All was quiet. Except for muffled sounds of activity coming from somewhere more remote in the palace and the barely audible but pleasant sounds of birdcalls drifting in from the palace garden. His concentration on his breathing merely heightened Augustus’s awareness. When he heard the footsteps approaching he knew immediately it was Naomi. But he also knew something was wrong. The lightness of her step that had become so familiar in these last few weeks was gone.
The Princess entered the room dragging her flute by her side and her cheeks were wet with tears. She slowly sat down on a cushion in front of the Buddhist and assumed her meditation position. Augustus nodded at her but said nothing. The Princess began her meditation practice. After a while she seemed to regain her composure. Despite her troubled mind, the continuous practice ensured she could easily engage herself in meditation. After her usual routine she roused herself from meditation and looked toward the little Buddhist. His eyes, as ever, were full of compassion, but still he said nothing. Finally Naomi blurted out, “Augustus, I have to talk – I’ve had a relapse.”
“After the music,” came the reply.
“But I have finished my practice.”
“Your music is now as much your practice as your meditation. Please play.”
The young woman sighed and then taking up her instrument, played a doleful air.
When she had finished, Augustus nodded and said, “Good, now play some more.” Then, without stopping, Naomi played for a full half-hour. She played difficult pieces with rippling arpeggios, with subtle key changes and dramatic leaps.
“Enough,” said Augustus at the end. “That was beautiful. Now tell me what you want to talk about.
“I have regressed. I woke up this morning in a pall of despair. And I’ve had such a lovely few weeks. I can not remember being so happy. Now it is all gone. Now I am back to where I started.”
“But you are not, Princess,” said Augustus.
“What do you mean?”
“You are here with me. You have meditated and practiced your flute. You have done something positive. You are not lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself.”
“But I am not happy and I have experienced so much happiness lately that I had an expectation that it would ever continue thus.”
“Then you are mistaken. Our emotions come and go and even the wisest sage will have his equanimity challenged. Is there any land where the sky is forever blue? Is there any tree that flowers continuously? Is there a river that runs placidly in all its reaches? Is there a sea with no tides? This is the nature of things, a reflection of the impermanence and the constant change that underpins the universe. That is why the Buddha taught that we should become attached to nothing, not even happiness. The techniques we have learnt together will help you deal with your unhappiness and reduce the frequency of its occurrence, but do not believe it is possible to live forever happily.”
“I thought my meditation practice would help me stay happy.”
“Your meditation practice helps in many ways, but there are two outcomes that are particularly helpful. Firstly it makes you more aware. When the mind is stilled you become aware of your emotional state. Secondly, being thus aware of your emotion, you can detach yourself from it. When I first met you, you were unaware emotionally because your emotions dominated and overwhelmed you. You did not notice your despair so much as identified with it. You could not notice objectively because in many ways you were your despair. Here, come outside awhile with me.”
Intrigued, Naomi followed the little Buddhist out into the garden.
“Look up and tell me what you see.”
“Why, I see a blue sky with some clouds scurrying across it.”
“Consider that lovely blue sky as a metaphor for your true self. See how sometimes the clouds partly obscure it. Those clouds are your thoughts and your emotions. But we know from our vantage point that the clouds are not the sky. From the awareness of meditation you will be able to see that neither your thoughts nor your emotions are your true self. Because we are detached from the clouds, when we look up we can say, ‘Look, there is a cloud beginning to impinge on the sky.’ When we come to learn detachment from our thoughts and our emotions, we can look inwards and say, ‘Look here comes some despair which is impinging on my true self.’ We know, just as with the clouds, we can patiently observe its passage, not identifying with it, and that soon enough it will be gone. It seems to me that you are beginning to learn this lesson otherwise you would still be in bed crying, acting out your despair and not dealing constructively with it.”
Naomi asked why there was such variation between people. Augustus replied, “It is like our metaphor of the clouds. Some countries have lots of days with cloudy skies. I have heard in some countries there are tropical rainforests where it rains almost every day. And there are countries, we know, that are dominated by deserts where months or years can pass without a cloud being seen. It is an outcome of the natural diversity that pervades the earth. Similarly, people vary. Some are born with positive and optimistic dispositions and others with more negative and pessimistic dispositions. But even those who are the most positive among us are not immune from despair.”
She shook her head, musing to herself.
“What is it Princess?” Augustus enquired.
The Princess looked at the little Buddhist and enquired, “You have told me, Augustus, that we each have different worldviews and because we see the world differently we respond to the world differently.”
“Yes – that is so Princess.”
“But how can these view points be so different?”
“Let me give you an example. Consider a green ant living with its colony in a mangrove tree. The ant is gnawing at the edge of a leaf. All of a sudden, a gust of wind arises and breaks the leaf from its branch. The leaf, with the ant clinging grimly to it, tumbles down into the water. The tide is running out and the leaf is whirled around by eddies formed where the mangrove roots meet the water. The ant is thrust violently about and hangs on for grim death. Eventually the leaf emerges into the main stream and is washed further down the estuary. Soon the leaf comes to a sand bar. This impediment to the flow of the tide creates small waves in the water. But to the ant these seem like huge cataracts. Once over the bar the water becomes calm and another gust of wind arises and pushes the leaf with the hapless ant aboard to an overhanging branch. The ant quickly grasps the branch and hauls itself out of the water. It sits exhausted for a while on the branch, its little heart beating furiously. ‘Whew,’ it thinks to itself, ‘I’ll never go near the sea again. What a treacherous place it is, with whirlpools and cataracts and mountainous waves.’”
“The poor thing,” exclaimed the Princess. “What a traumatic experience!”
Augustus resumed. “All the while the ant was enduring its journey down the estuary, a sea-eagle was soaring high overhead. The warm sun created a strong thermal that enabled it to hover effortlessly above the estuary. ‘What a lovely day,’ thinks the bird. ‘The estuary is so calm and beautiful. I feel at one with the world.’ What the ant saw as frightful and traumatic, the sea-eagle saw as tranquil and beautiful.”
“We are like the green ant and the sea-eagle. Those self obsessed and driven by fear see the world as a frightening place. They are compelled, through no fault of their own, to be defensive and pessimistic.”
“Why do you say, ‘through no fault of their own’?”
“It is because our behaviour is greatly influenced by our genetics and our early learning experiences, both of which we have no control over.”
Life as the daughter of the sultan should be one of bliss, joy, and happiness, but Princess Naomi battles with her darker aspects. The sultan, concerned with his daughter’s deepening depression, seeks for help from every corner of his kingdom. When his apothecary fails to help the girl, the sultan turns to a dervish for guidance. When the dervish fails, the sultan casts his desperate net wider. Finally, from the western provinces comes news of Augustus, a Buddhist master who has helped others battle the same ailments that afflict Naomi.
Augustus is initially reluctant but is soon persuaded to tend to the princess—with a few conditions. He explains that the princess will need to work with him over a long period of time, and the sultan agrees—but then Naomi resists.
Months pass as Augustus adopts strategies to relieve the princess’s despair. Success, he believes, comes through many paths to optimism. He teaches her how to meditate to still her mind. He encourages her to play the flute she loves. His teachings are enlivened by parables and metaphors to illustrate the essential truths.
Finally, he reaches a breakthrough. Naomi’s innate altruism encourages her to focus on the well-being of others—instead of being mired down in her own concerns. The master introduces her to others who are also on their own journeys, and she finds strength and inspiration in their stories. She soon learns that through the Buddhist practices of meditation, mindfulness, and self-awareness, there is reason for hope again.
About the Author
Professionally, Ted Scott has worked as both a senior executive and an executive coach. In his personal life, his interests include spirituality and psychology. He is the author of Humanity at Work (coauthored with Dr Phil Harker), Augustus Finds Serenity, and Yu the Dragon Tamer.