Life in a small town, The Inner Struggle

Meekness, Sincerity and Happiness … What’s the Connection?

” ゆりかごの歌”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

What’s the connection between sincerity and happiness, or meekness and happiness?

About twenty-five hundred years ago, in the Himalayan foothills of present-day Nepal, there lived in a great palace a king who was going to have a son. For this son the king had a particularly grand idea: he would make the child’s life perfect. The child would never know a moment of suffering—every need, every desire, would be accounted for at all times.” Mark Manson.

About thirty years ago I would have described my first wife and I (which wife, BTW, I am still happily married to after 40 years) as WTDINKS (World Traveling Double Income No Kids). This supposedly was the apex of existence in the circles in which we circulated. We were “Livin’ the dream”.

Air Nepal Boeing 737

Air Nepal Boeing 737

We flew in from Hong Kong and spent some weeks in Nepal in the late 80’s before flying on to spend several weeks in Thailand. We landed in Kathmandu (काठमाडौं/काठमाण्डौ (Nepali) in the middle of the night, flying in an Air Nepal Boeing 737.

I remember the approach was … frightening … not rough. Everything appeared to be working right, cabin lights dimmed, power down, some flaps dialed in, wheels down and locked with a bit of rumble and turbulence now, cabin air smelled different, but descending peacefully.

The sudden sharp bank followed by full flap deployment and the powerfully increased whine of the turbines increasing thrust …HEY! What the heck are we doing on finale in utter complete darkness, not a light in view anywhere, … we are coming down in the Himalaya Mountain range (हिमालय, “Abode of Snow”).

These suckers are like …  23,000 feet high, impossible to miss ya know! Maybe too much knowledge and a vivid imagination are not helpful during these sort of experiences … maybe …

Langtang Range, Nepal

We are supposed to be flying into a large city of over a million people and not a single damned light anywhere!!! Is this the feeling you get just before you smack into a mountain side at 150 knots??? One line below the fold “Nepal Air Boeing crashes in Himalaya, no survivors”!

Airport and Himalaya, Nepal

Then suddenly, in seconds, runway lights, touchdown on tarmac, reverse thrust full power, brakes, and a short taxi to a dimly lit terminal building.

RELIEF! Things one remembers being grateful for even before finding God. I didn’t notice Him, but he was there all the time. Thank You God for looking after me even when I was ignoring You.

“早春賦”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

So what about the Prince … well Dad was the King and very rich and could do whatever he wanted so he pretty much completely spoiled the Prince, lavishing him with food and gifts, surrounding him with servants who catered to his every whim. And just as planned, the child grew up ignorant of the routine cruelties of normal human existence.

Mark Manson, 2016

Mark Manson, 2016

All of the prince’s childhood went on like this. But despite the endless luxury and opulence, the prince became kind of a pissed-off young man. Soon, every experience felt empty and valueless.”

So, being a young man, and being rebellious, not meek, not humble, are any young men meek or humble? – I don’t remember that part, hmmm … ,

“… late one night, the prince snuck out of the palace to see what was beyond its walls. He had a servant drive him through the local village, and what he saw horrified him.

For the first time in his life, the Prince saw human suffering. He saw sick people, old people, homeless people, people in pain, even people dying. The Prince returned to the palace and found himself in a sort of existential crisis. Not knowing how to process what he’d seen, he got all emo about everything and complained a lot. And, as is so typical of young men, the Prince ended up blaming his father for the very things his father had tried to do for him.

It was the riches, the prince thought, that had made him so miserable, that had made life seem so meaningless. He decided to run away. But the prince was more like his father than he knew. He had grand ideas too. He wouldn’t just run away; he would give up his royalty, his family, and all of his possessions and live in the streets, sleeping in dirt like an animal. There he would starve himself, torture himself, and beg for scraps of food from strangers for the rest of his life.” Manson, Mark.

Lockheed Electra l-188A

Lockheed Electra l-188A

The Prince wanted to suffer, and He would suffer … a lot … and there is a point to this. Really, there is a point.

We “deplaned” – I remember one time a taciturn pilot coming on the cabin speaker, after a particularly violent landing somewhere in the Canadian Arctic, traveling in an old Lockheed Electra L-188A 4 engine turboprop and announcing “Survivors may deplane”. Nothing else, no welcome, no weather, no cheery cheery cheery …

Kathmandu Tuk-Tuk

Kathmandu Tuk-Tuk

Anyway, we deplaned, and paid a little brown man in some sort of uniform $10 U.S. to stamp our passport, skipping the loooooong lineup of people with visas and walked out into the cool Nepalese night.

Traveling in Asia with no visas, no itinerary, no schedule and no reservations is an adventure in living not talked about in any guidebooks. Flagged a Tuk-Tuk and rode to the Kathmandu Guesthouse in 5 horsepower luxury. Modern tourist sites describe this old old old hotel in the heart of the Thamel neighbourhood thusly:

*****

Kathmandu, Nepal

Travelers know that the frenetic pace of a crowded city like Kathmandu needs an escape. The Kathmandu Guest House, a converted Rana dynasty mansion with fragrant gardens and airy corridors, has provided the peaceful refuge of choice since 1967.

Since the days of being the first and only hotel in Thamel, the packed tourist district of Kathmandu, it’s become something of an institution. It’s close to everywhere and its gate is the meeting point that nobody can mistake. As a guidebook put it, “Kathmandu Guest House acts as a magnet for mountaineers, pop stars, actors and eccentric characters.” Even the Beatles stayed here in 1968.

Kathmandu Guest House prides itself on being affordable to all budgets, from those looking to treat themselves to total comfort in elegantly modern suites, to volunteers and scholars who take the famous no-frills rooms.

Whether you’re returning from the mountains or arriving from the airport, come and relax at the courtyard restaurant, order a cup of fine Italian coffee or a chilled Gorkha Beer, and escape for a moment in the historic surroundings of Kathmandu’s most loved guesthouse.”

*****

Looking at today’s online images of the Kathmandu Guesthouse low end rooms, basically 10 by 12 with bath but no AC, I am immediately impressed by the apparent luxury of the finish and appointments, must have been some incredible renovations since the late 80’s.

All I remember is damp bare cement and tile and surgical tubing for plumbing, and surface mount handyman special electrical wiring, and an old “Geezer” water heater in the loo which exploded one night while we were sleeping there … things are certainly looking up in Nepal, at least in the tourist adverts.

By Leofleck at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3686630

Elephant back safari, Chitwan, by Leo Fleck at English Wikipedia

And so the next day we began to circulate in Kathmandu and over the next few weeks we explored further into the valley and the south of Nepal and everywhere we went what struck me was the extreme poverty of most of the inhabitants of the mountain kingdom, and the joyousness of the population in general.

Basking Mugger Croc, Chitwan, Chris Hartford from London, UK

Basking Mugger Croc, Chitwan, Chris Hartford from London, UK

Poverty and suffering everywhere, and Sincere Joy everywhere … openness, honesty, friendliness, trust, in a city of over a million souls, without streetlights, or all the fancy modern amenities which we all take for granted here, I found a centre of unexpected Joy and Peace and peacefulness. And what set this place apart was the people who showed sincerity, meekness, and happiness.

I found a place in this primitive Asian capital in 1989, where I felt safer, in the midst of poverty and suffering, at any hour of the day or night, in darkness or in sunlight, than I had felt anywhere else I had traveled up to then. I think at the root of it all, looking back with an understanding I didn’t have then, that what made this place special in the whole world of my experience was “SincerityandMeekness” and “Happiness“.

Sincerity and meekness, and acceptance of people and existence as it really was, generated a sense of profound Joy and Peace – in a word, “Happiness”. I think my Kathmandu experience was the first ray of light shining on my realization that happiness was not something one pursued and found but rather was a result of approaching life with meekness and sincerity.

Shakuhachi Flute Music”, from the album “Chinese & Japanese Koto Harp & Shakuhachi Flute Music”, {2008)

I couldn’t have explained this feeling, this understanding, at that time because I lacked the spiritual and cultural tools to understand. Mark Manson touched upon this insight when he wrote:

Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live.” Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 166-170). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So what about that Prince from Mark’s story? Well … “The next night, the prince snuck out of the palace again, this time never to return. For years he lived as a bum, a discarded and forgotten remnant of society, the dog shit caked to the bottom of the social totem pole. And as planned, the prince suffered greatly.

He suffered through disease, hunger, pain, loneliness, and decay. He confronted the brink of death itself, often limited to eating a single nut each day. A few years went by. Then a few more. And then . . . nothing happened.

The prince began to notice that this life of suffering wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t bringing him the insight he had desired. It wasn’t revealing any deeper mystery of the world or its ultimate purpose.

In fact, the prince came to know what the rest of us have always kind of known: that suffering totally sucks. And it’s not necessarily that meaningful either. As with being rich, there is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.

And the prince came to the conclusion that his grand idea, like his father’s, was in fact a fucking terrible idea and he should probably go do something else instead. Totally confused, the prince cleaned himself up and went and found a big tree near a river.

He decided that he would sit under that tree and not get up until he came up with another grand idea. As the legend goes, the confused prince sat under that tree for forty-nine days.

We won’t delve into the biological viability of sitting in the same spot for forty-nine days, but let’s just say that in that time the prince came to a number of profound realizations.

One of those realizations was this: that life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.

This isn’t to say that all suffering is equal. Some suffering is certainly more painful than other suffering. But we all must suffer nonetheless.”

Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (pp. 25-26). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So, as I have remarked in other places, this thing called “Life” is a fatal STD. Or as an old CPO once remarked to his men, “Shake out of it ladies! Life’s a suicide mission, none of us are coming back alive!” Yea, whatever, I can hear it now as clear as yesterday.

And the punchline of all this is that I now believe that Happiness is indeed a problem, as Mark says, but not because there is anything inherently wrong with happiness, rather because we confuse happiness with something which we can find, like $100 dollar bill that we stuck in our jacket pocket last spring and we are now finding it this fall. Whoohoo!

And happiness isn’t a “something”. Happiness is really a natural byproduct of living our life right, of practicing virtues like sincerity, and meekness, and fortitude and just getting on with the daily trials of normal life with patience and charity and, dare I say, compassion for all the others with whom we are sharing this little lifeboat of suffering in an uncaring perfectly impartial world.

More on Sincerity, and Happiness, and stages of understanding, maybe in my next post or maybe the one after that, gotta think some more.

Cheers

Joe

Kananaskis, right here in Alberta

 

Don’t have to go half way round the world to find world class mountains

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