Autumn

This morning is very bright and sunny, chilly to the skin and the leaves are all massed along the sides of the road and strewn across the fields. The grass is so wet it is more like paddling than walking but the sun was just at the right angle for me to catch the spider webs thrown across the narrow road. Normally I would duck under them and let the first cars break them but there were many today I did just walk on.

I had a long conversation with myself as to what I would do with  huge amounts of money and realised that I didn’t want personal jets and private yachts. Strange because I always thought I would but then I realised as one gets older and that wisdom hits home, a selflessness coems. It isn’t that the ‘things’ money buys are not enjoyable and make one look good, it is that priorities change as one ages from looking good to doing good.

Looking good is the stuff of youth because youth is the stuff of sex. The pretty houses and well dressed look prettier themselves to prospective partners. As one gets older and those things become unimportant, what one sees is the world of pain and if one had the power to do something about that . . .

I also realised after years of thinking about it that the great ideal of Jesus dying on the Cross is nothing to do with a deity forgiving sins. The honest wisdom in the story is that we can do good, heal and forgive, without dying and without charge.

The Salvage Of Age

Many people seem to think wisdom is something that comes out of the Bible; they even call it wisdom literature. It is something that comes with old age because living gives experience. We associate in our myths wisdom and advanced age with all those long white beards (and yes in our myths it is often old men that have it, not old women.)

Wisdom is a lot more than personal  experience. It is one of the most intellectual of all our skills because we don’t have to learn it as much as imbibe it. It is part and parcel of accepting what others say is the case, as well as seeing for oneself by intuition and analysis. It is one thing to know at fifty whether a persons is being honest and using one’s own experiences to judge, it is quite another to know whether honesty is worth pursuing and what it is.

And it is all about knowing. One of the greatest repositories of human wisdom in the world is her literature. Here are the words and thoughts of thousands of people who have lived in every age and culture. They resonate with sheer depth of living. These are not stories to be thrown away but people to be understood.

In these books you exist though you are not named.

It Is Not Always In Our Hands

Positive thinking, which has been a buzz phrase for generations, isn’t just about being an optimist. Nor is it having a selection of random apothegms to quote to oneself and others when life begins to get you down. I just read a note from someone I know who’s  wife has left him, children rarely talk to him and he has an alcohol problem. Sometimes positive thinking is just thinking and is no different from negative thinking as long as it is honest. Because the facts of life are our reality and pretending things are different is actually a weakness that can drive you mad.

We interact with each other and the times and nature and most of reality we have no control over. Our greatest fiefdom is our own minds and what marks out how we exist is how we think, not so much even what we think about. The most important thing is never to run because life, like a predatory animal, senses fear. So do other people and many of them take advantage of it.

Don’t ever be frightened of the pain, or of the tears. Remember a lot of what you think is failure is simply not achieving what others think you should. Marriages are neither good nor bad, divorce is neither success nor failure, wealth is not a wise goal.

Mind and always mind, comes first.

Back And Forward

When we are growing up and making choices, some of which may be forced upon us by family, circumstance and society, we are usually defined by what we want to achieve and the paths we choose. It is only when we are much older, when choices become more limited because time becomes fragile, that we begin to see our lives are equally well defined by what we chose not do or by what we sacrificed in making our choices (whether we stuck to them or not).

I often wonder if this is the root of wisdom so often associated with older people; that it is easier for them to see what the young will be giving up as much as what they will be gaining. Something most often the young cannot see because who at seventeen doesn’t think everything is possible. Who but the most rare of human beings.

But this wisdom, which is just greater experience, doesn’t get us very far. For the rarest of all human beings is the one who takes on trust the experiences of others with as deep an understanding as being taught what berries are poisonous and which edible. Living wisely is about knowing how one’s mind will change with the change in years by living with minds of all ages, in all eras.

Wisdom is the great gift of literature.

The Quality Of Touch

I love using my fountain pen. I grew up with ink and pens and never really took to Biro though I can see their usefulness. But even today I still think my neatest and most beautiful writing is done in pencil, because I learned to write in pencil and I can still see myself trying to work out the letters on the lined pages of exercise books.

In much the same way I recall the fresh smells of the countryside and the perfume of gorse because these are the first that registered on my growing brain, along with narrow, hill roads and waterways or the sound of my family arguing or the taste of home cooking. Those first experiences of my senses are still closest to me, and probably still closest to all of us which is why when they are fearful or awful experiences they cling to us through our lives demanding to be dealt with before we can progress intellectually.

The mind is created to stamp ideas upon itself from our lessons and experiences because these are our survival manual. Living without one or more sense means we have to be that much more careful. In actual fact the senses give us our memories.

Even though we lead lives of ‘mind’ and learning guides a great deal of our success it is not the mind that is our teacher.

The Not So Obvious

When I was twenty one I stayed at a lovely house in the Cotswold’s that had been built in the time of Shakespeare. The bedroom floor was at such an angle going to bed was like rock climbing. One of the relatives of the owner needed a hedge clipped and I said I would do it and went to look in the garden shed for the shears. I couldn’t find any. It turned out they were propped up on the floor immediately on the inside of the door. To which a very funny gentleman said to me that I ‘missed the obvious’.

When I was twenty-six I took a two year course in farming believing no more practical people lived in Earth than farmers. Being asked to list ten points about buying a new field I did not list access first. It seems I had not yet learned enough about the obvious.

I think it is probable that one could go through the whole of life ignoring the obvious for the more rarefied – in my field I put knowing the chemical composition of the soil first – but in the end that hedge could not have been cut so well without those shears. The obvious is very, very important and should never be overlooked.

But for some of us seeing it, is a skill we have to learn.

The Hours Of The Day

In the morning the air is fresh and young, the sun prepared to dazzle and amaze unless the clouds are stretching across the sky. Rest has gone and wakefulness comes to the mind but not the eyes and none of the dogs will move before you do.

All this has changed by the afternoon. The day has progressed and energy has been expended and a blissful ache comes to the muscles. The sun may be bright, the clouds may be parting, the rain may be falling, the news may have been terrible, but the body needs to take stock a while. Breathing is rhythmic and the ticks against all the work to do for the day have mounted.

Then the evening. The moon is back somewhere up there. The stars are welcome. The heat of the day and the exercise is almost over. Chairs have a comforting feel to them. Friends and drinks appear as if dropping from the sky. The air is cool as if it too were over-heated and over-used. The half eaten cake in the fridge can stay half eaten.

And the day reflects the years, and the years, lives. Everything seems to have its own energy level. And calls upon us in different ways to engage and in the difference there is more than change; there is wisdom.

Not to be always doing the same thing the same way. To vary the mood and alter the atmosphere.

2010

Happy New Year.

It was a very clear, bright night.

I never make New Year resolutions because I rarely pay much attention to the passing of time. I studied Ancient History when I was 17/18 and two things impressed themselves upon me over and above the Greek and Roman history.

The first was that some thinkers feel modern, they feel as if you could walk right up to them shake their hand and sit down and have a meaningful conversation and in some notable cases, learn from them. As has been said before everyone who has ever lived has been modern, but some minds reach across the ages we like to delineate. They are few and all the more precious for that.

Secondly along with reading paleontology I realized that no matter how long we live our lives are but seconds, so what on Earth are we doing counting them out? It is all part of the fear of ageing and the loss of the energy of youth. And part of the problem with that is putting so much into our young years we actually notice it when we seize up more. That is why a life of mind has its attractions because as long as you keep thinking and do not suffer mental degeneration to any great extent, you can think up to the last of those few seconds.

Wisdom after all can only flow from thinking.

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