Home > The Comfort Book(7)

The Comfort Book(7)
Author: Matt Haig

   • • •

   They had three children. One was my father, who in the 1960s dropped out of Oxford University to study architecture in Sheffield. It was there he met my mother, who had dropped out of drama school in Bristol to go to teacher training college in South Yorkshire. My mother, who had been abandoned as a baby for reasons she still doesn’t understand, grew up with her adoptive parents on a farm in Devon, hundreds of miles away from my father’s childhood home in Sussex, their paths not crossing until they both entered Sheffield’s Queen’s Head pub one day in 1969.

   • • •

   This is not that remarkable a story. Or rather, it is equally as remarkable as everyone’s origin story. We all come from randomness. We exist out of uncertainty. Out of near impossibility. And yet we exist. So, when you feel the odds are against you it is important to realize that they are never so against you as they were when you didn’t exist. And there you are, we are, existing.



The future is open

   You don’t need to know the future to be hopeful. You just need to embrace the concept of possibility. To accept that the unknowability of the future is the key, and that there are versions of that future that are brighter and fairer than the present. The future is open.



Being, not doing

   You don’t need to exhaust yourself trying to find your own value. You are not an iPhone needing an upgrade. Your value is not a condition of productivity or exercise or body shape or something you lose via inactivity. Value is not a plate that needs to be continually spun. The value is there. It is intrinsic, innate. It is in the “being” not the “doing.”




   Life is short. Be kind.



Peanut butter on toast

   You will need:

        Two slices of bread

    A jar of peanut butter



              Place the slices of bread in a toaster.


          Wait a minute or two. Remove the toasted bread from the toaster and transfer to a plate.


          With a knife, spread the peanut butter generously onto one side of the toast. Spread the peanut butter with the knife always traveling in the same direction over the toast. I don’t know why. It just feels better this way.


          Don’t rush it. Set the mood of appreciation by moving the knife at a steady, Tai Chi kind of pace. This moment should have the integrity of a religious ritual.


          Take the plate of toast to your favorite seat. Sit. Compose yourself. Be fully aware of how wondrous it is to be sentient. To be aware you are not only alive as a human being, but as a human being about to eat some peanut butter on toast.


          Close your eyes as you take the first bite. Let your worries float by, untethered from their hooks, as you appreciate this living moment of taste and pleasure.


          If you really don’t like peanut butter, this ritual of gratitude and attentiveness has also been proven to work with marmalade.






Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

    Bruce Lee




   People talk a lot about flow. Workflow. Musical flow. Yoga flow. Life flow. If we are stressed about something we might be advised to “go with” the flow. What does this even mean? In Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse’s novel about one man’s spiritual discovery, he writes “the river is everywhere.” The story is indeed partly centered around a river. The central character, Siddhartha himself, aims to live his life near a river that provides him with spiritual inspiration. The voices in the river teach him acceptance and spirituality. On the edge of suicide, he falls into a deep sleep and is saved by the soothing voice of the river that helps him discover a spirituality he’d never known. Later, the river teaches him that time is an illusion and that all his problems and pains are part of a larger fellowship of nature. Individual events mean nothing by themselves, but are part of a larger totality and can only be understood within the whole. This is what the river teaches him.

   For me, the flow of life is about accepting things as part of something bigger. Accepting every molecule of water as part of the river. This comforts me when I have moments of torment or suffering.

   Pain is selfish. It demands full attention. But each moment is part of a totality. Each moment is a brush stroke in a painting—let’s say a painting of a river—which, when we stand back, can be rather beautiful. I have had moments of pain so strong I wanted everything to end. But standing back, they’re just shadows accentuating light.




   Let them flow. All those unspoken thoughts. All those suppressed emotions. All those unacknowledged difficulties. All those guilty secrets. All those painful memories. All those hidden corners. All those awkward truths. All those undressed wounds. All those uncomfortable ideas. All those latent longings and denied desires. All that water building behind the dam. Don’t wait for that pressure to build. Don’t wait to burst wide open. Let them flow. Let them flow. Let them flow.



No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.




Elements of hope

   Earth, water, fire, air.

   Everything connects.

   Everything in the universe relates to every other thing in the universe.

   “You can’t say A is made of B or vice versa,” said the physicist Richard Feynman. “All mass is interaction.” And maybe what is true for matter is true for psychology and our emotional selves. Pain connects to pleasure through time. A pleasurable present evolves and connects to the pain of grief, when it becomes a memory. But so too, inside deep despair, the knowledge of better times (or even the knowledge of potential better times) can help get you through. And sometimes, even within those moments of despair, we can reach pleasure via the despair. I have to be careful how I phrase this, as I am not entirely sure I understand it, but there was a kind of pleasure I knew from inside depression. I don’t mean to diminish the depression. It was intense, and life-threatening, and I wanted it to end and had no idea when or how it would, but—but—despite that—no, because of that—when I experienced a moment of beauty or relief it would take on so much power. The night sky would almost sing with beauty. A kiss or a hug would be magnified with meaning. It was almost as though, in those moments, life outside my mind sensed the destructive force within me and was trying to combat it with wonder.

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