autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

Advice from the heart – practice contentment

Today’s Advice from the Heart:

Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practice contentment.

One of the deeper lessons of Buddhism rests in the realization that desire creates suffering. It is a difficult concept for the western mind to embrace, as so much of our culture posits that ‘to want’ and to strive ceaselessly toward attaining what is wanted is positive and indicative of personal growth and proper orientation to the world.

We are not prone to considering the reality that wanting without having creates a sense of lack, loss, and, eventually, despair for both. Nor are we very willing to consider or embrace the notion that culling ‘want’ from our lives might reduce the level of pressure and stress so many of us find part of daily existence.

More personally, I can say that I have a very specific want that has bedeviled my footsteps most of my life. (I suppose to say there is only one might be a bit misleading, but on the scale of overall existence, there really is only one thing that has been a consistent ‘want’ and lacking.)

I count it a gift that, over time and through life’s various adventures, I’ve managed to cull ‘wanting’ all the things society and culture tells us we ‘should’ want (need?). The realization that I will continue and yes, survive, most any disaster that comes my way has been a very liberating thing. Certainly, it has greatly contributed to my overall peace of mind in relation to daily contentment (it is, after all, rather difficult to feel a wanting for things revealed as utterly replaceable, transient, or impossible).

There is a great, long list of things I no longer want, but rather than regale you with them (and sound pompous or vain for the doing), I’ll simply say that loosing those wants has definitely resulted in a pervasive sense of contentment in most areas of my life… which seems to demonstrate the foundational truth that learning how NOT to want things does, indeed, result in contentment.

Practicing contentment, on the other hand, is damned difficult when there is a specific something you desire/want and cannot seem to find the way to obtain or to be peaceful or content without having.

I also find it to be true that constantly engaging in pursuit of what is desired/wanted is very much appropriately described as in this piece of advise, to be as thirsty as if one were drinking salt water. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried drinking salt water when you’re really thirsty, but it is an exercise in active torment and torture… you know you’re drinking and you want it to satiate the thirst, but it not only doesn’t, it actively increases it. The analogy is rather apt, to say the least.

My current endeavors center around working with myself on finding ways to be content with what is, what I have, what I do not lack, and to use reminders along these lines to minimize the feeling of lack and loss that so often rises for the desire/want of that which I do not.

It doesn’t always work. Hrm. No, actually, it works quite well most times. But there are times when nothing really helps and the only thing left is to embrace the abject sense of despair and swim in it for a time. Really wallow, be all ‘Eeyore down by the riverbank’ with it. I suppose we take comfort where we can find it, even if, sometimes, the only place to find comfort is self-pity. (sigh)

Practicing contentment is an admirable effort, regardless how often one may or may not manage undertaking it, and there is, I think, definite benefit to actively turning the mind toward the notion, even if it may only be borne temporarily before all the messy emotions and ego grasping insist on having ‘equal time’.

I don’t know about you, but the wants in my life tend not to be of that fleeting, ‘Gee it would be nice’ variety and tend much more toward the ‘Good grief, why is it so difficult for me to find X!’ variety. You know the sort, that which makes you wonder if there’s something seriously and severely wrong with you that you can’t manage to obtain X.

I suppose another helpful notion in relation to practicing contentment might be to accept that not having X may not have a darn thing to do with you (or there being something seriously or severely wrong), but simply that, for whatever reason (i.e., the hard part, the part that drives one absolutely apeshit crazy trying to figure it out), X just isn’t available at the moment.

I do TRY to manage such things in relation to my X… but I admit, it doesn’t usually work, and most times, it’s because I’m not really willing to admit that X is not available and, truthfully? Sometimes, I’m more convinced that if I just try harder or make myself be other than as and who I am, X would be more readily available to me.

Needless to say, that’s a terrible thing to do, as it posits that as and who one is isn’t good enough and how helpful is that? Not only this, I have experienced the reality that playing those kind of games with myself only seems to more effectively communicate to the rest of the world just how profoundly ‘unready’ I am for X, which only underscores the wisdom of practicing contentment — how else could one ever learn the need to be happy and at peace with oneself? How else might one ever hope to convey that sense of being to the world if it is not held within oneself?

The abyss between the intellectual understanding and the active assimilation and ‘living’ of it is rather impressive and often disturbing to me. But this too, is helpful, as it keeps all of it firmly in the front of my mind to serve as reminder why this piece of advice from the heart is, in fact, a very helpful thing to purpose oneself toward:

The only way to find contentment is to practice it until one reaches the point at which practice becomes reality.