Dear Still Water Friends,
There is little more uplifting than this simple sentence. It tells us that our happiness does not depend on others or the conditions of our lives. Our happiness is simply up to us and nothing else. Despite this, we spend a lot of our lives not liking things:
- Washing the dishes
- Making the bed
- Taking out the trash
- Paying bills
- Mowing the lawn
- Our jobs
- Driving to work
- The pace of our lives
- Not exercising
- Our co-workers
- Loud music
- Soft elevator music
- Our health
- The list goes on and on
When we think of it, the list of things we do not like is really long. No wonder we are upset in life so much of the time. We have created a really long list of dislikes. But what do we usually do about the things on our list? Most of the time we have one of three simplistic solutions:
- We avoid the things we do not like
- We let the dishes pile up in the sink
- We try to avoid our co-workers
- We find excuses not to exercise
- We try to change our lives so that the unpleasant conditions hopefully go away
- We look for a new job
- We hire the neighbor’s teenager to mow the lawn
- We try to simplify our lives so that the pace is slower
- We try telecommuting so that we do not have to drive to work
- We just put up with the problem and complain about it
- We just think that the costs of eliminating the problem are unacceptably high
- We despair that we cannot find another job, but we need a job
- We have to take out the trash because otherwise the house will be unlivable
- No matter how much we dislike it we need to pay bills or we will lose our credit cards
In short, we either try to change the conditions or we just live unhappily with the conditions we do not like. What we consider fixed and unchangeable are our likes and dislikes. “I just do not like to mow the lawn (or I do not like my hectic life style or I hate taking out the trash) and that somehow is just me, and it is unchangeable.” We believe that our happiness is inextricably dependent on the conditions of our life. We think the conditions MAKE us happy or unhappy.
Yet what Thay is telling us is that this is not true. Our happiness is not determined by the conditions but by our response to the conditions. We can feel happiness in the presence of just about any conditions in life. The opportunity for happiness is everywhere. What he is saying goes far beyond simply being satisfied with our current material possessions. It is much more than saying that we should be satisfied with our old Honda even though we would like a new Lexus. He is saying that everything in life is a mixture of things that can be appreciated and things that are problems. Our happiness depends mostly on how we focus our attention and not on the external conditions themselves.
From simple things like making the bed to big things like our jobs, we can choose to focus on what we do not like about them or on the things that are rewarding. If we think about it, for nearly everything we dislike, some other people find pleasure with them. Imagine snow, for example. Some people look out at a snowy day and imagine being unpleasantly cold and getting tired shoveling the sidewalk while the next door neighbor takes out his cross country skis and revels in the white stuff.
This aspect of the practice can be both promising and upsetting. The idea that we can achieve happiness without having to change the conditions around us sounds great. The idea that to do that, we have to change the way we see the world does not go down so easily. The good news is that much of the time it just requires the will to change.
This Thursday, we will discuss the quote from Thay and we will have an exercise in which we practice looking differently at things we do not like.