I gave myself a Buddhist lecture today, trying to remind myself what Mary Oliver has also suggested— “you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Or for your happiness, I would add.
The Buddhist idea is to wholly, utterly, completely, accept the world as it is. Or more accurately, to detach oneself from the rise and fall of both your own desires and the world’s ebb and flow. To practice non-attachment is to float over the muddy waters of world like the flowering lotus.
And yet, aren’t we creatures of desire? Don’t we navigate through the day-to-day filled with wishes, hopes, dreams, intentions, visions of the world as we want it to be? And when those hopes include creating a more just world, bringing some healing and happiness to ourselves and others, adding beauty to a world already beautiful but also made ugly by our failures, aren’t those worthy hopes and desires?
And yet. When we want—and expect—the world to behave according to our wishes, be they small and petty or large and glorious, aren’t we bound to be disappointed? Won’t we suffer when the world goes off our script? Yes, we will and yes, we do. I think of my own disappointments in myself and then go on to the way some others treat me and then it magnifies yet again when I feel the ups and downs of my children, my colleagues, my friends, their hurts, their illnesses, their blows from the random chaos of life. And yet again when one opens to compassion and reads the newspaper. From the personal to the political news of the day, there is a constant volley of suffering raining down on us, from the lethal virus in China to the Democracy-killing virus in the Senate to the next ignorant decision that diminishes the quality of life. Really, how do we even manage to stand up each day?
All these things that either randomly or purposefully (sometimes with ill-intent) happen are simply out of my control. I can stand up and speak out and offer advice and offer a listening ear, but I can’t do a damn thing about most of it. So one way to balance it all is to re-focus on the things that I can do. I can sit in morning meditation and be content with just breath, I can ride my bike and use less gas while getting exercise, I can keep working on the piano until the notes flow with some sense of beauty, I can eat less, I can sit and watch the motion of the water on the bay or hug a tree or stand outside at night looking at the stars. But if I do all of that expecting a result, I’m back on the karmic wheel of disappointment or fulfillment. If I’m out in nature and wishing that cold breeze would stop so I could relax and appreciate the scene, I’m asking the world again to bend to my wishes. It’s maddeningly difficult to simply accept what comes before us wholeheartedly.
So I finally came up with this sentence:
“Don’t base your happiness on what happens. Happiness is simply the natural overflow of resting wholly in the center of your nature. Don’t confuse it with “happeness.” That’s when you’re overjoyed because the Warriors won another championship or you got a lot of likes on Facebook or you got a cool workshop invitation. Fine to feel some pleasure in all of that, but watch out! Soon you expect World to keep winning all the games you want won and then you become attached to a particular outcome and back you are at square one— life is suffering. In short: Happiness, not happeness.”
End of today’s Buddhist lecture.
PS: Makes me SO HAPPY that I came up with that cool idea!!!! I hope I get another one tomorrow!