Let us not fret about the world

“We live no more than one hundred years” wrote Sikong Tu at the start of a poem more than one thousand years ago.

We live but a speck in timelessness.

So, why not let our hair turn white and the soft breeze rustle through our clothes?

Why not let the moss cover the stone?

Let us not fret about the world, shall we?

Kenza.

Inspiration: Sikong Tu (China, 837-908), Tang Dynasty poet, known for his poems and for writing the Chinese poetry manual “The twenty-four styles of poetry.”

A bowl of rice

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A bowl of rice.

Simplicity, austerity.

Each gesture from washing the rice to serving it with a bamboo spoon done with utmost care and full attention.

Giving thanks before eating, then with a straight back, savoring it in full presence.

So much beauty in the ordinary.

A simple bowl of rice you say, and yet, one of the many doors towards serenity.

Kenza.


Photo – in the kitchen, Kenza.

Humility

Humility is one of the foundations for achieving peaceful and respectful social relations. The truth is that it has not been mankind’s forte since it came out of the cave; to the contrary, we would not have had so many wars.

What I have observed recently though, is that very few people even mention the word anymore. One has to read old texts of philosophy and wisdom to find references to it.

Today, instead of humility, people talk about loving oneself as a path to happiness. The same way, being humble is seldom taught to children any more, while boosting one’s self-esteem is seen as the sine qua non to success in life. I find it unsettling.

Ego ad infinitum

There is a very thin line between self-worth and arrogance, and perhaps an even thinner one between loving oneself and egotism. Humility however can prevent one from encroaching upon the other.

In my view, humility is a way to step away from oneself, because by being humble, one recognizes his own fallibility. As a result, through “constructive doubt,” as Bertrand Russell once called it, one becomes open-minded, considers the position of others with respect, and hence acts with compassion avoiding the infliction of harm.

Bernard de Clairvaux, the French Abbot better known as Saint Bernard, came to the same conclusion eight centuries earlier when he said, “humility engenders compassion.”

Imagine a world where everyone loves oneself more than others, where they believe their self-worth is such that they can actually achieve anything. Given the current literature on “self-improvement” you may see these as positive qualities. For me, they are simple ego boosters, soothing an artificial sense of self.

Take the same attitude and multiply it, mix it with nationalism and religion and what do you get? – almost always conflict, and most often, violent conflict. Or take a step back and think of harassment at work or on the street, of a despotic parent, or of abuse of authority at a border crossing.

A drop in the ocean

The moment you realize that you are just a “drop in the ocean,” to quote Rumi, you can finally let go of that ego that binds you. Every drop is needed to make an ocean. And when you contemplate the ocean, no drop is larger than another one because they all form one ocean.

Being humble does not mean being less worthy, because the very notion of “worth” becomes irrelevant, and that, you see, is most liberating and does lead to the tranquillity of the heart.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.


References:
– For Bertrand Russell’s writings on critical thinking, see “Philosophy” (1927), “Portraits From Memory” (1956) and “The Problems of Philosophy” (1973). All of Bertrand Russell’s writings are available on the Internet via the Bertrand Russell Society.
– For Bernard de Clairvaux, see “The twelve degrees of humility and pride,” written in 1127.

About elegance

This is a plea. I can find no other words.

A plea for elegance as I see it eroding around me.

Elegance is not brashness, or dressing up in fashion, or gold or any of it. Elegance is a way of behaving.

Elegance is gentleness in words. It is looking at people in the eyes. It is arriving on time at an appointment. It is having clean and proper clothes. Elegance is simplicity in things and how these things are used.

Elegance comes from the inside. It is not luxury. I think I saw some of the most elegant women and men in some of the wretched parts of the world. It is not Madison Avenue or Avenue Montaigne. It is not brands or trying hard to be different. You need not be thin or tall or have bleu eyes to be elegant. It is not in the appearance of things. No matter how many Chanel clothes you wear, if you slouch when you sit, you will not be elegant.

Elegance some say is innate and cannot be acquired. I tend to disagree. Just change polyester for cotton and you will be elegant. Change brashness and clingy jewelry for simple items, and you will be elegant. Change your thorn jeans and your flip flops for proper clothes and you will be elegant. Change your language from vulgarities to respectful words and you will be elegant. It does not take money. It is a state of mind. Be yourself truly, and you shall be elegant.

Elegance is how you move gently and without brashness. It is how you speak choosing your words so as not to offend and without vulgarities. It is how you sit and walk while keeping your back straight, because when your back is straight you can think properly and you are being respectful towards yourself and others.

Elegance in many ways is simply being polite towards you, towards others and yes, towards the environment. No matter how sophisticated you want to try and look, if you use a straw that will end up in the sea, you will not be elegant.

Elegance is as simple as eating without leaving crumbs and saying thank you after a meal. Elegance is answering emails and making that extra gesture of kindness when one is kind towards you.

Elegance, you see, is just another aspect of being aware whether someone watches you or not. It is something that starts within you. You have to feel elegant when you wake up in the morning and when you take your shower, no matter how disheveled you are. You have to feel elegant when you send a note with all the proper “dears” and “thank you” and greetings. You have to feel elegant when you open a door, when you set-up the table, when you arrange flowers, when you lit a candle, when you breathe. Elegance is being one with the gestures you make gently, softly and with your full being.

Elegance is not loud. Elegance does not entail conversations of intellectual brilliance. Elegance is not obvious; rather, it is subdued and it is perceived. Just look at nature. A flower, a bird, a tree, they are all innately elegant and they do so by just being.

So this is my plea. It may not change the way you are and you may simply lift your shoulders and raise your eyebrows dismissively, and that is fine (but not elegant…). Yet, elegance is not an illusive notion as in our many ways, we all wish we could be.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.

Simplicity

Simplicity -perhaps a term not easily defined except by silence.

Silence as in truthfulness and harmony, all rare commodities these days.

Our social relations are filled with noise via social media, busy schedules and multitasking. Filled indeed yet very often empty of substance or care, as many rarely take the time to just sit, talk, enjoy a simple cup of coffee. A like on a photo is not caring.

The world is increasingly filled with noise through constant sounds —cars, music in stores, adverts— and visual pollution with screaming advertisements, loud and clashing colors and dare I say, spelling mistakes!

Our everyday environment seems to be artificially crammed with as many sensations as possible. Coffees now have ingredients that a priori have nothing to do with coffee, computer screens are filled with jumping images and sounds, clothes at times resemble publicity panels, and more.

So what is simplicity and how can we bring some into our lives?

The most important thing I believe, is that it has to be done effortlessly. And that may be the key to simplicity. The very moment something entails hardship, it no longer is simple. Effortlessly does not mean a lack of diligence, rather the opposite. It means that it is done naturally, and hence with care and full attention.

If we are to clean a table, then let us clean it thoroughly. And while we do so, it is all we do: clean the table.

The same goes for cooking. Ingredients are chosen fresh, they are chopped by hand to take in all the aroma and colors, they are cooked with care slowly letting flavors rise.

If we are to dress, it is reducing the number of accessories to a minimum as well as choosing a non brash pallet of colors, sticking to one or two at the most away from primary colors.

I will write more about all this as the blog evolves. But in the meantime, understand that when we do things in a simple and honest way, our state of mind gets infused with that simplicity and honesty.

As we eat wholesome food, as we reduce the noise, as we do one task at a time, our thought process calms down. As we are attentive to our gestures and words, gentleness invariably comes along.

So after all, simplicity is rather simple don’t you think?

Thank you for reading and please tell me what you think as this blog is meant to be an inspiration to all of you.

Kenza.

Bodhicharyāvatāra – Shanti Deva

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I wanted to write something about language. Good language. These days, it seems vulgarities are thrown in all directions, and no one even flinches. These days, public shaming seems a favorite pastime, and many have forgotten to simply stay quiet and wait to take a person aside and speak with a kind tone. These days, the notion of humility is no longer spoken about, nor taught, most equating it with weakness; while notions like strength, pride and winning are taking the forefront -even when it comes to children.

Yet, I found myself lacking words or to be more precise, I found myself not wanting to preach or admonish anyone. So I turned to a text that has been with me for some 20 years and that I read regularly when I feel I am straying away from kindness. This text dating from the 8th c. AD is known as “The way of the Bodhisattva – Bodhicharyāvatāra” by Shanti Deva. It is a text that has been read and studied for centuries and, according to the Dalai Lama, the only text one should read to understand compassion.

So I have copied here a few paragraphes that I hope you shall read with joy and an open heart.

Thank you.

Kenza.

When you feel the wish to walk about,
Or even to express yourself in speech,
First examine what is in your mind.
For they will act correctly who have stable minds.

When the urge rises in the mind
To feelings of desire or wrathful hate,
Do not act! Be silent, do not speak!
And like a log of wood be sure to stay.

When the mind is wild with mockery
And filled with pride and haughty arrogance,
And when you want to show the hidden faults of others,
To bring up old dissensions or to act deceitfully,

And when you want to fish for praise,
Or criticize and spoil another’s name,
Or use harsh language, sparring for a fight,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

And when you want to do another down
And cultivate advantage for yourself,
And when the wish to gossip comes to you,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Impatience, indolence, faint heartedness,
And likewise haughty speech and insolence,
Attachment to your side—when these arise,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Examine thus yourself from every side.
Note harmful thoughts and every futile striving.
Thus it is that heroes in the Bodhisattva path
Apply remedies to keep a steady mind.”

Text: “The way of the Bodhisattva – Bodhicharyāvatāra” by Shanti Deva (ca. 700 AD), Chapter 5 “Vigilance,” Paragraphs 47-54 – translated from the Tibetan by the Padmakara Translation Group. Text originally in Sanskrit. First Tibetan translation dates from the 8th c. (Shambala Classics Publishers, 1997).
Art: “Pensive Bodhisattva” dated early 7th c, Three Kingdoms period, Korea – via the National Museum of Korea.

Like Han Shan

The wise Chinese poet Han Shan once wrote that in his secluded dwelling, he could be “a person beyond form.
Away from the “dusty” world, he wrote about mountains peaks and clouds as his neighbors, the echo of the deep river and the flutter of butterflies. He saw trees bloom and turn red, and some die of old age. He felt the mist as it entered his cave, and felt sadness and joy “under his wisteria hat.
He was away from the world but he felt it. He was on the side, alone, yet fully aware of its madness and beauty, enabling him to laugh and shed tears all at the same time.
Don’t you feel sometimes like Han Shan?
I do.

Kenza.

Inspiration: Han Shan 寒山, Chinese Tao and Zen Poet, ca.9th c. Han Shan means “Cold mountain.” I keep a volume of Han Shan’s poetry next to my bed.