I just got back from a wonderful visit to the island of Corfu in Greece. A group of us met for a Radical Brilliance one-week intensive, which was spectacular. Prior to leaving for Greece, I had spent almost two months recovering from a serious car accident, so I had been forced to lie low and lick my wounds. Once I got to Greece, it was the first opportunity I had had to “teach” anything for quite a while, and everything that came through was completely new: thoughts I had never thought before, words I had never spoken before, practices we had never tried together before. Coincidentally, that is the whole point of Radical Brilliance: to put yourself into a completely relaxed disposition where innovation can happen on its own.
The following week I taught a Group Facilitation training, which is part of Awakening Coaching.
There is something indescribably sweet about people you have known for a very, very long time. My friend Miten and I go back to the early 1980s, which means for more than thirty years. He and his partner, Deva Premal, are known all over the world for their extraordinary singing of mantras. We had some sweet moments together in Greece.
One afternoon, Miten and I were sitting outside after lunch. The temperature was just perfect. We were looking out over a view of the Mediterranean, so beautiful that you might think it had been photoshopped. The lunch we had just finished together seemed to have been comprised of one close-to-perfect taste after another. Just when it seemed like it had reached the “as good as it gets” zone, Premal brought out coffee and a vast range of raw chocolate, with favors like mandarin orange, goji berry, and mango. By this point I was begging the unseen forces that take care of us, “Please, show me mercy. I don’t think I can handle any more pleasure than this.”
So there we were, about as satisfied as two old friends could get, when the conversation turned to “the world.” You know, the shared conversation we all find ourselves in fairly often these days, about how we are all going to hell in a hand-basket, and how overwhelming it is to decide what to worry about more: global warming, terrorism, political candidates, or the faltering economy (and those few topics are just the appetizers…). I notice it has become something that we take for granted: “Of course we all agree that we are in a terrible state, but now let’s talk about what we are going to do about it, or perhaps how difficult it is to not be able to do anything about it at all…”
Immersed in this talk about our mutual plight, I looked up over my friend’s shoulder at the view beyond. “You know, we all talk this way most of the time,” I said to him, “About how terrible everything is. And of course, we can’t deny it. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees living in terrible conditions in Turkey. Seventy five percent of the arctic ice has melted. And as for the U.S. presidential election… don’t even get me started. But when I turn my attention to what is right before me, instead of what I read in the news, I’m moving from one indescribably perfect moment to another. My personal experience is that it is hard to imagine human life could possibly get any better than this.” My friend smiled back at me, slightly mischievously. “I know,” he said. “It’s insane how lucky we are.”
So what do we do with all that? When your moment-to-moment experience leads you to suspect you might already be in heaven, while the shared conversation is that we are heading directly to hell? We could feel guilty about how unfair it is, like Marie Antoinette living in unparalleled luxury while the common people starved. We could enter into denial, and simply choose not to watch the news because it is too depressing. We might feel inspired to enter into urgent political action….
Then I reminded Miten of a story that we both remembered from decades ago.
A man is walking beside a cliff. Unsure of his footing, he falls over the edge. On his way down he reaches out and grabs a root that is sticking out of the cliff wall. Now he is hanging on for dear life. He looks down to the rocks hundreds of feet below, and there he sees two tigers, one white and one black, waiting to devour him. Overcome with nausea, he looks back up and sees two mice, also one white and one black, gnawing at the root from which he is hanging. His predicament is hopeless. And then, knowing that these may be his last moments, he looks out, and just a couple of feet away, he sees a wild strawberry growing out of the cliff face. He reaches out to pluck the strawberry and takes a bite.
Mmmmmmmm. That strawberry tasted so good.
Thoroughly and completely enjoying each moment, and savoring the taste of the wild strawberry, could be seen, by some, as elitist. It might feel like turning your back on very real suffering, not only of human beings, but also of animals, and Mother Earth herself… and getting lost in self-absorbed hedonism.
But sitting there with my friend on that island in Greece, I realized that savoring the wild strawberry is also a creative and political act in and of itself. It is a defiant stance against the dominant paradigm of woe. What we face today on planet earth is not primarily the result of natural disasters. Almost everything that ails us has been caused by human beings, trapped in a particular state of consciousness. When we feel encased in fear and imminent threat, the feeling of “not enough for me,” we become capable of doing things we would never dream of when we are happy.
Could it possibly be that biting into the wild strawberry and deeply relishing the flavor of the juice — in a way that you know there is no other moment like this one — might be the most revolutionary political action you will ever take? Might happiness, gratitude, and taking pleasure in small things be infectious? I am wondering…