The disciple readily agreed. For twelve years he tried to meditate and eagerly waited for his opportunity to speak.
“Bed is too hard,” he said to his guru at the first opportunity after twelve years.
“Hmm…” the master grumbled.
Another twelve years went by in silence and the disciple complained, “Food is too cold.”
“Hmm…” said the master.
The disciple felt angry but he did not want to break the rule. He meditated for another twelve years and said, “I’m leaving.” Exceeding the limit of five words, he continued, “This is rubbish. I haven’t gained anything, I haven’t learned anything, you haven’t taught me anything.”
“Good! Be gone,” the master replied, “all I have heard you do in the last thirty-six years is complain, complain, complain! If silence couldn’t teach you what else can, from who else can you learn if you couldn’t learn from life?”
Putting aside the humor, this anecdote may sound extreme but it is not far from the reality of the lives of many people. A bulk of the emails I get are around people going through problems, most who come to see me are somehow unhappy. They are complaining about life, others, about things, circumstances, about situations. While in the story above, the disciple spoke only three times, in every likelihood he complained in his head a million times more. I call this cerebral complaining. Many do this all the time, they are almost always complaining in their mind, even in their dreams.
I am reminded of a great story by Robert Fulghum. During his early twenties he used to work for a countryside resort. He had to do the night shift as a receptionist and mind the stables during the day. The owner was not the most likable or the kindest person on the planet and Robert was getting weary of eating the same lunch everyday. In addition, the cost of the lunch would get deducted from his paycheck. It got on his nerves.
One night, he could hold it no longer, especially when he found out that the same lunch was going to be served for another couple of days. One of his colleagues, working as a night auditor, was Sigmund Wollman, a German Jewish guy. A survivor of Auschwitz, Sigmund had spent three years at the concentration camp. He was happy and contented in the same hotel where Robert was mad and upset. Finding no one else around to share his frustration, Robert spoke to Sigmund and expressed his anger against the hotel owner, he was mad because of eating the same food day-in-day-out and for having to pay for it. Worked up, he was really crossed. Sigmund, however, listened patiently before saying:
“Lissen, Fulchum, Lissen me, lissen me. You know what’s wrong with you? It’s not the food and it’s not the boss and it’s not this job.”
“So what’s wrong with me?”
“Fulchum, you think you know everything but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire — then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy.”
Robert Fulghum had a realization and he further wrote in his story, “I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality. Life is lumpy. And a lump in the porridge, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference.”
It is important to get real if you want to make the best of your life. You can keep complaining or you can start living. They say life is ninety percent how you take it and ten percent how you make it. It is easy, perhaps even natural and normal that you hold others responsible for what all is not right in your life, but it will not take you anywhere, such an approach will not solve your problems, it will not ease your concerns. Do not wait for someone else to take charge of your life. Analyze yourself, know yourself, treat yourself with care, love yourself. While you may have responsibilities, do not be afraid of living for yourself too. All of that is possible only when you take ownership of your life, when you take responsibility of the choices you make in life.
Understand yourself so you can get comfortable with yourself, life will not feel so inconvenient thereafter. If you cannot make yourself happy, how can you reasonably expect others to make you happy? You alone hold the key to your happiness. Be free, be fearless.