Unhappiness By Default

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When I was a young lad, I was given a useful piece of advice. And it went something along the lines of … “You made your bed lad – you sleep in it.”

It contains two pragmatic insights: One is that we are responsible for our conditions, and secondly one of acceptance of our situation (at least for now).

Our modern world, it seems, often emphasises an endless process of not accepting our conditions, of constantly striving to change them, which leads to a state of unhappiness by default. This results in a restlessess of mind and spirit which wears us out mentally and emotionally. We never have enough, we can never rest fully at the end of the day, as there’s always one more shopping trip to heaven to perform tomorrow.

On a more broader time frame, our life conditions or circumstances are, according to Eastern traditions such as buddhism, determined by our karma. And, the acknowledgement of that insight forms the basis, the starting point for our work in this life-time. We are encouraged to allow these conditions to become our guide and mentor. And the transformational alchemy which liberates us from the negative side of our karmic conditions is loving kindness. Together with the wisdom-insight of not to react or struggle against our circumstances, but to embrace them as our dearest teachers. In short, what is my life experience, here and now, teaching me?

This acceptance of conditions, does not mean we are to accept any old shit. We have rights. It means the starting point for us, for now is, we made this bed, we sleep in it. This is far from being a subservient giving up, it is in fact a highly empowering frame of mind, because of the second factor mentioned above, i.e., we are taking responsibility. And, if we are responsible, we have the power to work towards a change or not to work towards a change. We learn to live and flow freely within our boundaries, or we change our boundaries.

Of course, the very unhappiness by default western society we are born into is our karmic foundation. And it is then up to us, with the aid of our teachers, to develop loving kindness in the midst of a ceaseless, almost mindless culture, of always wanting more.

Change, expansion and growth are natural phenomena in this world, and in this universe. Where there is no change we find stagnation and death. Where we have mindless consumption for the sake of more consumption, we have deep seated social tensions, mental unhappiness and physical ill-health.

So where is the balance? Where is the middle way between accepting things the way they are, and going for something different?

To attempt to prescribe where this balance is, is tempting, but it is often futile. It seems that each generation, many social groups and sometimes each individual has to find their own boundaries and balance. Unfortunately, this sometimes means going hopelessly out-of-balance, with the resulting pain, trauma and confusion as to what the hell happened (it all seemed to be going so well), to know when we’ve gone too far.

© David R. Durham

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