Someone emailed me the following question. I get asked this frequently, in fact.
“I need some advice about reducing my inner turmoil. I am in my fifties but feel no peace in life. I’m sick and tired of the rat race, of fighting to survive in a job and to meet the demands of family. I have become a slave to pay my bills.”
At first, Buddha’s view that everything is suffering seems a little pessimistic but upon deeper examination it’s not too far off the truth most experience in their lives. While I meet many happy people, mostly though, I meet stressed out and sad ones. It almost feels that suffering comes on its own but happiness is something you’ve to work hard towards.
The truth is, happiness is our natural state but, more often than not, most people feel they have to have certain things in their life to be happy, to be at peace. It’s not entirely their fault; we are programmed to believe that happiness depends on our success, on bank balance, on others’ approval of us, on the volume of our material possessions. There’s absolutely no doubt that a degree of material richness can make living a worthwhile experience, but, at the same time, it’s absence doesn’t mean we can’t be at peace, or be happy.
Our world is full of people who go to bed hungry, who can’t afford medication, who don’t have a roof over their heads, who can’t clothe themselves properly. And then there are millions who have all of the above and more, yet they are not happy. They have a family, they have friends, they have some savings (perhaps debt too), they are in good health yet they are restless.
The golden mantra of finding inner peace starts with acceptance. It begins by accepting the responsibility of the choices we’ve made. They are not necessarily about right-wrong or good-bad, but, each choice we make has an outcome. We can’t possibly hope for some God to descend and undo our past choices, or grant us inner peace, because, everyone is already blessed with it. Only that we cover it with our desires and emotions.
I’ve realized that there’s no struggle in being at peace. The struggle is to be at ease with what you have and who you are — both of which can be hard to accept sometimes. Your past is like the baked clay pot. It’s already been through the fire, it’s hard, its shape is set. We can’t re-mold it. Any attempt to do so will break it. Whereas the present is like the soft clay, you can shape it however you like. How one casts it varies from one person to another.
Let’s assume there’ll always be bills to pay, there’ll always be a family to feed, there’ll always be struggle, the world will remain competitive. Let’s say, our soft clay is made of bills, struggle, and needs. Agreed. Now what? Should we allow it to rob our inner peace or should we stop kneading (brooding) now and start building it?
Paying bills, feeding a family or the challenges at work are not the real problems. The real issue is our expectations from life. We have a perception of how life ought to be, but it’s not turning out that way. The entire struggle is shaping it into what we want it to be like. In fact, no matter what the circumstances, there’s no struggle in acceptance. The only struggle is in resistance.
The way to redefine, reshape yourself, your present, and consequently your future, is to first take complete responsibility of your choices and your actions. This will help you to becomfortable with yourself. The second step is to prioritize between things you have to do and things you want to do. Third is to invest some of your time in what really matters to you, your passion. And, if you don’t have any passion, purpose or a constructive pastime, well then, ideally, one of your top priorities should be to discover one.
Mulla Nasrudin joined a passing caravan and befriended two rich people who had horses, camels and gold whereas Mulla only had a donkey and a ragged bag. They stopped for lunch and unpacked their food.
The first one boasted, “I only eat dry fruits. Roasted and salted. For dessert, I only take pitted dates.”
“During my travels, I only eat puffed rice mixed with pistachios and cashews with falafel. I alternate between baklava and dates for sweet,” said the other.
Nasrudin opened his lunch. He only had a piece of salted bread and a small piece of gur, solid sweet cane sugar. Holding up his food and looking at it admiringly, he said, “Well, I only eat wheat, ground up and carefully mixed with water, yeast, and salt, and then baked at the proper temperature for the proper time. Oh, and after my meal, I prefer to have fresh and filtered sugarcane juice, boiled and concentrated until it turns into a delicious lump of sweetness.”
How you see life makes all the difference between life feeling like a breeze or a brawl. It’s neither, if you ask me. Life is simply a colony of countless moments, a painting of myriad strokes. Focus on each moment, each stroke, work on the part and the whole becomes beautiful on its own.