Death came today and gave me some advice
‘Good news: I’ve designed a special diet for you.
If you follow my instructions
Two years from now you’ll be as thin as I am.
After all, isn’t your health the most important thing?
And your own happiness must be your prime concern.
If you know what I mean.’
And death winked knowingly and smiled.
‘Only when you are happy can you make others happy.
Do you agree?
Only when you are satisfied can you satisfy others.
Only when you have gathered enough money
Do you have money to share.
Forget thinking about what’s wrong before you act.
It’s not your job to put the world to rights.
And all your reading and writing. What’s it for?
It’s intellectual masturbation and changes nothing.
It won’t change anything.
Stop pretending to be nice.
Human nature is human nature.
Get real, you shlemiel!
She sounded irritated
The body is where it’s at, not the mind.
Exercise instead: swim, run around, cycle about
Exorcise the ghost of your conscience.
It’s an illusion anyway, a category error.
Enjoy the things you choose to buy!
To live needn’t be to suffer.
Be detached from the poverty and unpleasantness
That very occasionally surrounds you
You’re not responsible for it.
Think of other people’s misfortune as instructive.
These are not your problems, they are someone else’s.
“Il faut cultiver votre jardin” remember.
Look, my little Arjuna, be all that you can be!
It’s meaningless anyway.
Be consummately free.’
Then death smiled again.
‘But one day, perhaps, even sooner than you guess
When you’re fed up with your precious Atman, and your self
Meet me in Switzerland, and I’ll put a stop to your life
And crush your wizened little heart, like this.’
She closed her fist.
‘And you’ll get what you deserve.
That heaven of nothingness
You always secretly believed in
Will be your place of rest and
Proof of your utter
Philip Hall-Steinhardt, 2016
Many years ago in Mexico, I met an Irishman. He had his own philosophy of life. His philosophy was that he could only make other people happy and help them if he himself were happy and thriving.
He was a personable chap. Impressively, he walked everywhere instead of taking the bus or driving the car. He was as fit as a butcher’s dog. That is, apart from the fact that long ago in Ireland, after a motorbike accident, he was in an ambulance, which hadn’t shut the back door properly. In his stretcher, he slid out of the ambulance and hit his head on the tarmac.
This fall damaged his eyesight. It made it hard for him to develop a career in photography. The photographs he showed me were of the guitars played by his Mexican in-laws. He used moody lighting and asked me if I didn’t think they were erotic. But then he said:
Phil, I have realised that I am not happy in Mexico and that I won’t be able to make my two little children, or my wife, happy either. So I am leaving them and going back to Germany.
I thought of the stretcher slipping out of the ambulance, tipping over, and the Irishman’s head hitting the tarmac. Of the ambulance speeding away. Perhaps that could explain what he had just said to me. It seemed like such a selfish and cruel reason to abandon his family.
Perhaps it was a medical problem. There were other reasons why he wasn’t happy. I think I could guess a few of them. But he wasn’t going to tell me anything.