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Series III - Chapter 55 - ‘Sorrow From Self-Pity’
AT THIS TIME of the year, in this warm climate, it was spring. The sun was exceptionally mild, for a light wind was coming from the north where the mountains were fresh in the snow. A tree beside the road, bare a week ago, was now covered with new green leaves which sparkled in the sun. The new leaves were so tender, so delicate, so small in the vast space of the mind, of the earth and the blue sky; yet within a short time they seemed to fill the space of all thought. Further along the road there was a flowering tree which had no leaves, but only blossoms. The breeze had scattered the petals on the ground, and several children were sitting among them. They were the children of the chauffeurs and other servants. They would never go to school, they would always be the poor people of the earth; but among the fallen petals beside the tarred road, those children were part of the earth. They were startled to see a stranger sitting there with them, and they became suddenly silent; they stopped playing with the petals, and for a few seconds they were as still as statues. But their eyes were alive with curiosity, friendliness and apprehension.
In a small, sunken garden by the roadside there were quantities of bright flowers. Among the leaves of a tree in that garden a crow was shading itself from the midday sun. Its whole body was resting on the branch, the feathers covering its claws. It was calling or answering other crows, and within a period of ten minutes there were five or six different notes in its cawing. It probably had many more notes, but now it was satisfied with a few. It was very black, with a grey neck; it had extraordinary eyes which were never still, and its beak was hard and sharp. It was completely at rest and yet completely alive. It was strange how the mind was totally with that bird. It was not observing the bird, though it had taken in every detail; it was not the bird itself, for there was no identification with it. It was with the bird, with its eyes and its sharp beak, as the sea is with the fish; it was with the bird, and yet it went through and beyond it. The sharp, aggressive and frightened mind of the crow was part of the mind that spanned the seas and time. This mind was vast, limitless, beyond all measure, and yet it was aware of the slightest movement of the eyes of that black crow among the new, sparkling leaves. It was aware of the falling petals, but it had no focus of attention, no point from which to attend. Unlike space which has always something in it – a particle of dust, the earth, or the heavens – it was wholly empty, and being empty it could attend without a cause. Its attention had neither root nor branch. All energy was in that empty stillness. It was not the energy that is built up with intent, and which is soon dissipated when pressure is taken away. It was the energy of all beginning; it was life that had no time as ending.
Several people had come together, and as each one tried to state some problem, the others began to explain it and to compare it with their own trials. But sorrow is not to be compared. Comparison breeds self-pity, and then misfortune ensues. Adversity is to be met directly, not with the idea that yours is greater than another’s.
They were all silent now, and presently one of them began. “My mother has been dead for some years. Quite recently I have lost my father also, and I am full of remorse. He was a good father, and I ought to have been many things which I was not. Our ideas clashed; our respective ways of life kept us apart. He was a religious man, but my religious feeling is not so obvious. The relationship between us was often strained, but at least it was a relationship, and now that he is gone I am stricken with sorrow. My sorrow is not only remorse, but also the feeling of suddenly being left alone. I have never had this kind of sorrow before, and it is quite acute. What am I to do? How am I to get over it?”
If one may ask, do you suffer for your father, or does sorrow arise from having no longer the relationship to which you had grown accustomed? “I don’t quite understand what you mean,” he replied.
Do you suffer because your father is gone, or because you feel lonely? “All I know is that I suffer, and I want to get away from it. I really don’t understand what you mean. Will you please explain?”
It is fairly simple, is it not? Either you are suffering on behalf of your father, that is, because he enjoyed living and wanted to live, and now he is gone; or you are suffering because there has been a break in a relationship that had significance for so long, and you are suddenly aware of loneliness. Now, which is it? You are suffering surely, not for your father, but because you are lonely, and your sorrow is that which comes from self-pity.
“What exactly is loneliness?”
Have you never felt lonely? “Yes, I have often taken solitary walks. I go for long walks alone, especially on my holidays.”
Isn’t there a difference between the feeling of loneliness, and being alone as on a solitary walk? “If there is, then I don’t think I know what loneliness means.”
“I don’t think we know what anything means, except verbally,” someone added.
Have you never experienced for yourself the feeling of loneliness, as you might a toothache? When we talk of loneliness, are we experiencing the psychological pain of it, or merely employing a word to indicate something which we have never directly experienced? Do we really suffer, or only think we suffer? “I want to know what loneliness is,” he replied.
You mean you want a description of it. It’s an experience of being completely isolated; a feeling of not being able to depend on anything, of being cut off from all relationship. The ‘me’, the ego, the self, by its very nature, is constantly building a wall around itself; all its activity leads to isolation. Becoming aware of its isolation, it begins to identify itself with virtue, with God, with property, with a person, country, or ideology; but this identification is part of the process of isolation. In other words, we escape by every possible means from the pain of loneliness, from this feeling of isolation, and so we never directly experience it. It’s like being afraid of something round the corner and never facing it, never finding out what it is, but always running away and taking refuge in somebody or something, which only breeds more fear. Have you never felt lonely in this sense of being cut off from everything completely isolated?
“I have no idea at all what you are talking about.”
Then, if one may ask, do you really know what sorrow is? Are you experiencing sorrow as strongly and urgently as you would a toothache? When you have a toothache, you act; you go to the dentist. But when there is sorrow you run away from it through explanation, belief, drink, and so on. You act, but your action is not the action that frees the mind from sorrow, is it? “I don’t know what to do, and that’s why I’m here.”
Before you can know what to do, must you not find out what sorrow actually is? Haven’t you merely formed an idea, a judgment, of what sorrow is? Surely, the running away, the evaluation, the fear, prevents you from experiencing it directly. When you are suffering from a toothache you don’t form ideas and opinions about it; you just have it and you act. But here there is no action, immediate or remote, because you are really not suffering. To suffer and to understand suffering, you must look at it, you must not run away.
“My father is gone beyond recall, and so I suffer. What must I do to go beyond the reaches of suffering?”
We suffer because we do not see the truth of suffering. The fact and our ideation about the fact are entirely distinct, leading in two different directions. If one may ask, are you concerned with the fact, the actuality, or merely with the idea of suffering? “You are not answering my question, sir,” he insisted. “What am I to do?”
Do you want to escape from suffering, or to be free from it? If you merely want to escape, then a pill, a belief, an explanation, an amusement may ‘help’, with the inevitable consequences of dependence, fear, and so on. But if you wish to be free from sorrow, you must stop running away and be aware of it without judgment, without choice; you must observe it, learn about it, know all the intimate intricacies of it. Then you will not be frightened of it, and there will no longer be the poison of self-pity. With the understanding of sorrow there is freedom from it. To understand sorrow there must be the actual experiencing of it, and not the verbal fiction of sorrow.
“May I ask just one question?” put in one of the others. “In what manner should one live one’s daily life?”
As though one were living for that single day, for that single hour. “How?”
If you had only one hour to live, what would you do? “I really don’t know,” he replied anxiously.
Would you not arrange what is necessary outwardly, your affairs, your will, and so on? Would you not call your family and friends together and ask their forgiveness for the harm that you might have done to them, and forgive them for whatever harm they might have done to you? Would you not die completely to the things of the mind, to desires and to the world? And if it can be done for an hour then it can also be done for the days and years that may remain.
“Is such a thing really possible, sir?”
Try it and you will find out.