We've all heard the expression "for whom the bell tolls." Some know it as the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel but perhaps don't know that it was originally penned by John Donne, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and one of the greatest writers who ever lived. 400 years before the internet he wrote thoughtful, insightful "Meditations" on personal spirituality and health that would be right at home on MindBodyGreen. In Meditation XVII Donne reflects on how to reduce worry and find inner peace:
1. We are all connected. Distinctions of nationality, race, religion, gender, or any other are meaningless. All that matters is our humanity. Remember always that you are an essential and irreplaceable member of the human family, and without you we are all the worse for your loss.
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."
2. We carry each other. When we are hurt, or sick, or grieving, we need the comfort and support of others, but we also need to be comforting and supportive ourselves. Remember to help others when they are in need, even if you have troubles of your own.
" . . . though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, [we] must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours . . . for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction."
3. Your joys and losses are mine. Just as we are connected in life, so too are we connected in spirit. Remember that there is only one human family: with every birth we grow, while with every death we lose a little of ourselves. The funeral bell you hear for someone else is for your, too.
"When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me . . . Therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
4. Death is not the end. We all worry, at one time or another, about death, but we don't know what death is. Is it a boundary or a doorway? Richard Bach wrote, "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls the butterfly." Remember that your life on earth is only a part of your story.
"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another."
John Donne died in 1631. He wrote his meditations, twenty four in all, in the last months of his life as he endured terminal illness to explore happiness, sadness, illness, health, peace, joy -- what we would today call wellness. How humbling and comforting to know that our human connectedness transcends all the boundaries of distance and time!
(*Note: in Donne's age "man" and "mankind" were common short forms for "humankind" or "person.")