President Bush didn’t call for sacrifice. He called for shopping. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he said. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”
What he suggested was not to count our blessings, or to realize life’s impermanence and fragility, or be kinder and friendlier to one another, or to diminish our dependence on foreign resources.No, according to Mr. Bush, the most important and patriotic act for us in the face of that national tragedy was to purchase more products.
Spend money. Get back to consuming. Have fun again.
One assumption, I think, is that wanting more and always being hungry for the next thing is good and makes us all happy.
So Bush saw a shocked public, and, maybe a little out of genuine concern, encouraged them to do what makes him happy – shop.
To get their minds off the tragedy and the economy back at the same time.Unfortunately the runaway train of consumption is killing much of life on the earth. If we were all more content, we would consume less.
And the planet would stand half a chance of surviving the next few generations.
Genuine contentment, apart from consumerism, is one of the most revolutionary acts a person in the 21st century can experience – because it goes against all cultural norms and conditioning.
This all begs the question, then, just what is contentment?For me, it’s really about being happy with who I am right now: overweight, under-exercised (but trying to do something about this), struggling to pay off large credit debts, and not particularly looking forward right now to the hour-long drive home in heavy morning traffic from my night shift job.
But I am really, really happy.
I remember when I used to be unhappy.
I see now in retrospect that I was unhappy largely because my life was consumed with a series of fantasies, ideas and expectations: my kids, my marriage, my meditation practice, my night shift job, my… my… my…
And how somehow “I” always fell short of those fantasies and expectations.
Nothing terribly dramatic. No huge epiphany. No burning bushes. No lights, sparks or kundalini rush.
It simply dawned on me ever so slowly: reality is amazing.
Never mind it falls short of all the fantasies.
It’s way more amazing than any fantasy.
Dear Emily Dickinson put it perfectly:
Life is so astonishing; it leaves very little time for anything else.”
For me contentment is about letting go of these fantasies, and realizing that life is truly amazing without them.
We even could say, especially without them.
Our mindfulness practice allows us to shine the light of awareness on these fantasies, ideas, and expectations. As we silently, mindfully watch them, we see how they filter our perceptions, how they distort our view of things just as they are.
Then we gently let them pass through us, and we see how incredibly awesome this precious life really is, just as it is right now.
Let’s have dear Ryokan have the last word:
“My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report my friends.
If you want to find the meaning,
stop chasing after so many things.
~ the Zen monk Ryōkan Taigu (1758–1831)