“When wealth is lost, you have lost a little, when health is lost, you have lost something of more consequence; but when peace of mind is lost, you have lost the highest treasure.”
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda
I open with this quote taken from my recent self-defining post ‘Autobiography of a yogibanker‘, since a recent illness has been a stark reminder to me about my life.
I feel at times our lives can be like living in duality: one moment, we can be jumping for joy with energy and enthusiasm for whatever our life holds at that time. The next moment, we are knocked out for the count and left feeling horribly worse for wear by an unrelenting organism that decides to come and play host in your body for a few days…
The body responds to this threat by the desire to rest, which in the context of the body’s innate ability to heal, is completely natural. Lethargy sets in and plans are postponed for another day. What’s more though, the immediate visions of being active, joyful and motivated are replaced by a feeling of anguish, lethargy and downright misery. Being sick at times can feel like being cursed: “why me”, “why now” and “what have I done to deserve this?”
However, what is more striking is that during this time, a clear message came to me, remaining hidden until its meaning could fully ripen.
The message is that – if this illness meant your life were to end now, would you feel you have achieved everything you wanted to achieve? Or, would there be regret, knowing that you haven’t lived your life to its full potential? Because, as recent tragic events have shown again – life is transient, fleeting and can be dashed at any time. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect to be floored by this senseless cold in the height of summer. I lived this time, but we are not always so lucky.
There are two important lessons I have realised from this. Firstly, it is our experiences that shape our lives, and often our destinies. Possessions on the other hand, temporarily result in increased satisfaction and happiness, but such feelings are momentary, as we ‘revert back to the mean’. We soon take that possession for granted, as it fades into the background. Things that were so precious when they were initially acquired, soon become just another item, which takes up space in our cluttered lives.
On one level, people try to define themselves by their possessions. But on another, such definition is merely a function of ego, which is not a manifestation of one’s true self; Not that Mr Ego would admit to that, he would rather believe he IS the Self.
Living in one of London’s more affluent neighbourhoods, one is regularly challenged by thoughts of the desire for worldly possessions. It was actually last weekend when I encountered such thoughts on a Sunday afternoon stroll through Kensington Park Gardens, one of the most expensive and exclusive streets on the planet.
As we strolled in the bright (and rare) London sunshine, I could not help but think of the owners of these lavish mansions, who they were and the lives they led – their lives filled with utter luxury and comfort that we could only fantasise about. I wondered about the people who lived in these vastly decorated palaces, whether they were feeling totally content in their lives…I felt envious, wondering what it would be like to lead such a life of privilege.
If I then compare my own situation – a comfortable sunny two bed, top floor flat in the heart of Notting Hill – the happiness equation becomes very easy to solve. For if I can feel even a tinge of envy about the owners of those palaces, and at the same I know that millions of people in London and around the world would love to be fortunate enough to be in my living position, then it shows that the delusion of wealth has no limits…quite simply, our wealth becomes the new normal; and when there is normality, there is always grasping… grasping for more.
Of course, the likes of Rupert Murdoch would never admit to that. That deal-making is what they love doing, their raison d’etre; but let’s face it, another deal done, another deal died. Soon that deal will be lost in the past when new management or owners come in and rip it all up. Look at the legacy of former management at my bank: it’s trashed.
Secondly, being ill can remind us of the importance of really living in the moment. Too much of our lives is spent being caught up in the past or worried sick about the future. As we lie there in our state of illness, if we rather ask ourselves each day and each moment, am I living my life to the fullest, perhaps we would ask ourselves is our time well spent, rather than on social media, or aimlessly watching TV. I can’t preach, but I’m trying to be one of the converted.
The plague of sickness and ill-health is a constant in our lives. In terms of suffering, it is a ‘known unknown’ – it affects us all one way or another in our lives, we just don’t know its full extent. Yet. When illness does strike though, it can serve as a useful reminder about what is important to us and our lives, and in the end, what really is not.
C’est la vie. Which one do you want to lead?