Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
Note: Related audio guided process is here.
Isn’t it true that most of our problems in life are about not getting what we want? This is an “if only” way of being, and is the source of all of our daily stresses.
Here are some illustrations. You are stuck in traffic, your frustration mounts, and you say to yourself, “If only there weren’t any traffic today.” Your partner didn’t ask about your day, you feel disappointed, and you think, “If only he would be interested in me.” The promotion you are seeking goes to your co-worker, you are dejected, and you lament, “If only I had tried harder.” What do these examples have in common? Your happiness is attached to the outcome you are seeking.
Rejection of the Present = Unhappiness
Let’s analyze this point further so it is crystal clear. In this discussion, I am using the word “happiness” to indicate a sense of inner ease, but you could easily substitute words such as: peace or fulfillment. When we are attached to outcomes, we are placing our happiness outside of ourselves into people and circumstances that are essentially beyond our control. The results of this way of thinking are:
- Delaying happiness until a future time;
- Assuming happiness is not available now;
- Believing that people and circumstances beyond our control are responsible for our happiness;
- Wanting people to do or say what we want them to, rather than what they are actually saying or doing.
What these beliefs have in common is a rejection of the present, with the “if only” thought being, “If only things happened the way I want them to, then I would be happy.” And what is the truth? Things happen the way they happen. We might be able to have some influence, but we do not ultimately control outcomes.
I am making an assumption here, which is that we all want to be happy and peaceful. If our inner peace is disturbed by unpleasant feelings, it is useful to investigate why. Say that you feel overwhelmed or frustrated. I am certain that if you examine your thinking, at the heart you will find that you want someone or something to change so that your peace is restored. Essentially you are thinking: “If you do what I want you to do, not what you want to do, then I will be happy,” or “If a circumstance occurs that I want to happen, not the one that is actually happening, then I will be happy.” Can you begin to see the insanity of this way of thinking?
Insight from the Turnaround
To further understand, let’s turn this around and look at our own behavior. Why do we make the choices we make? Is it due to someone else’s desire? If we reflect deeply, we will see that multiple factors come into play. If someone asks me to join them to see a movie, my decision is only partly based on receiving the invitation. If someone really wants me to do something, I may do it, but my behavior comes from within me; it is not controlled by the stated desire. Likewise, other people’s behavior is only partially dependent on what we want them to do – our desires do not control them.
Now that we are understanding how stress and unhappiness come from wanting what we don’t have, how can we be happy? The answer, to want what we have, seems easier said than done. We do know that pointing our attention outward toward people and circumstances, to try to influence them to give us what we want, is a risky proposition as we have little control over them. This strategy abdicates responsibility for our happiness, and is, in a word, insane. Why insane? Because we continue to do something that leads to disappointment and frustration. If you see someone beating their head against a wall, wouldn’t you gently tell them to stop?
Our Biggest Ally – Our Attention
The fundamental, some might say radical, shift is to move our attention from the outer to the inner. And what we discover is that life flows. We might desperately want to control outcomes and even convince ourselves that we do, but the ultimate truth is that life happens without any intervention on our parts. We can come to understand this by studying the natural world and seeing that it does not resist reality. Animals don’t get angry because they can’t find food – they keep looking. Leaves don’t wish the wind would stop blowing.
When we stop resisting reality and accept things as they are, we have found the treasure! We are happy independent of circumstances that arise. Paradoxically, this is an outcome we actually have some control over because it has to do with where we place our biggest ally – our attention. If you, like me, want enduring happiness, consider the following:
- First, examine the content of your thoughts and realize how much you are actually resisting reality. For most of us, our normal thought pattern is a running commentary on what we want or don’t want, what should or shouldn’t happen.
- Resistance to reality is expressed by some form of “but,” in one’s thinking, as in, “But I want…,” “But he should…” Replace “but” with “it’s like this.” Just experiment with it and see what you discover.
- Focus on your own inner experience – feelings and bodily sensations – rather than on another’s behavior. Meet all of your experiences with tenderness and compassion.
- Realize that life flows, things come and go, regardless of your personal desires. In this sense, you are just like a tree. Study a tree to see how it relates to what happens and apply what you learn to yourself.
- Be with the reality of the moment. See it in its amazing array of experiences. It is the only moment that exists right now, and it is as it is, not as you wish it to be. Any given moment is what life is offering you. If you want to be happy, your job is to receive and accept, not control and resist.
Unfathomable peace – and unexpected clarity – are available when we give up wanting our own way. By letting go of the fruitless activity of trying to control the uncontrollable, we realize happiness and fulfillment available here, right in this very moment.
Are you attached to outcomes? What have you discovered about happiness?