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Monday, May 18, 2009
Most unhappiness comes from resisting life. Occasionally, we have such a strong commitment to changing the world order that it is worth struggling against the flow of life. Perhaps you have a cause such as universal veganism - your life is committed to preventing even one more animal from being eaten by anyone. But most people don't have that kind of dedication to a cause, and even for those who do, there is much of daily life that is not related to any particular issue of principle. Nonetheless, we live our lives as if each minor happening were a matter of life and death.
Our favorite restaurant has run out of today's blackboard special. The bananas in the grocery store are all green. The drawbridge is stuck in the "up" position. We have demands of the world, these demands aren't met, and we become disappointed and angry. Is that just human nature? Yes and no. It is human nature to prefer the predictable, but this preference becomes highly exaggerated in some societies. Twenty First Century America, especially in dense urban areas, has become the epitome of expectations and demands, which inevitably result in disappointment and anger as the world fails to meet these expectations. Demanding that the world meet our expectations has become a bad habit that causes great unhappiness. But it doesn't have to be that way. We can break the bad habit of being unhappy.
Think of life being like a mighty river, such as the Mississippi or the Amazon. Sometimes the river floods, sometimes it quiets. Sometimes it cuts a new course, drowning some farmland and leaving some old river bottom high and dry. One could fight the river and curse its vicissitudes, or one could sail on the river, fish in the river, drink from the river, irrigate crops from the river, and live happily on the river. Fighting against life, like fighting against a mighty river is a pointless waste of energy and upset. Within the constraints life sets and within its vagaries, we still have immense freedom of action. We can fully express our commitments and live life to the fullest without fighting against it.
To go with the flow of life, without compromising your values:
1. Visualize life as a river, and the challenge of living as being a river pilot. Keep your eye far enough downstream that you can gently maneuver toward your goal using the force of the river to power your journey. Think of setting your course as the game that it is. Outthink life, but don't try to overpower it.
2. Remember that life is not serious. You already know the final score: Life-1, You-0. So just have fun on your run down the river.
3. Take time for yourself. Breathe deeply. Take a quiet walk. Spend time alone in a natural setting and soak up the stillness.
4. Clear your mind of everything you thought you knew. Be like a child in having no preconceptions of how life should turn out. Visualize pouring water into a cup. That's like life flowing into a young child. Now visualize trying to pour clear water into a cup filled with mud. That is like the flow of creation being resisted by expectations and demands one attempts to place upon life.
5. Be grateful for all of life. Be thankful you are alive. Not to be thankful for life is to be like a starving person who is gifted a steak and complains that it is tough.
6. Dance lightly with life. Dancing with life is like dancing with an elephant. She makes a jolly partner so long as you watch her moves, react quickly, and don't get stepped on.
Certainly there are times when a cause is worth fighting for - and the battle is winnable. But most times, battling against circumstances is unproductive and produces only suffering. Choose acceptance and serenity.
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niebuhr (Serenity Prayer)