Members of the Academy meet on a monthly basis and take it in turns for one to inspire the others with reflections on their own journey of self-transformation, and their understanding of some of the deeper principles that guide Human Values Education. Those reflections included here could have been edited for length, and the authors’ names are not included. A new reflection will be added each month.
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
~ William Shakespeare
There once was an old, wise farmer who lived in a village long ago and far away. This farmer owned a horse and in this particular village at this particular time, horses were a greatly prized possession. One morning, the farmer went out to his paddock and discovered that the gate was open and his horse was gone. His neighbours saw this and cried out in dismay at the farmer’s misfortune: “Oh dear, that’s terrible! Who could have done such a thing and how will you do what needs to be done on the farm!?!” The farmer took a deep breath and said: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my horse has gone.” And he set about doing what he could with the tools that he had. The neighbours didn’t understand these curious words for to them, of course this was bad!
That night, as the farmer sat down wearily to his soup, he heard the sound of galloping hooves. He looked out his window and there, down in the valley was his horse, with three other horses following. The farmer watched as these four horses circled around the village, came trotting up the path and into his paddock where they settled, nibbling contentedly on the grass. “Hooray!!” the neighbours shouted. “You’re the luckiest, and wealthiest man in the village now!! You have your horse back AND three of the most strong and beautiful horses we’ve ever seen!” The farmer took a deep breath and said: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my horse has returned and brought three other horses with it.” Again the neighbours were confused. “Not good you say?!! Look at the haunches on that horse there, he’ll do twice as much work for you…“ The neighbours did not understand for surely, this could only be good.
Now, if you know anything about horses you’ll know that they need to be trained in order to be useful on the farm. And so it happened that the next day the farmers’ son was out in the paddock, training these new, wild horses. One reared up on its hind legs and came down heavily, crushing the son and breaking his leg. “Oh no, this is terrible!!” said the neighbours who saw what had happened. “It’s harvest time and now you don’t have your son to help. Not only that but you’re going to have to look after your son too!!” The neighbours were quite distressed on behalf of the farmer who was old, but wise. The farmer paused and took a deep breath. “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my son has a broken leg”. The neighbours scratched their heads, mystified. Surely it was bad that the son had broken his leg? They heard but they did not understand the old, wise farmer, who did what needed to be done.
A short time later the country was invaded by warriors from afar. The king sent his generals around to each village to gather all the men of fighting age and ability. The battle was fierce and all who were sent off to fight were killed. All but the wise old farmer and his son, who had broken his leg, that is. “How lucky are you, that you and your son were saved!!” cried the neighbours. And of course, by now you know what the farmer’s response was: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my son and I are here, now.”
The wise farmer knew that there was nothing he could have done to change any of the things that had happened to him, once they’d happened. He had found a way to accept the things he couldn’t change, without getting carried away by the thoughts and feelings about the things. With gracious awareness and attention to his ever-present breath, the farmer responded wisely.
If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak,
return to yourself, to who you are, here and now
and when you get there, you will discover yourself,
like a lotus flower in full bloom,
even in a muddy pond,
beautiful and strong.
~ Masaru Emoto
The following story illustrates how, just when we think there is no flower to found in the swamp, suddenly there appears before us a beauty beyond compare.
It was a rather busy and stressful day when I went to visit a Primary school this week and happened to be sitting under a tree with some young people during their lunch break.
The bell went and they gathered to put their lunch boxes in the big basket before going off to play. The children were incredibly noisy, and this added somewhat to the stress I was feeling. A young boy, olive skinned and smiling large came by. He’d obviously enjoyed his sandwich as he had a line of vegemite stretched across both cheeks that reached nearly to his ears. We’d never met before but as he walked past, lunch box tucked under his arm and white teeth shining bright through his vege-smeared face, he paused, turned to me and said: “I love you”, tossed his lunch box in the basket and scampered off to play.
The river of this life flowed naturally to the Australian Academy of Human Excellence; its inspirational leadership, its educational philosophy and the magnet of the guiding metaphor for me, a peaceful mind and an open heart.
Eckhart Tolle’s quote describes the essence of this path and goal: “You have a treasure within you that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
As the ever more peaceful mind finds focus and doors to peace continue to open, the Higher Self reflects on the Grace that has guided this life and has always been the ‘doer’, even though my ego wanted to reclaim its authority, especially in the times of pain and many trials. Three themes have moulded the rivers banks: Purity in its early reaches, Spirituality during the churning waterfalls of middle life, Simplicity in this meandering stream as it takes us towards the ocean and long-yearned-for, self-realization.
Purity was nourished in a large family in a pristine country environment with model parents of great faith, who walked their talk.
Spirituality was awakened by experiencing pure Love in a car accident immediately after graduation, causing this body and mind to taste the sweet sacredness found in my own heart. Once this was experienced it became an LED torchlight onto my future. My little self has reflected the mirror others are to me and, far too slowly, finding that same sacred Love in everyone.
Simplicity brings self-confidence, self-satisfaction, self-sacrifice as the gentle and often stormy waters of wisdom and spiritual love wind their way through grandparenting, loving selfless service in community, being a small part of a revolution in education with a clear goal of Self-realization. My gratitude and love find ever fewer words, to explain and thank the Academy profoundly.
My journey towards human excellence has been fraught with a sense of impossibility. How can I be excellent? How can anyone be excellent? Is excellence even possible? Feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth and judgement can creep into the psyche, leaving an unsettling and often defeatist attitude.
Thankfully, being involved in a “philosophy of valuing: self, others and the environment better known as values-based education” (1) has provided me with a framework to navigate through life. Interacting with my excellent self, my pure potentiality and trying to see the true potential in other provides me with an attitude of optimism and love.
Examples abound of people who inspire me to live a life based on values. One such example is of Nelson Mandela. Once after he was elected as the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was having lunch along with his security guards at a restaurant (2). Everyone placed their orders and were chatting while waiting for their food.
At that moment, Mandela spotted a man sitting right across his table, also waiting for his food. He told his guards to ask that man to join them for lunch. The person agreed and joined them but sat quietly the whole time. After some waiting, their food arrived, and everyone relished on the delicious meal. The man too starting eating, but his hands were trembling. Without uttering a word, he quietly ate his food and left. Everyone could sense something fishy, so after he left, his guards guessed that he might have been ill because he was trembling so bad.
To this, Nelson Mandela shook his head and said that he knew that man. He was the jailor of the prison where Mandela was imprisoned. And that he gave him a very tough time while he was in the prison, subjugating him to all kinds of torture.
If someone who after facing so much hardship, can choose love and forgive – how can I not choose love!
(1) – Dr. Neil Hawkes, From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values (2013), Independent Thinking Press, P12
I find myself at times (more often than not, if I’m to be perfectly honest!) looking for more ways of “doing”. The quiet conversations in my mind often have a flavour of how-might-I-do-this-or-that-better/quicker/more efficiently…. Such conversations can yield a restlessness, a latent disquiet, unhelpful comparisons with others and can lead unsurprisingly, to feelings of doubt and defeat. “Create”, “accumulate”, “progress”, “succeed”, “strive”, “win”, “overcome”….. the list of Doing’s is endless, and the urge to participate on these terms is difficult to resist!
It has taken me many years to discover a little of what my dear mother meant when she reminded me when I was much younger: “Noah, we are Human Beings, not Human Doings.” I don’t think she’d have read the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu but she had the gist of it, an ancient Chinese text that presents the idea of Wu Wei – effortless living. More recently Alan Watts referred to Wu Wei as “the principle of not forcing anything in life”.
I think this is what my mum was getting at:
Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the centre that the use of the cart hinges.
We make a vessel from a lump of clay,
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.
We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.
Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.
Learning consists of daily accumulating
The practice of Tao consists of daily diminishing.
Keep on diminishing and diminishing,
Until you reach the state of Non-Ado.
Non-Ado, and yet nothing is left undone.
To win the world, one must renounce all.
If one still has private ends to serve,
One will never be able to win the world.
Taken from the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu. Translation by John C.H. Wu
After re-reading these passages many times over many weeks, the weight of the challenge contained herein remains. However, as Alan Watts has again so eloquently illuminated for us, “the art of sailing rather than the art of rowing” is more akin the ‘being-ness’ that my mother referred. May we let go. In order to Be.
Mahatma Gandhi became one of my heroes when I was 19 and 20. I drew and painted his face a number of times. I have been periodically reading the book – Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran
Gandhi started off as a very shy and awkward young man very uncertain of his place or role in the world or his identity and became a giant as an Embodiment of the Values we all strive to realise and promote as teachers – Love, Peace, Truth, Right Conduct and most famously- Non Violence. This occurred because Gandhi over his lifetime underwent the most profound Self Transformation triggered by intense self-examination and a desire to serve.
Gandhi realised that the only way to conduct himself and live authentically was by adhering always and fearlessly to Truth. Gandhi saw Truth as God. Truth has the power to prevail over all.
As Gandhi listened to Truth, followed the dictates of Truth, he came closer to being transformed into the embodiment of Truth having the Love and Power of the five Human Values directing and working through him.
When reading about Gandhi’s Nonviolence movement I felt a resonance to my own situation. I have read that Gandhi had a lot of anger as a younger man and was deeply moved at how he underwent such Self Transformation as to turn this anger into all-encompassing Love for all. I finally came to understand through reading these two passages in the book that this movement, this Soul Force, was based in Truth, had the infinite Power of Truth behind it and resonated with the Truth within those that came into contact with it.