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Series II - Chapter 32 - 'Your Children And Their Success'
IT WAS AN enchanted evening. The hilltops were aglow with the setting sun, and in the sand on the path that led across the valley, four woodpeckers were taking a bath. With their longish beaks they would pull the sand under them, their wings would flutter as they pushed their bodies deeper into it, and then they would begin all over again, the tufts on their heads bobbing up and down. They were calling to each other and enjoying themselves thoroughly. Not to disturb them we stepped off the path onto the short, thick grass of recent rains; and there, a few feet away, was a large snake, yellowish and powerful. Its head was sleek, painted, and cruelly shaped. It was too intent on those birds to be disturbed, its black eyes watching without movement and its black, forked tongue darting in and out. Almost imperceptibly it was moving towards the birds, its scales making no noise on the grass. It was a cobra, and there was death about it. Dangerous but beautiful, it was shiny in the darkening light, and it must recently have shed its old skin. Suddenly the four birds took to the air with a cry, and then we saw an extraordinary thing take place: a cobra relax. It had been so eager, so tense, and now it seemed almost lifeless, part of the earth - but in a second, fatal. It moved with ease and only lifted its head when we made a slight noise, but with it went a peculiar stillness, the stillness of fear and death.
She was a small, elderly lady with white hair, but was well preserved. Though gentle of speech, her figure, her walk, her gestures and the way she held her head, all showed a deep-rooted aggressiveness which her voice did not conceal. She had a large family, several sons and daughters, but her husband been dead for some time and she alone had had to bring them up. One of her sons, she said with evident pride, was a successful doctor with a large practice, and also a good surgeon. One of her daughters was a clever and successful politician, and without too much difficulty was getting her own way; she said this with a smile which implied, "You know what women are". She went on explain that this political lady had spiritual aspirations.
What do you mean by spiritual aspirations? "She wants to be the head of some religious or philosophical group."
To have power over others through an organization is surely evil, is it not? That is the way of all politicians whether they are in politics or not. You may hide it under pleasant and deceptive words, but is not the desire for power always evil?
She listened, but what was being said had no meaning to her. It was written on her face that she was concerned about something, and what it was would presently emerge. She went on to tell of the activities of her other children, all of whom were vigorous and doing well except the one she really loved.
"What is sorrow?" she suddenly asked. "Somewhere in the background I seem to have had it all my life. Though all but one of my children are well off and contented, sorrow has been constantly with me. I can't put my finger on it, but it has pursued me, and I often lie awake at night wondering what it is all about. I am also concerned about my youngest son. You see, he is a failure. Whatever he touches goes to pieces: his marriage, his relationship with his brothers and sisters, and with his friends. He almost never has a job, and when he does get one something happens and he's out. He seems incapable of being helped. I worry about him, and though he adds to my sorrow, I don't think he is the root of it. What is sorrow? I have had anxieties, disappointments and physical pain, but this pervading sorrow is something beyond all that, and I have not been able to find its cause. Could we talk about it?"
You are very proud of your children and especially of their success, are you not? "I think any parent would be as they have all made good except the last one. They are prosperous and happy. But why are you asking that question?"
It may have something to do with your sorrow. Are you sure that your sorrow has nothing to do with their success? "Of course; on the contrary, I am very happy about it."
What do you think is the root of your sorrow? If one may ask, did the death of your husband affect you very deeply? Are you still affected by it? "It was a great shock and I was very lonely after his death, but I soon forgot my loneliness and sorrow as there were the children to be seen to and I had no time to think about myself."
Do you think that time wipes away loneliness and sorrow? Are they not still there, buried in the deeper layers of your mind, even though you may have forgotten them? May it not be that these are the cause of your conscious sorrow?
"As I say, the death of my husband was a shock, but somehow it was to be expected, and with tears I accepted it. As a girl, before I married I saw my father's death and some years later that of my mother also; but I have never been interested in official religion, and all this clamour for explanations of death and the hereafter has never bothered me. Death is inevitable, and let us accept it with as little noise as possible."
That may be the way you regard death, but is loneliness to be so easily reasoned away? Death is something of tomorrow, to be faced perhaps, when it comes; but is not loneliness ever present? You may deliberately shut it out, but it is still there behind the door. Should you not invite loneliness and look at it? "I don't know about that. Loneliness is most unpleasant, and I doubt if I can go so far as to invite that awful feeling. It is really quite frightening."
Must you not understand it fully, since that may be the cause of your sorrow?
"But how am I to understand it when it is the very thing that gives me pain?"
Loneliness does not give you pain, but the idea of loneliness causes fear. You have never experienced the state of loneliness. You have always approached it with apprehension dread with the urge to get away from it or to find a way to overcome it; so you have avoided it, have you not? You have really never come directly into contact with it. To put loneliness away from you, you have escaped into the activities of your children and their success. Their success has become yours; but behind this worship of success, is there not some deep concern?
"How do you know?"
The thing you escape into - the radio, social activity, a particular dogma, so-called love, and so on - becomes all-important, as necessary to you as drink to the drunkard. One may lose oneself in the worship of success, or in the worship of an image, or in some ideal; but all ideals are illusory, and in the very losing of oneself there is anxiety. If one may point out, your children's success has been to you a source of pain, for you have a deeper concern about them and about yourself. In spite of your admiration of their success and of the applause they have received from the public, is there not behind it a sense of shame, of disgust, or disappointment? please forgive me for asking, but are you not deeply distressed about their success?
"You know, sir, I have never dared to acknowledge, even to myself the nature of this distress, but it is as you say."
Do you want to go into it? "Now, of course, I do want to go into it. You see, I have always been religious without belonging to any religion. Here and there I have read about religious matters, but I have never been caught in any so-called religious organization. Organized religion has seemed too distant and not sufficiently intimate. Beneath my worldly life, however, there has always been a vague religious groping, and when I began to have children, this groping took the form of a deep hope that one of my children would be religiously inclined. And not one of them is; they have all become prosperous and worldly, except the last one, who is a mixture of everything. All of them are really mediocre, and that is what hurts. They are engrossed in their worldliness. It all seems so superficial and silly, but I haven't discussed it with any of them, and even if I did, they wouldn't understand what I was talking about. I thought that at least one of them would be different, and I am horrified at their mediocrity and my own. It is this, I suppose, that is causing my sorrow. What can one do to break up this stupid state?"
In oneself or in another? One can only break up mediocrity in oneself, and then perhaps a different relationship with others may arise. To know that one is mediocre is already the beginning of change, is it not? But a petty mind, becoming aware of itself, frantically tries to change, to improve, and this very urge is mediocre. Any desire for self-improvement is petty. When the mind knows that it is mediocre and does not act upon itself, there is the breaking up of mediocrity.
"What do you mean by 'act upon itself?'"
If a petty mind, realizing it is petty, makes an effort to change itself, is it not still petty? The effort to change is born of a petty mind, therefore that very effort is petty. "Yes, I see that, but what can one do?"
Any action of the mind is small, limited. The mind must cease to act, and only then is there the ending of mediocrity.