send me some beautifully-written tweets conveying her sense of wonder and gratitude to be experiencing Japan. She wants “to be fully present for each interaction.” I love Heather’s concept of “traveller’s mind.” I take this to mean an openness to the journey and to all that it has to offer, no matter how random.
I will always trust in the random. Back in 2014, when life was treating me harshly (as it will again), Heather pointed me towards Pema Chödrön’s wonderful book When Things Fall Apart. I regularly open this book at random, and know that the words I am meant to read at that moment will be right there. Opening it at random today, Chödrön writes that there is no insight without introspection. Introspection should be unfalteringly honest, clear-eyed. But this should be tempered with kindness. Chödrön says:
“Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to react to others is important. […] To the degree that there is kindness toward ourselves, there is confidence that we can actually forget ourselves and open to the world. […] When we regard thoughts and emotions with humour and openness, that’s how we perceive the universe.”
How to live and have fun
If your values are true, they will not change, even as your circumstances change beyond all recognition. In his published 1995 diaries A Year With Swollen Appendices*, Brian Eno writes of his admiration for his frequent collaborators U2**. He writes of their kindness to and openness with one another. He is fascinated “to see that, after all this time, there is still such courtesy, understanding and love between them.” They value one another. To Eno, their values have remained constant as their lives have changed beyond recognition***:
“These people know so much about how to live and have fun, and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with money: they would live like this in a slum or a palace. The difference wouldn’t be in the choices they made but in how often they were able to make them.”
These are the testing times
Again and again, life will test you harshly. The rug will be gone from beneath your feet. The plates that seemed so smooth in their spinning will crash around you. These are the testing times, the times to let your values guide you.
This week, I was stunned by a moment in Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast interview with genius music producer (and Santa-bearded Buddhist) Rick Rubin. The interview had been planned and scheduled to provide an overview of some of the dozens of musicians to work with Rubin at Shangri-La, his Malibu studio. But 24 hours before the second scheduled podcasting session, Rubin and his family had to flee Malibu as the recent fires wrought devastation. Their home was consumed by the fire. Gentle reader, I would have been incoherent in such circumstances.
The podcast recording goes ahead anyway, albeit in a different location. Rubin remains the peaceful centre of the universe. His Buddhist beliefs and values are the prism through which he perceives this universe. They did not escape him at this moment of crisis. Rubin speaks with calm and clarity about how he and his Malibu-based friends behaved in this most testing of times:
“People are reacting differently. Some people are really hysterically upset. Some people are concerned with losing specific things. But the reality of the situation is that there isn’t much to think about. Whatever energy I put into thinking about it won’t change the situation.”
Testing times are an opportunity to learn and to change. Buddhist non-attachment is fully in evidence when Rubin discusses the loss of his home and possessions:
“I like the things I like. But ultimately it’s just stuff. And most stuff is replaceable. In a way, it feels like a potential for a clean start. I’m travelling very light.”
As I write this, Kate is going through testing times. If you are lucky enough to know Kate, please send her love and support right now. If you yourself are going through testing times, please know that this is not all of life. These times will pass.
Let your values guide you.
Keep a traveller’s mind.
* A Year With Swollen Appendices is easily my most reread book, as is evidenced from just how dog-eared my copy (depicted above) is! This book is so densely packed with fascinating insights and digressions. Every page is full of jewels of wisdom.
** I am no fan of U2. But as I have doubtless written many times before, my interest in music is such that I will read thousands of words about bands I don’t even like.
** Gentle reader, I am aware that there is no small irony in writing that U2’s values have not been changed by material success, given their alleged tax-phobia.
- Rick Rubin drawing and Eno book photo by mjcarty.
- Mount Fuji photograph by Heather Bussing. My thanks to Heather for her very kind permission to include this picture here!