Around this time last year, I was writing about the rising price of fuel, and about it being a proxy for a general feeling of unease regarding the future. I don’t know if it was my own personal future I was talking about, or if I was picking up on the zeitgeist of the western fuel-driven world – in other words picking up on what the news-media were telling me to get upset about.
My alarm was not unjustified, I thought – the price of petrol having hit a record high, at around £1.38 per litre, and it seemed incredible to me that it was costing more to fill up my car than I was paying for the mortgage on my house. Last weekend though, the price of fuel reached a new high of £1.42 per litre.The difference now however, is I’m finding it harder to get upset about it. Even the sight of long queues of panic buyers on the petrol station forecourts this afternoon – result of government “advice” to top-up just in case the proposed strike of fuel-tanker drivers goes ahead – leaves me unmoved.
I don’t think this is a sign of world-weary fatalism on my part. Fatalism implies a resignation to one’s fate, while retaining the awareness of an ongoing menace, like sitting with an unstable bomb in your basement. You know it’s going to off at some point, and though you tell yourself you can take it – that life is but vale of tears, and then you die – subliminally, we still resist and resent the presence of that bomb. It still gets under our skin, and eventually it makes us angry and ugly, and ill. No. Fatalism isn’t an attractive way to view the world; it’s more of a last resort, I think, when the way we see the world refuses to shift out of bottom gear.
What I think I’m feeling now is more of a letting go of those things I cannot control. To stick with the motoring metaphor, we’ll call it getting into second gear. We accept the world changes, that fuel, like fine single malt whiskies, become prohibitively expensive and occasionally scarce, that rich nations become poor, that the healthy fall ill, and those we love are taken from us.
But second gear is still a long way from cruise control, and we might worry that in becoming so passive and withdrawn from life’s events we also risk losing our essential passion for life. We no longer rant, we no longer cry, but equally such passivity can insulate us from all the things that remain in the world to be joyful about; we no longer laugh at jokes, we no longer take the time to stand and stare at the beauty of things, we become dead from the neck up, we become impotent, incapable of a bone-hard arousal, let alone making love to the world with the all the spirited abandon of our youth. And who wants to live like that? It’s inhuman.
It’s not about being passive then – not entirely. It’s more about not resisting what happens – which isn’t the same thing. We hold an image in our minds that defines what we think is good for us, what we think we want for ourselves, and if we’re not careful anything that doesn’t fit that narrow minded model, we try to protect ourselves from. We resist it. We reject it. We throw up the shield of our ego in an attempt to deflect it, but it breaks through with a force equal and opposite to the strength of our imagined defences. So, we take the blow and absorb it as a dark energy, which transforms into an imagined injury. But imagined or not, we take it deep into our bones where it make us weary and sad.
So, rather than remain in passive second gear, we need to snick our mind quickly into third gear. Rather than being simply passive, we must redefine our state of mind as being one of no longer offering resistance to those aspects of life that don’t fit in with our narrow view. We open our arms and welcome the whole of life, the good and the bad of it. And in not resisting life, we find there are more things to be joyful about, rather than less. And the bad things? We no longer label them as bad, but more as object lessons on the road to a growing awareness of the nature of life and how we can best relate to it.
When the wind blows, the meadow does not stand firm; the grasses part and sway, and the wind passes safely through, leaving the grasses upright. I’m sure Lao Tzu has a better aphorism for the same thing, but you know what I mean.
Getting into third gear is difficult of course, because – to stretch that motoring metaphor possibly to destruction – there’s no syncromesh on the box we were born with and we have to spend a while grinding those gears before we can find it. But when we do find it, we get a kick, and a sense of movement like no other. Of course third gear’s still a long way from the fabled luxury of cruise control, but at least it comes with a sense we’re finally heading in the right direction.
If you resist what happens, then you will always be at the mercy of what happens, and your happiness or unhappiness will be determined by the world.
Ekhart Tolle. (A New Earth)