Currently in Scotland, we visited an old textile mill. It’s not any old mill, it’s the World Heritage site at New Lanark, a short drive from where I was brought up, marked by the philosophy with which it was run by Robert Owen in the early 1800’s.
Owen was an interesting character whose ideas made for remarkably better living conditions for the workers than elsewhere else in the industrial world at the time. His philosophies on social communities were deemed strange by many at the time, and are still today aspirational. In his New Year’s address to the people of New Lanark in 1816 he said:
“What ideas individuals may attach to the term “Millennium” I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness improved a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”
202 years on, this is still true. We see ourselves as more advanced than we were back then, and yet health and money remain the top two areas of focus for individuals, and most of us are still in pursuit of happiness rather than embracing it as a state of being for the most part.
He also said “If we cannot yet reconcile all opinions, let us endeavour to unite all hearts.” Wise words, but I think harmony begins within our own heart.
With the recent death of my mum, whose body was ravaged by cancer, I was struck by the end of life phenomenon known as “terminal agitation and delirium”. This happens in the last hours and days of someone’s life. If you look at common cancer information websites, like Marie Curie, you will see they talk about the actual symptoms and guess at the causes, all of which are assumed to be emotional or physical.
I was much more interested in the metaphysical reasons for this agitation as a person is letting go of the body and material world. After a bit of reading, looking for something that resonated, I came to the conclusion that the apparent suffering likely arises from the struggle to surrender that separate sense of self, from which emanates a feeling of utter isolation and loneliness, and fear of what will come of that surrender.
Having gone through this process myself while in a healthy living state, I can appreciate that those who have been locked in their heads for a lifetime and whose sense of self is so completely identified with their bodies must find these final moments in this life pretty frightening.
I know from my own journey and experiences that resisting the inevitable truth - that there is more to ‘you’ and the world around you, a greater intelligence certainly - only worsens fear or suffering. Loosening my grip on the need to fix everything, and trusting the inward feelings of peace I had found after peeling away all the emotional layers I attached to everything around me, led to a trust that things work out for the better when I get out my own way.
Life is savage when we believe we have to suffer, for whatever reason, because we will; it’s inevitable.
Instead of seeing money as it is, a man-made construct that means nothing except whatever value we place on it; or seeing heath as it is, an opportunity to learn from what our body is teaching us about our lifestyle and thought patterns; or seeing happiness for what it is, our natural state, we feel lacking and then suffer.
Coming into harmony in your own heart with your soul, for want of a better word, is where your best life resides. This is where I’ve learned that there is no one truth, only our own truth. There is no one right way, only the way which is best for you in this moment.
This means letting go of judgments, of yourself and of others, a thing my head does not like to cooperate with. Yet, as you practice being with yourself, sitting silently for a short period every day, awareness arises of your thoughts. And if you are aware of your thoughts, what is this awareness? It’s like two parts of you.
Perhaps it’s a huge fountain of consciousness, some of it running into your body as a vessel but most remains part of the bigger whole.
The state of terminal agitation seems to me to arise from the realization that the vessel is about to run dry, yet awareness remains, the fountain is still plentiful.
In life, if we can see ourselves not as separate vessels but part of the one fountain, then we can start the process of living in harmony with ourselves, and from there this will lead to a world in which we can live in harmony.
Suffice to say in the world today you can see whatever you want to see; from what would appear to be the prevalent more insular and selfish behaviours of many – which I like to think of as a crazy death dance of a desperate egoic state that knows its number’s up – to the more conscious behaviours of those who are aware of their connectedness to everything.
So for all Robert Owen’s grand ideas on creating harmonious communities, I think it really is quite simple. If we endeavour to allow the harmony within us to surface, through our individual harmony we will naturally give rise to more harmonious living and communities. We can live in harmony.
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