“The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses
I recently received an e-mail from a friend, and towards the end she wrote this: “[w]hen we are standing at the cornucopia of riches, why can’t we see the blessings overflowing?” (One advantage of being openly spiritual is that sometimes people will trust you with incredibly personal and thought-provoking questions like that one. Because if you are snarky and cynical and make them feel like they have to act all cool and detached, it won’t happen).
The whole concept of abundance, that we have enough of everything right now, is central to Buddhism. But if we live in this culture, and this age, the chances that we are satisfied with what we have are about 1%.
(And that’s only if we are in some kind of religious order and/or really walk the walk).
Even wearing a robe or a habit does not necessarily mean that we have successfully negotiated the un-wanting of anything. It’s human nature to want stuff, from love and attention to more rice in your bowl, a solo with the choir, a bigger house, a better car, a Chanel bag, a real black truffle…..
It comes to seem that the striving and the dreaming are our purposes in life. The present moments are then just something to endure… “until.”
Although I am not usually obsessed with getting material “stuff,” I live bedeviled with dissatisfaction with myself. Most of my own, personal Metta mantra is focused on that sore, gaping wound. I say these words:
“May I love myself as I am”
“May I be at peace with what is,” and
“May I see the joy in this life.”
I say those things because I need to say them and hear them and internalize them every single day. I say those things because I want to remember in any circumstance that I am whole and as I should be, that whatever is happening is what I have to work with, and that there are “blessings overflowing” in the midst of the greatest darkness.
And it works. (Seriously).
Yesterday was a day of epic crapitude at work. Things went wrong, people didn’t do what they were supposed to do, and my most frequent thoughts were along the lines of “I hate this job, I wish I could quit, nobody cares about me, they take me for granted, POOR me, this is terrible” and so forth. I’m guessing most of us have been there.
I was not, really, unjustified in my negativity; things were not going well by any objective measure. When that happens to me, though, my subjective thoughts move automatically to my default—it’s because I deserve it, I screwed up, I somehow made all this happen.
Then this happened: I’m a cook, and I was at the place where I buy huge quantities of supplies. I noticed a group of high school students shopping, and saw that one of them had a T-shirt from my high school.
I struck up a conversation and found out that they were the OHS Political Club, shopping for a bake sale. I asked if they were a bipartisan group, and they said “yes,” but then one of them allowed as how actually, they were all Democrats. Except for Jerrod. But Jerrod just really liked to play devil’s advocate.
I was charmed. I was smiling. I thought to myself, no lie, THIS IS THE JOY IN THE WORLD. It’s part of “what is,” just like the cruddy, frustrating stuff, and it’s wonderful, and just as real, and it’s all just as it should be.
When I went out to load my purchases into my car, they came over and offered to help me. And again, instead of getting into a sweat about how I looked like some gray-haired old lady who needed help from young people, I opened to it and thought about how just plain human goodness was at play.
We had made a connection, they were kind people, and they were continuing the connection into the parking lot. All good.
I will be cranky again, possibly in five minutes. I will want stuff, all the freaking time. I will look at other peoples’ lives and wish for what they have, and look at other peoples’ success and wish for what they have. I will reach the end of some days feeling that I have been cosmically cheated but that I really, actually got what I deserved, which was not at all what I wanted.
Mostly, though, I can stop myself now. I can do this because I am looking for the other stuff, the beautiful stuff like a single scarlet leaf in the gutter, the kindness of stranger, the joy in this life.
And I see it. I’m not living in a Hallmark Card or turning into some chirpy, brainless creature; I’m just understanding that life’s rich pageant offers me all kinds of things, and that if I pay attention, I see them.
They’re there for you, too.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Steve Wall, Flickr