A Pragmatic and Powerful Parable to Guide Your Life…

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” ~ Rumi

I had several subjects lined up for this blog post, but changed my mind at the last minute. I had an accident on Friday and have badly injured my tailbone. Ouch!

Having given birth to four children, I can honestly say the pain of that fall came close! I can’t sit for long periods of time at the moment and have spent the last few days mostly lying on my side feeling sorry for myself, interspersed with copious icing sessions with frozen peas and popping pain killers.

I spent most of April recovering from Covid-19, and the next two months dealing with an inner ear infection and vertigo. It certainly gives you some strange and disconcerting sensations. Various renovations to the house and garden are ongoing, and before I knew it I was pushing myself to the limit again. I should have listened to my body…

There’s nothing like physical pain to facilitate the transition from a human doing to a human being. 

The really intense pain is less pervasive now, but I will be on a go slow for weeks. I can only write for short bursts using a special cushion to help alleviate the coccydynia.  When we don’t heed messages from the universe they become more and more obvious until they can no longer be ignored! Now I have been forced to scale back and rest more.

The kids were moping as it looks like a four hour drive to Cornwall for our holiday might not be the best idea next weekend. I may have to grin and bear it, as it will be my last family holiday with my younger son for a while; he is planning to live and work in Berlin for a year, commencing mid August. In fact, I think he timed his departure with A-Level results day!

I was at a low ebb when I read this Persian parable. With many ongoing challenges in 2020, on a personal level as well as nationally and globally, it feels like a timely message to share.

The Persian Parable

Once upon a time there was a king who told the wise men of the court: “I’m making a beautiful ring. I have acquired one of the best possible diamonds. I want to keep hidden inside the ring some message that can help me in moments of total despair, and help my heirs, and the heirs of my heirs, forever. It has to be a small message, so that it can fit under the diamond on the ring.”

All who listened were wise, great scholars; they could have written great treaties, but providing the king with a message of no more than two or three words that could help him in moments of total despair…

They thought, searched through their books, but couldn’t find anything.

The king had an elderly servant who had also been a servant of his father. The king’s mother died young and this servant took care of him, so he treated him as if he belonged to the family.

Learned Advice by Ludwig Deutsch

The king felt an immense respect for the old man, so he also consulted him. And the servant said: “I am not a wise man, nor a scholar, nor an academic, but I know the message. During my long life in the palace, I met all kinds of people, and once I met a mystic. He was your father’s guest and I was at his service.

“When he left, as a gesture of gratitude, he gave me this message.” The old man wrote it on a tiny piece of paper, folded it and gave it to the king. “But do not read it,” he said. “Keep it hidden in the ring. Open it only when everything else has failed, when you can’t find a way out of a situation.”

That moment didn’t take long to arrive. The country was invaded and the king lost the kingdom. He was fleeing on his horse to save his life and his enemies were chasing him. He was alone and his pursuers were numerous. He arrived at a place where the road ended where there was no exit: in front there was a precipice and a deep valley; to fall would be the end for him. And he couldn’t go back because the enemy was blocking his way. He could hear the horses approaching. He couldn’t move forwards and there was no other way out…

Suddenly, he remembered the ring. He opened it, took out the paper and there he found a tremendously valuable little message. It simply said: “This too shall pass”.

As he read “This too shall pass”, he felt a great silence descend. The enemies that were pursuing him must have got lost in the forest, or they must have gone the wrong way. All the king knew was that little by little he stopped hearing the sound of the horses’ hooves.

The king felt profoundly grateful to the servant and the unknown mystic. Those words had proved miraculous. He folded the paper, put it back in the ring, gathered his armies and reconquered the kingdom.

And the day he entered the capital again, in victory, there was a great celebration with music and dancing… and he was very proud of himself.

A Procession by Ludwig Deutsch

The old man was by his side in the coach, and he said: “This moment is also appropriate: look at the message again.”

“What do you mean?” the king asked. “Now I’m victorious, the people celebrate my return. I’m not desperate, I’m not in a no-way-out situation.”

“Listen,” said the old man, “this message isn’t only for desperate situations; it’s also for pleasant situations. It’s not only for when you are defeated; it’s also for when you feel victorious. It’s not only for when you are the last; it’s also for when you are the first.”

The king opened the ring and read the message: “This too shall pass”.

And again, he felt the same peace, the same silence, in the midst of the crowd that celebrated and danced. However, the pride, the ego, had disappeared. The king could finally understand the full meaning of the message. He had become enlightened.

Then the old man said to him: “Remember that everything passes. No thing or emotion is permanent. Like day and night, there are moments of joy and moments of sadness. Accept them as part of the duality of nature, because they are the very nature of things.”

This ancient parable, thought to originate with the Sufi poets, is probably the most important fable one could ever read and employ in life. Somehow it helps to dissolve worries and woes, and keeps you grounded; offering the succour of equanimity and acceptance in all situations.

When I look back on my life so far, and how awful some segments of it were, I remember feeling that those tough periods would never end when I was in them, but now, with hindsight I realise I grew stronger as a result of the struggle and pain, and they didn’t last forever.

This too shall pass reminds us of the ephemeral quality of emotions and the human condition, the transient nature of life.

The parable brought to mind the vibrant and totally captivating paintings of the Orientalist artists for me.

The Najd Collection would have been a wonderful exhibition to see:

I can’t help thinking there is so much in the world that needs to pass already, but events unfold at their own pace and this erudite parable confers wisdom and peace for all who are in the thick of it.

If we can make the most of each moment, whatever that brings, we may find we can take stock one day and fully appreciate a life well lived, shaped by profound experiences.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

The Most Valuable Life Lessons I Gained From Star Wars

“In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” ~ Obi-Wan Kenobi

Happy Star Wars Day! You know what’s coming… #MayThe4thBeWithYou!

There I said it. But the force is strong with all of us. That’s why Star Wars has become the biggest, most iconic modern story on the planet, indeed in galaxies far, far away…

Star Wars fans and geeks are celebrating all over the world, and gaming companies and the likes of Lego are putting out special offers to mark the occasion.

Star Wars isn’t merely a futuristic science fiction fantasy story franchise, it has somehow created its own religion. I think the fact that it seems to have taken on its own mythical status is because it speaks primarily to our human struggles.

It has caught our collective imaginations in a way that no other modern film story has, possibly with the exception of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

We had the sad news of the passing of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca a few days ago, may he rest in peace.

We also lost Carrie Fisher in 2016, who played the beautiful, beloved and sometimes prickly, Princess Leia.

I grew up with Star Wars. Episodes IV (A New Hope), V (The Empire Strikes Back) and VI (The Return of the Jedi) and they became ingrained in my psyche, having been watched and devoured multiple times in my childhood. They have a special place in my memories. Usually of family Christmases spent with a tummy full of roast dinner sat around the TV with us children practicing our Jedi moves and chasing each other with wild abandon around the house as storm troopers and fighters for the rebellion.

I’m sure many of my generation have similar experiences. Those films still take me back to my childhood, and my sons also love the Star Wars franchise.

Aside from the stunning visual effects, (the later prequel films seemed to focus more on this element than the story to their detriment), battles of cosmic proportions and the many strange creatures they encountered on different planets, (Ewoks were my favourite), they portrayed the eternal battle between light and dark forces, and the human decision about which side we gravitate to, of course complicated by choices clouded with massive grey areas!

The story arc of Anakin Skywalker; his rise from obscurity to his destiny as a Jedi Knight and his subsequent turn to the ‘dark side’ and becoming Darth Vader, the principle villain, as a result of manipulation of his anger and hate by the Emperor reads like reality. The negative situations in this world are driven and fuelled by anger, fear and hate. We all have a choice at any given moment.

The main actors almost became synonymous with their roles. But these stories that are loved and that continue to inspire millions of people across generations may never have taken off and conquered the universe had it not been for some skillful editing.

The first film cut of A New Hope by George Lucas was rough around the edges and needed quite a bit of work. Which means there’s hope for the rest of us!

This fascinating short film charts the journey from the early scenes to the final film that we saw on our cinema screens:

There are more than five lessons to take away from Star Wars for sure, but as time is short and the house won’t clean itself (I’m still waiting for that technological invention), here are the ones that have helped me.

My top five Star Wars life lessons:

  1. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect to begin with

Life is a work in progress. This knowledge takes the pressure off, especially in creative pursuits – the first draft can be pants, as long as you get all your ideas down. It can then evolve into something more polished, as the video above demonstrates.

Imagine if Lucas and his team had not continued to work on the story and improve the audience experience?

Human history has shown us how the first rendering of anything was pretty rubbish compared with subsequent versions or inventions. But that didn’t matter, because it led onto mostly better things. That’s the nature of evolution, the ability of a species to adapt to its environment and improve its existence.

Now, in addition to the Millenium Falcon  we have aeroplanes that can fly at high speed around the world in a matter of hours, phones that enable instant communication across the globe at the touch of a button, plus all of our modern conveniences.

The Renaissance, arguably the greatest period of mankind’s creative flourishing and artistic achievements could not have come without the cultural efforts of the previous eras. You get my drift. We are always editing our lives through feedback, but we have to start somewhere. All that matters is that we start, and keep going.

  1. There is no try, there is only do

Or, to use Yoda’s exact immortal words: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I love this scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker’s x-wing has sunk into the swamp on Dagobah, and he feels hopeless, thinking that he’ll never get it out. Master Yoda’s lesson on using the force doesn’t just apply to the film, it applies to us, to everyday life.

How many times have we found ourselves in a position where we felt powerless?

Maybe we find ourselves questioning our purpose in life at certain times. There have been many instances where I dipped my toe into the water rather than plunging in.

I didn’t understand the significance of this scene when I was a girl, but now, whenever I catch myself speaking or using the word ‘try’ in a sentence in relation to my life, I think of this scene, and I correct myself, telling myself: I do, or I do not do. I have to own my power.

That little teeny tiny three letter word TRY almost certainly condemns us to failure.

  1. Family can be perplexing, but we should love them anyway

With modern ‘blended’ families and family dramas unfolding in the news, it’s no surprise that sometimes those who are closest to us tend to cause the greatest challenges in our lives! It can be almost impossible not to be dragged into or embroiled in family drama.

I see the constant media frenzy surrounding Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and her estranged father and my heart goes out to her. Not only are they dealing with their own relationship issues, but are having to do so under intense public scrutiny. Gossip mongers and trolls circle like sharks, waiting for either to stumble. It seems plenty of people are willing to share their opinion and judgement despite only having third hand information and no personal involvement.

Maybe for some it’s easier to distract themselves from their own troubles by focusing on other people’s problems.

In the original Star Wars trilogy Luke Skywalker discovers Princess Leia is his twin sister, and that they were separated at birth, and Leia and Han Solo fall in love while saving the universe.

The characters of the droids R2D2 and C3PO are just as lovable.

The heart breaking moment Luke discovers the identity of his father in The Empire Strikes Back:

Imagine how gutting it would be to discover that your daddy is Darth Vader?! He may want his father’s approval but he has to follow his own path and destroy him in order not to become like him and have history repeat itself:

Have you ever had a family issue? I might as well ask, is the Pope Catholic?

The parallels with our larger family, humanity are also startling. We all need to channel the wisdom of our ‘inner Jedi’ more than ever.

  1. Imagination really is more important than intelligence

This one is partly inspired by Einstein, but the imagination George Lucas expressed through the creation of these characters that we can all relate to in some degree and their adventures across the galaxy continues to inspire creativity and storytelling.

Nothing exists in reality until it first exists in the mind. Ideas and thoughts are the precursor to matter.

  1. Believe in yourself.

This was the core message that the Jedi’s had to embody. The connection between all living beings and ‘the force’, the universal energy that surrounds and fills all living things, (essentially our divine spark), which is the source of their power.

Self mastery was their ultimate goal. They could not control the actions of others, (except with the occasional Jedi mind trick on weak villains), but they could control their own attitude and actions.

Whenever I feel myself living in my head, not being grounded, I know its time to spend more time in nature and allow myself to feel what I feel in the present moment. Being in the ‘flow’ state.

How many times have we talked ourselves out of our greatness? Or not taken a course of action because we doubted ourselves?

This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn so far, and it’s still a work in progress! It takes daily courage and faith to be the Jedi of your own life.

Even though I know what happens in the films and no matter how many times I watch them I never get bored of them, just like listening to my favourite pieces of music. Also, having a great soundtrack can define a movie, and John Williams nailed it with his soundtrack to the original Star Wars trilogy:

A powerful story is timeless, and the vicarious life lessons therein worth seeing again and again. I think I can feel a Star Wars binge session coming on…