So, I’ve been reading and listening to some things related to Buddhism, and happiness, and zen lately. Not much material (yet) admittedly, but enough things to get me thinking and changing my attitudes.
One of the things I’ve been reading lately is a book written partly by the Dalai Lama, called The Art of Happiness. I didn’t buy the book. I saw it in a pile of old things that my parents were going to drop off at the thrift store, so I scooped it and thought I’d give it a read. I’ve been looking for new reading material anyway, and had never read anything that the D.L. has written.
So, I recently started reading it. I’m still not far yet, but let me tell you a little bit about one of the topics he discusses in the book. The concept of cultivating what it is you want out of life. You see, your life is like a garden. Your garden. Everyone knows the phrase (or one similar) “You reap what you sow”. The less garden-y types might not get this one (or maybe the less Bible-y types too), but essentially it means that you get out of things what you put into them. I think the phrase is typically used to try and gently enforce a code of behaviour whereby people treat other people nicely, so that they get nice treatment in return. This is a very nice concept, and overall I’d say it’s true.
Other people use the phrase to mean that what you put into your work, your craft, your trade, – your career – in terms of effort is proportionate to the rewards you get in the end.
Well, what if you take the phrase a little bit further? What if you apply it to every aspect of your life?
Do you want happiness?
The ironic part of the answer to that question is that, according to Alan Watts and Zen Buddhists and whole hosts of other people, the key to happiness is to let go of desire. So to desire happiness is to chase away the very wisp of possibility of attaining it, because you are caught up in the desiring and the searching and the actual wanting itself. The key to happiness is to let go of desire. It makes sense if you reflect on it. But it’s so difficult to not desire. How is it possible? Well, you can only find out how possible it is by letting go. Right now… Were you able to do it in that moment? How about in this moment, right now?
It goes back to the other phrase, or parable, or whatever it’s called… “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Similarly, how would you plant your garden? One seed at a time. Each moment is a seed of opportunity in your life. And in the next moment, you harvest that which your other seeds, planted some time before, have produced in the form of fruits and vegetables. You see, you don’t have a garden at all unless you take the time to plant it. And it will be an ugly and unproductive garden indeed if you don’t tend, and weed, and cultivate it with care and without a dire or strict expectation of each plant to produce a certain quantity of fruit. Sure, you may hope that the rabbits stay out and that hail doesn’t pulverize your plants. But beyond the reasonable means that you take to make sure your garden stays intact, you must let go. You let it go and let it grow. Without desire. And with patience. Mother nature does the rest.
Pardon me for a moment while I use the word “want” again, albeit loosely and only really for convenience:
What do you want out of your life? Do you want to feel more peaceful? To be more patient? To feel less insecure?
Well, where do you think you start on any one of these things? Not by some grand planting of 50 acres of seeds with an expensive tractor that you can’t afford and don’t know how to run. You don’t have those resources yet; you don’t know what you’re doing or where to start, and end up not starting at all because it is much too big to imagine. So, instead, you plant the seeds of those things that you want to be, one seed at a time. If you can remember, in a moment of potential insecurity or unhappiness or impatience, that you planted those seeds of happiness, patience and self-confidence, you are already on your way to actually being more of those things you want – by harvesting them in that moment that could go in a completely different direction.
Eventually, you will realize that you don’t really “want” any of those things anymore, because it was always within you, and you just had to summon the reminder that you already have the seed waiting there in your hand to be planted.
You, and your life, are your own garden. Nobody else’s. And although the universe will always throw unexpected hurdles at you, and Mother Nature throw them at your garden, you will realize that what you harvest at the end of the day really is a reflection of what you planted and how well you took care of it. So take care of yourself; love yourself. You, more than anyone, deserve to be happy, and it is in fact within you. So let go of the desire – you don’t need it anymore. Welcome to being truly you: your beautiful self.