It is fair to say that most of us are future oriented. Our drive is for the future. Preparation, planning, goals and hard work – all to ensure a predictable and consequential future. Much of this tends to be exhausting, anxiety laden and even frustrating. We are haunted by the “what if”.
Yet, there is no way of mastering the future. The NOW is what we are certain about, but again, most of us simply drift through it, preoccupied with the future and – even worse – regretting, blaming, and wishing about the past. The saying goes: “give up hope of a better past”. That is understood, at least intellectually even as it is pervasive emotionally.
Much of our fixation into the future is a societal dynamic, passed on from generation to generation, with little, if any, individual revolt. Thus, “you cannot…”, “you should’ve…”, “if you…or you don’t…”. What we create with this mindset is apprehension or complete dread and paralysis in the NOW. Trust and confidence evaporate.
There is a possibility for some to experience their future fall in place according to plan and preparation. But what if it doesn’t; and for many, at some point, – even for the ardent planner – unknowns crop up. How will you cope up with the NOW at that moment of truth?
Each one of us has a reservoir for joy and peace. It is our responsibility to find them within us. It is not anybody else’s responsibility. These become illusive when we seek them externally, quite often from other people’s validation. In so doing we relinquish the power that is already within us. At other times we give in to circumstances to define our worldview. No, we are, every one of us, responsible for shaping our own framework.
What affirmations are you giving yourself when the day begins? If you feel small, rejected, undeserving, or what have you, that is how you will be. You will isolate yourself and miss out on the possibility of connecting with wonderful people you are yet to meet. The world around you will “look” small, hostile, and unwelcoming, not because it is, but because you frame it so.
So, step out with expectation and trust. Don’t judge yourself against whatever is happening or the people you interact with, and don’t withdraw from interaction. The world is filled with so much goodness and grace you don’t want to miss out because of your attitude.
Appreciate what is and what is possible and be ready to enjoy every new day.
The four basic and universal human needs we group into physical, mental, social and spiritual categories are complimentary for balance. It is the case for every individual as well as a society. What often happens is overemphasis of one against another in which case imbalance results. Imbalance in turn is a source of lack of joy, disillusionment, anxiety and so on.
Food, clothing, shelter, health and economic well -being are among the physical needs. Yet, when life is devoted to their pursuit at the detriment of everything else, a happy life become illusive. Money, and more money and what it can buy does not guarantee satisfaction. Nor does success or advancement at the expense of fellow human beings.
As a society we sometimes overlook the mental needs of a segment within our society – those in poverty, for example and the homeless. I am not talking of mental illness as the repercussions manifest in violent crimes and dysfunction speak for themselves. But what about the basic right for every human being to develop mentally?
Work, which involves concentration, challenge and even ability to adapt, stimulates the brain and elevates the individual and the society we all belong to. This contributes to well-being and the possibility for joy and peace.
Just as these values or needs work together, we as a society are in this together. Fragmentation leads to imbalance, frustration and illusion.
There is a story that the Times of London, some time, invited essays in response to the question, “what is wrong with the world? and G. K. Chesterton famously gave this – now legendary – response:
G. K. Chesterton.
The question is getting louder and louder – everyday – in today’s world. In fact some may even be wondering, “Is there any good in the world?”
The truth is, for every force in one direction, there is an equal amount of force or energy in the opposite direction. It is a universal law, true in physics as well as in emotions. Fear, hatred and suspicion can be countered by love, kindness and compassion. In the long run, true power comes from love, kindness, compassion, peace, humility and such positive forces. The destruction that comes from anger, distrust and war is not authentic power.
Furthermore we don’t have to wait for some future time to achieve authentic power, because we have it NOW within each one of us. We just have not learned to tap into it as the lure of the false power is so strong.
Every society promotes certain values as the ultimate guarantees for joy and happiness. Indeed, wars have been waged, and continue to be waged, in defense of such values and ethics. These values, however, are not universal. Different societies would espouse different values just as different generations’ views differ.
It is only when four basic universal, timeless and transcendental human needs are met that true joy and peace prevails. You can call these needs values or whatever term you prefer to use: the fact is that they are basic for individuals within a society and every society in general. We will look at these needs but we emphasize that pursuit of any one of them, at the expense of another or the others, will not give us fulfillment.
Seeking a balance is the key; and the balance is found at the confluence of the four values – where all four meet. Short of that is imbalance and its attendant strife, disconnect, compulsions and addictions of all sorts, indeed the prevalent malady in our contemporary society.
We will group the four values into physical, mental, spiritual and social categories.
It is generally believed that the more we are in control – of our health and wellbeing, for example, our financial and economic security, relationships and professional and personal goals, the more satisfying and fulfilling life will be. Certainly it would be great if we could control life; plan, manage, allow nothing to slip into any cracks and simply chart out what we want it to be.
Unfortunately that is only an illusion. We can control the choices we make but we need to come to terms with the truth that we cannot control consequences. Neither can we control other people with whom we invariably interact. Furthermore, we make choices between alternatives and whichever alternative we choose we must be prepared to accept the consequences which may not be “our choice”. As it is said, when you pick up a stick from one end, you are also picking up the other end (even if it wasn’t the end you wanted).
It is the same with values. Our society values achievement, success, hard work, efficiency and so on because we believe the more we manage them the more we are assured of joy and peace of mind. True, we cannot admire sloppiness and inefficiency, or poverty and ignorance. Yet if our values are not in alignment with the natural human principles, joy and peace will remain illusive. When he addressed the US Congress, Pope Francis pointed out that technological, scientific and economic successes can end up haunting us.
Why? Because there are those human principles that transcend society and time that must hold our personal and social values and pursuits together in order to find fulfillment and wholeness . When we see fellow human beings as resources or obstacles for example, and relationships become transactional rather than transformational, joy and peace become illusions.
Our purpose therefore is to find that balance and to be grounded on it.
Actors read and memorize scripts for the roles they play in movies. Often we hear actors crediting script writers for their (actors) success in a movie. Similarly we hear of actors who turn down some movie projects because – they tell us – the script was badly written.
Unfortunately, real life can be a series of scripts written by society and to be played by those who belong to the community. Schools, for example, hand out scripts to be acted upon throughout life. I remember my first day in boarding school. The headmaster had us sit in the dining hall for training on proper etiquette during meals: “The fork is to be held in the left hand only and the knife in the right hand. Don’t use the fork to scoop food from the plate and the spoon is for soup only and may not be inserted into the mouth!” and on and on. Mind you, none of this was learned at home.
Whatever scripts society hands down are not our authentic selves. And yet, we often live the scripted life oblivious to who we truly are. Joy and peace flows from real authenticity. The script is a façade which manifests in what is external.
To be truly joyful and at peace, strive for authenticity.
More on that.
Since expectations are the major contributor of frustrations and disillusion and despair, does it mean that we should have no expectations? How about hard work, planning and setting goals – the trademark of what society knows to be success? Shall we just trash them?
By no means! Planning, having expectations and setting goals distinguish humans from other creatures. However, we should not be defined by the results of our hard work, goals and expectations. This is important because, unfortunately, in our society, we tend to define ourselves, and others, by what we do and what we have – or have not – achieved. How many times have you been asked – or asked someone – upon being introduced, “…and what do you do?”
We are not – nor are we diminished or enhanced by – failures, achievements or successes. These are external attributes designed by society and not our authentic selves. Only when we align fully with our authentic selves can we find joy and peace.
Furthermore, expectations, plans and goals are just that. We will never have complete knowledge of everything that will show up. The more we are aligned to expectations and goals, the more we are prone to be frustrated because, down the line, an unexpected eventuality will show up, goals will fall short and expectations may not even be realized.
Let us therefore, learn and train ourselves to consciously accept, without resistance, whatever happens, no matter how disheartening it may be. After all, there is something of benefit in everything that happens.
People lying on the grass and relaxing in the sun at Green Park, central London. This park, near to Buckingham Palace is one of the Royal Parks and is a huge draw for tourists and locals alike – symbolic of joy and peace.
Being joyful and at peace is a state of “being” in which everything around can be anything but joyful and peaceful. The circumstances and situations you may be facing may be grim, trying and challenging – even nostalgic.
Think, for a moment, of the opposite of joyful and peace: frustrations, desperation, anxiety, weariness, anger and the like. What is common here is their changing nature. Indeed, these are external attributes. Similarly, achievement, success, prestige, wealth or good health – these too are external. In addition these are social in that they pertain to individuals’ and society’s definitions and provenance.
Being joyful and at peace is not dependent on external validations.
Pursuit of the scripted narrative will not lead to joy and peace. Similarly when we project certain outcomes, we end up frustrated when they don’t materialize or what shows up was not foreseen. We will never be in a position to foresee every eventuality. But that does not mean that joy and peace are unattainable.
See how, next.