A sixteen-year-old wrote to me after reading my book An Evening In Wonderland – A Brief History of Maths, Physics & The Universe, which her mum, a friend of mine, gave her. She had wanted to know about a career in Physics, and I directed her to something I wrote for the Times Education Supplement (Powerpoint slides available free download):
Somehow, after a long chat, we got onto the subject of what I did in my life in the past, and what I do now (which is not much). My day is filled with writing, creating beauty for my family, running, yoga, boxing, beach, some teaching about the magic of the physical laws of our universe. Not much of a life, many would say, but I am passionate about what I do.
And then this sixteen-year-old tells me,
“You’re the bravest person I know,” she said, before hastily adding, “For what you are doing now.”
“I have to, to set an example for my children. To live freely, to be their own person. To be fearless, like.”
Afterwards, I thought about our conversation.
Bravery doesn’t have to be volunteering for Medicins Sans Frontier and going into dangerous countries, or doing something external, impressive. I think it starts with owning our own actions, especially the bad ones. That is probably the act of bravery that has the power to change the modern world, one person at a time.
According to the Vietnamese spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh:
“My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”
If you try to run away from your actions (i.e blame someone else, turn a blind eye, lie to yourself), then these actions will catch up with you somewhere down the road. And when they catch up with you, you enter the same movie again and again. Until you own them, make your peace and allow them to leave you, you can never be free from your actions.
Because you can never outrun your actions. As I wrote in my book on quantum physics,
movement is relative.
This is the first three minutes of the book, as read by my children’s father (the book was written for our youngest daughter):
Movement is only relative. It is the space between the galaxies that grow. The galaxies themselves never move. They just sit there, watching the unfolding of space-time.
You can never run away from anything, especially yourself. Stay, take time to breathe deeply, face yourself with honest eyes, own your actions, and most of all, stop running.