I was having a conversation with my friend and Tai Chi partner yesterday on our way back from class about the nature of happiness. Please do not treat this article as a lecture of some sort. This is written from the heart and with good intent.
Someone I know often laments on the way her life has turned out…about how things aren't working out as she would have liked them to have been . About how her marriage isn't the ideal coupling of two souls she had read about in her romance novels (as a girl). About how there is so much responsibility on her that she doesn't find half an hour a day to spend on herself.
She wants to do Yoga, but doesn't have the time. She wants to meditate, but is tired by the time she gets back from work. With a young child to look after, her life isn't as she had envisioned it to be.
This constant sorrow that she goes through is very painful to witness. So I sometimes tell her — we can only change or alter what is in our control. What is not in our control, we cannot do anything but accept it. How people behave is not in our control (unless we are dictators with a predilection for capital punishment of some sort). The only thing we can control in our lives is ourselves and our attitude towards things. All wisdom aside, most of times, these words don't really have much of an impact (given the bestial nature of the one who is delivering them).
I think we all have gone through (are going through or will have to go through) such phases in our lives. And how we decide to meet these challenges define how we will endure these ordeals and how the future course of our life unfolds. And life is the school of constant learning, right? So we have to understand a few things very clearly.
I was watching a movie about a recovering Heroin-addict and the Addicts Anonymous group he used to participate in. They had a very beautiful "mantra" they recited at the end of their meetings.
"Lord give me the serenity to endure things that I cannot control in my life. Give me the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two".
What a beautiful idea! What we need to endure things we cannot control in life is serenity. What better way to be serene than Yoga or Meditation?
What we need to overcome things we can change in life is courage. After all, extricating oneself from a difficult situation can be a scary proposition (especially if it calls for some hard decision-making).
For instance, a friend of mine was once "tricked" into taking up a job that involved him having to betray a friend into losing his job (which he didn't know about at the time he started). This was a friend he hadn't been in touch with for a few years and my friend was hired to take over his position because he had a run-in with the management. During the interview process, my friend was told the first name of the person and that he had resigned on very short notice and that he was to "dive in" and do a knowledge-transfer and take over his role. When this friend of mine actually joined, he learnt that the other gentleman hadn't really quit and the management had abused his vulnerabilty due to his immigration status and were underpaying him, and constantly harassing him. He hadn't really resigned, but they wanted to fire him after a knowledge transfer.
Well, it was needless to say, a very traumatic situation (exacerbated by a personal crisis at that time). My friend had to make some very hard choices and resigned that job and took up another one a good two hours drive away from his home. Thankfully, things worked out for the best and his decision was a good one (career-wise) and my friend ended up finding another employer who really appreciated his talents and gave him the respect he deserved.
The moral of the story here is that it took a great deal of courage to make the decision and I was witness to the struggle my friend had to endure to make up his mind. But at the end, he learnt from this experience and today I would say that he has the serenity to withstand that which he cannot control and the courage to change things he does. And while he is by no means perfect, his experience has taught him the wisdom in that saying (quoted above).
Despite all the outward trappings, happiness is a state of mind. And it can only be achieved internally. External entities only give momentary happiness. The real happiness is within each and every one of us. While it is true that this state isn't reflected in our emotions, moods and situations on a daily-basis, it exists there (within) nonetheless. Only when we start thinking in these lines do we understand the wisdom of our ancestors, who practiced cultivating this inner happiness and great Gurus (I can think of Sri Sri Ravishankar for one, who repeatedly tells his followers the same thing).
When the veils of illusion fall away and the true inner light shines forth, only then are we grounded in "real" happiness. We all know this, at some deep, profound level of our hearts. But we don't know how to act towards getting there…or don't have the energy. I like to approach it one step at a time…given that I am not really all that smart, wise or disciplined in my approach towards life. I guess a lot of us are similar in that aspect — we try and walk. Sometimes we stumble and fall. We have to pick ourselves up and start (sometimes all over again). But as soon as we get a glimse of that real light within, we do get energized and enthused and set forth on yet another one of those million-step journeys.
Like the sage Chinese saying goes — "Even a journey of 10,000 steps begins with that first one"…