Bigger Fish

I was sitting in the silence of Quaker Meeting this morning, the room suffused with sunlight, the sound of the birds and the aroma of daffodils and snowdrops on the battle-scarred table in the middle. The atmosphere was humming with concentrated, practised contemplation (if meditation were an Olympic sport, Quakers would win Gold every time) and my thoughts had begun to settle after a busy and tiring day in London yesterday, when to my horror my mobile phone began to make its usual unGodly noise. It’s set to make a horrible jangling tune whenever a call comes in or a text is there, and at maximum volume, simply so that in busy traffic or a bus or amid noisy students I will hear it. I flicked the button to shut it up and saw briefly what it was and then shut the phone down.

Later I had a chance to re-read it and it was a forwarded message from a friend I see very seldom, with a message to send on to anyone I considered to be a BEST MUM. Oh, yeah, it’s Mothering Sunday; I have flowers from my offspring to prove it. I don’t by any means consider myself even a good mother, let alone BEST MUM. It’s subjective; my child tells me she thinks I am great.  Since I am the only mum she’d had(or will get) I guess that’s real enough.

I do a lesson on comparatives and superlatives and I always add mentally to anything that says, “The Best——Ever” the words “SO FAR”. Best is subjective and relative after all. 

There’s a scene in one of the Star Wars films where the heroes are trying to escape a hideous sea monster under water when finally the monster is snapped up by an even bigger sea monster and the line that followed has now become a personal mantra:

THERE’S ALWAYS A BIGGER FISH.

When I was a teenager, I was about the brightest and most talented person in my year. I excelled at almost everything. At seventeen I was put forward for the Cambridge entrance exam(long since vanished); all my teachers told me I would walk it. I had some extra tuition in one subject and that was all. I went to one of the bog standard comprehensives, a pretty good school in many ways, but nothing special. I was(with two others) the great white hope for that year. I had my interview, and waited. Shortly before Christmas the letter arrived. It was not what I wanted to hear; they were not offering me a place. I had simply not come up to scratch. I had failed.  To say I was disappointed is an understatement; my teachers all doubly so. If they placed money on me, they’d lost it. None of us got in.

Now with the hindsight of years, I am glad. Life took another path. That experience taught me something very important (well, a lot of things) and one of those things was that even if you are a Big Fish in a small pond, once you are out of your pond, you are going to find there is always a Bigger Fish. There will always be someone who is bigger, better, smarter, more successful….And they don’t always wear a handy placard telling you this. You can find out the hard way.

Some years ago, after a Maundy Thursday service in a cathedral in East Anglia, I got talking with another lady, older than me about how we’d enjoyed the service and I commented it was a pity they’d got the Latin wrong in the anthem in the printed service book. She gave me a strange look and it then transpired that not only did she have a Phd to my humble BA in the subject, she was also on first name terms with my old Professor. Small world, isn’t it, but what struck me was that I had been lucky not to have been in arrogant or boastful mode. I’d met that day’s Bigger Fish and she didnt eat me alive.

It makes me think that I need to be constantly vigilant and aware that while I have gifts and talents, I am nothing very special at all, in the great wide world and that I must take care not fall into my real temptation of thinking myself great when I am really quite ordinary, because in thinking myself great, I automatically make others less.

And not all Bigger Fish are as kind as the lady in the cathedral.  

     

The Pursuit of Happiness

Following an interesting comments discussion resulting from a rather intriguing post over at: http://retiredeagle.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/the-myth-of-happiness/

 And not to mention a conversation last night on the phone with J, I began to think about happiness.

What makes me happy? Actually, nothing. You can’t make (ie force) someone to be happy. It’s a spontaneous response to something and that something can be physical(ie material) or something emotional or even spiritual. And it’s a fleeting thing; you often notice afterwards that you have been happy. It’s often the absence of it that triggers the awareness of the state.

To chase happiness through material gains is futile and well documented. No amount of wealth and material goods will do the trick. To chase happiness through a relationship is equally  doomed; how often do you hear someone say, “I’d be so happy if I met Mr/Miss/Ms Right!” That sort of happiness, bound up in the being of another person is at huge risk of vanishing.

But there’s another chase that is somehow far more seductive.

Success.

I’m guilty as charged, M’lud. I’ve been chasing success as a means of making me happy for far longer than I dreamed I might and it was partly something J asked me last night that meant my thoughts on it finally crystalised and I woke up.

The previous post to this has been about the publication of my first novel. This is something I’ve fought, wept, battled, given up, beaten myself up over for decades. It’s meant everything to me.

But when J asked me what I really enjoyed doing, what made me happiest, I said “Losing myself in writing.” He then(very gently, because that’s the sort of guy he is!) said, “Well, why have you struggled so hard to get published when what really makes you happy is the writing?”

Hmmm. Good question. Don’t get me wrong, I feel happy to have got this far, got the book out in the public domain, but now there’s a sense of restlessness, of incompleteness that is beginning to focus on sales. It’s not a bestseller yet by any means. The feedback I have had from readers blows my socks off, but it leaves me hungry.

This is where the chase for success comes in. It’s never ending. When you’ve climbed one mountain, there’s always another taunting you to conquer it.

This doesn’t mean you give up. Giving up dreams is not what I mean. But it is about giving up our ATTACHMENT to them, our blind hope that achieving this crucial thing will make us happy. It won’t, except for a short time; not as short as the time new material goods keep us happy for. You keep going because it’s what you do, because the goal has a greater meaning than simple personal happiness. Because whatever you are trying to do is part of your path and no more(and no less) than that.

Happiness comes out of nowhere sometimes, as a gift of grace if you like, and it comes most often when we are in alignment with so many things in our lives. When all our talents and our hopes and our loves and interests all come together at once, then often that happiness that seems to drive us  to chase it isn’t far away.

I’ve been happy writing this. I hope you’ve been happy reading it.

Equinox

Today is the Autumn Equinox, that extraordinary moment in the year where day and night are paused at equal lengths. After tonight, the nights will get longer and the days shorter.

I have a problem with darkness, the lack of light the winter months bring. I’m not a great fan of wallowing in sunshine either; I’ve never been one for lolling around slathered with suncream and basting myself every hour. But I do spend a lot of time outdoors and I am feeling slightly sick at the thought of the diminishing hours of daylight. I get S.A.D. I have a special lamp which takes the edge of the worst of it, and I take St.John’s wort too. I’m also feeling resentful of the fact that my summer was spent either working or getting stuff ready for work and extremely little doing the things I enjoy like walking along beaches and in forests and working in my garden. I know it was my choice, albeit a Hobson’s choice as after this week I don’t know when I will next get work, but I still resent it.

It also occurred to me that barring accidents or lethal illness, I am roughly at an equinox of life. My grandmother lived to be 85, and the mid to late 80s seems to be the lifespan of much of my family that I know of. Given that Nan lived through two world wars, smoked, ate stupid food and had 8 kids, the likelihood is that at 43, I am probably about halfway through my allotted span of life. I might get more, or I might get less.

I’m thinking that just as I don’t want to waste the sunny days of my summers again doing things I don’t love doing, I really don’t want to spend the second half of my life the same way. I’ve had a good life and made good choices, but that said, I haven’t achieved very many of the dreams and ambitions I have always had deep inside. I was brought up to believe that I’m not very important and that my dreams too are just that: dreams.

A bit later today, when I’m dressed at least, I want to do something to celebrate this double equinox and to fix in my mind that every day needs to be savoured, rain, snow, bills and triumphs and all. I’m loathe to make a big deal out of this because I have a horror of show, but I do want to mark it in some way.

I’ll fill you in later what I do.