Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

How to be happy with whatever life serves up? Finally, I've made the connection

Starring role: Emma Thompson
Starring role: Emma Thompson

When I was 21 I studied the books of EM Forster at university. Well, I say, "studied". Perhaps "read and tried to regurgitate what I was told they meant" might be closer to the facts.

As with so many books, films and ideas, what I explored at 21 meant little to me. I hadn't enough life under my belt to understand most of what I was studying. I thought I did, but looking back now, with a much bigger belt round my middle, I realise I was seeing only a small section of the picture. No wonder it didn't make much sense.

One of Forster's books, Howard's End, was made into a multi-award-winning film starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins set in Edwardian England. (Not to be confused with Howard's Way which was a 1980s, Sunday evening television series about people doing racy things on boats with big shoulder pads. The people, not the boats.)

When people talk about Howard's End (that's the name of the house which is central to the story) they invariably say, "Only connect", because that's the phrase Forster puts into the mouth of one of his characters and it's more or less considered to be the central tenet of the book. (Not to be confused with Only Connect, a cheap-looking television quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren for fairly smart people.)

"Only connect" bugged me for years. I didn't understand what yer woman was on about. I might have written eloquently on the subject for my English degree, but I hadn't a baldy, really, inside myself, where I tell the truth 'cos there's only me listening.

But now, more than another lifetime later, it makes sense.

We are brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition of seeing things as good or bad, right or wrong, to be encouraged or shunned. We are brought up constantly to divide and separate. Oh we might say we welcome the sinner, but really, we put more effort into shunning the sin.

What I've realised recently is that there is another way to see ourselves and the world. Everything is connected. There couldn't be "good" without "bad", day without night, Boyzone without quality music.

I've been practising Mindfulness, bringing my attention to what is. It's made me notice how much energy I put into either resisting what is ("I wish my foot wasn't sore", "Why did he cut into my lane like that?" "If only she'd see MY point of view!") or wanting to keep things the same, ("Now THIS is a nice day, why can't it always be sunny?") which is just another way of resisting how things are, because things are always changing.

Amazingly, the simple practice of noticing and letting things be as they are, (which includes noticing how much I judge them and then letting that be too), is having a huge effect.

I'm beginning to get the connectedness of everything and the point of letting things be as they are, particularly myself and my often critical, superior views. Accepting doesn't mean thinking they're good, it just means accepting that they exist.

The fun thing is that once they're allowed to be, they don't shout as loudly! So rather than trying to get rid of them which just makes them shout louder, letting them be actually achieves what I wanted in the first place!

And all there is to do is connect. Only connect.

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