The way to fulfillment

This weekend, thousands of pilgrims will climb Croagh Patrick, a mountain which was considered sacred as far back as 3000 years BC and associated with St Patrick from the time he fasted there. Ireland today is bombarded today with lots of examples of what will lead to a happy life, such as wearing certain types of clothes, such and such a diet, success in achieving goals, quick-fix self-help slogans and imitating celebrities. However, in the wisdom developed in Celtic spirituality around the time of Patrick –  over 1500 years ago –  a fulfilled life had three elements: being close to nature, having concern for those less fortunate and being grateful.  Let’s see which will lead to greater contentment….

Let me bless almighty God, whose power extends over sea and land, whose angels watch over all.

       Let me do my daily work, gathering seaweed, catching fishgiving food to the poor.

Let me say my daily prayers, sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet, always thanking God.

Delightful it is to live on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell, serving the King of kings.

The Prayer of St. Columba, 521-597 A.D. 

photo: kanchelskis

What cows do you need to let go of?

The area where I live, south Kildare, has some of the finest pasture land in Ireland and it is a lovely place for a walk at the weekend.  So it is easy to be reminded of this old story about cows, retold here by Thich Nhat Hanh. Like all parables it can speak to us in different ways at different moments in our lives.

Today it reminds me that I should stop trying to hold onto my idea of what life should be like, and instead move towards what life actually is like.

This can become a simple daily practice – we can repeat the words “let go” –   letting go of what we think we need for happiness and the external conditions we believe must be fulfilled in order for happiness to come.

Hopefully it may speak to you in some way today

One day the Buddha was sitting in the forest with some monks when a farmer approached them. The farmer said, “Venerable monks, did you see my cows come by? I have a dozen cows and they all ran away. On top of that I have five acres of sesame plants and this year the insects ate them all up. I think I am going to kill myself. It isn’t possible to live like this”  The Buddha felt a lot of compassion toward the farmer. He said “My friend, I am sorry, we did not see your cows come this way”.

When the farmer had gone, the Buddha turned to his monks and said “My friends, Do you know why you are happy? Because you have no cows to lose”

I would like to say the same to you. If you have some cows you have to identify them. You think they are essential to your happiness, but if you practice deep looking, you will see that it is not these cows that have brought about your happiness. The secret of happiness is being able to let go of your cows. You must have the courage to practice letting go.

Thich Nhat Hanh, You are Here

What sustains us on the way

Mystery is not much in favor these days. The notion that there are limits to what we can do, what we can know, limits to our dominion, does not sit well with kings and queens of the hill. Humility and reverence, we hear, are the attitudes of cowards. . . . By ‘mystery’ I do not mean simply the blank places on our maps. I mean the divine source — not a void, not a darkness, but an uncapturable fullness. We are sustained by processes and powers that we can neither fathom nor do without. I speak of that ground as holy because it is ultimate, it is what makes us possible, that shapes and upholds everything we see. The stories I am most interested in hearing, reading, and telling, are those that help us imagine our lives in relation to that ground.

Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World

You make the waves

Very stormy weather in Ireland this past week, continuing overnight with heavy rain.  The Eastern tradition called the causes of emotional pain ‘worldly winds’: gusts of blame and loss, happiness and unhappiness. They blow through the heart and throw us off balance, making us feel that we never feel good enough where we are or how our life actually is:

Nothing outside yourself can cause any trouble.

You yourself make the waves in your mind.

If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm.

This mind is called big mind.

Shunryu Suzuki