“Koee ummeed bar naheen aatee, koee soorat nazar naheen aatee
Maut ka ek din mu’ayyan hai, neend kyoon raat bhar naheen aatee?”
– Mirza Assadullah Beg Khan “Ghalib”
[There is no hope that comes to mind, nor is (there) any avenue in sight
When for death a day has been (pre)ordained, (then) why does sleep evade (me) all night?]
A friend and I recently met for lunch and as we mused over ghazals and Sufi poetry he recited this sher. At the time I thought Ghalib’s lament possibly reflected circumstance, as did his inclination to surrender to fate because he was going through a difficult phase.
Later that afternoon a koan about a Zen master came to mind. A favorite pupil inquired of the master how he might train to make the best use of his life. The master is said to have turned sideways towards an imaginary yellow canary ostensibly perched on his left shoulder and asked, “O bird, is this the moment”? Just like miners using a canary for advance warning of danger from gases in a coalmine, the master made clever use of this emblematic bird to point out the unpredictability of life, of impending death that strikes without notice.
The sher and this koan served to remind me that only this present instant possibly covers the entire span of my life. I cannot go back into the past and the future remains unknown. A recent health issue underscored that I am lucky to have got a second chance to make amends for the hurtful deeds or untrue words, to thank the nursing staff for their tender care, to go back and retrieve that missed hug or savor a lingering kiss, to offer a ride to that person walking in the snowstorm whom I had driven past… I could go on. By not exercising choices when we have the chance to do so, we retrace life for the missed opportunities feeling regret or guilt. “If only I had/could…” becomes our leitmotif and causes sleepless nights. Would it not make sense to accept life in its entirety at this very moment, take control and make the most of it?
I realize for instance, that my recent health issues might not be reversible. So, do I fret over my condition, checking constantly for real and imagined symptoms and literally “worry myself to death”? Instead, I have opted to accept this predicament and make the most of each living moment available to me. This will neither prolong nor shorten my life span but it allows me to enhance the quality of each living moment, something entirely in my power. This acceptance must not be viewed as a fatalistic resignation. To me, acceptance represents an innate belief in the ability to take things in one’s stride and ride the storm while respecting the authority imposed by a power greater than the self.
In Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the wise prince Iraj reminds his father, King Fereydun,
“Our lives pass from us like the wind, and why
Should wise men grieve to know that they must die.”
I am not particularly religious and have no knowledge of scriptures but am enchanted by a segment in the Japji Sahib (from the Sikhs’ venerated Guru Granth Sahib) that emphasizes living in acceptance of the “Hukam” or (Natural) “Order”. Laws of nature mandate the precise, perfect and orderly functioning of this universe. From the colossal inter-relational placement of the cosmos and other galactic universes, down to the minutest cell that follows a predetermined role to team up with other cells and eventually constitute a functioning body part, the rise and fall of tides, the rising and waning moon and sun, the birth and death of flora and fauna in environments where nothing could possibly survive, each actor and situation enacts to nature’s script. By accepting the natural order it is possible to live in harmony and blessed gratefulness.
Gratitude, like love, is unconditional. So is acceptance.