Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Roads Diverged

"contentment" is a word that has many different connotations.  when we are content, do we accept immoral, hurtful actions as being ok if we are not the perpetrators or victims of those actions?  do we believe that all persons must be content with their lives, even if they lack the basic necessities of life?  do we think that those who live under oppressive governments should be content with their lack of freedom?  certainly, contentment with such conditions would be a faulty way of thinking.

so, the question becomes, how do we address the mistreatment of others, abject poverty, and oppression while experiencing contentment?  perhaps, we should think of inner contentment as our goal, while cultivating the ability to see things as they are.  if we can see that those who injure others, those who cause others to lack the basic necessities, those who lust for power and for wealth beyond what is needed for sustaining life are living lives of great suffering, then we are able to have compassion for them, just as we do for those who are their victims.  as we work to alleviate the suffering of those victims, we are also working to alleviate the suffering of those we often think of as the perpetrators of evil.

the lack of contentment manifests itself in small ways, too.  for instance, last saturday my wife and i both had made plans to accomplish some tasks outside while the temperature was still cool.  we wanted to finish our work and retreat inside before the heat of the day arrived and to spend the rest of the day relaxing.  to that end, my wife began her work, which was more physically demanding than mine, while i prepared breakfast for us.  when i went out to call her to breakfast, i discovered a friend had seen her working outside and stopped to visit, interrupting her work.  he lingered, and the day didn't work out the way we planned it.

all during the remainder of the day we lamented how our plans had gone awry.  by the time we were able to return to our yard work, it was hot outside.  my project had to be abandoned altogether, as i helped my wife finish hers, since she was already in the middle of it.  nothing else for the rest of the day seemed to work out as we had hoped, and we arrived at the evening feeling anything but contentment.

as we reflected on our day and our frustrations, we realized that our feelings were natural, but if we wished to enjoy what little time remained before bedtime, we could accept our feelings of discontent with how the day had gone and then let go of those feelings as we relaxed into the few hours we had left.  as soon as we talked ourselves to that conclusion, we were content--though our ideal day did not happen, the problem was that we expected an ideal day.  now our plan was to accept the remainder of the day and enjoy what came our way as we relaxed in our den.

how often we allow ourselves to suffer, when all that is needed is to cultivate an accepting attitude about what the day brings us!  how much better it is to be content to enjoy each moment as it comes and to let go of the stories we tell ourselves about what should be.  my prayer for each of us is that true contentment will be our experience at least some of the time as we work to live skillfully!  shalom.

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