Saturday, June 11, 2016

“The Best Thing for Being Sad is to Learn Something”

In the midst of a conversation with someone that is extremely sad due to the death of a spouse, I started thinking about the writer T.H.
White, “Sword and the Stone,” “Once and Future King.” As a teenager I was heavily influenced by his belief that the best way to deal with sadness and despair was to learn something new.  White’s anecdote to such an episode was to learn about falconry, which later turned up in his writings.

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing, which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn-pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a million lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics---why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough. T.H. White, The Once and Future King

There is a lot to be said for White’s insight as to wholly engage in learning something new means you become focused and mindful. The stressors of having an illness and other types of problems take a back seat. Quieting and centering helps the brain heal from the assaults it deals with from disease, anxiety, frustration, depression, sadness etc. Fact is learners live longer 

After the sudden death of a very important person in my life,  somewhere in my moments of despair and grief, White’s comments about learning surfaced and I threw myself into learning to play guitar. The benefits were astonishing and it ultimately changed my life in some very profound and positive ways. After a house fire, where we were displaced and uprooted from our lives, Qigong became my new focus of learning and it too was transforming. Now whenever I’m at a loss, I remind myself of  T. H. White’s message, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

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