"He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have."
"Someone asked Junayd: "Slave of God who yet are free, tell me how to reach a state of contentment." Junayd replied: "When one has learned through love to accept."
Do we often experience contentment? In a consumer society we are urged to chase happiness. We come to believe that if we buy the right stuff we will be fullfilled. But then we will need other stuff, bigger and better and more expensive than the stuff that was supposed to make us happy originally. Happiness through possession or achievement always seems over the next rise, not quite within reach, or at least not very long lasting.
Contentment is not a primary value in popular culture. We may feel it sometimes-- that sated feeling after a particularly good meal, the calm relaxation of soaking in a hot bath, the wrung out bliss after sexual release, or that momentary pride in a job well done. But for most of us the feeling is fleeting. Soon we are unsatisfied again and are off on the chase once more.
Sometimes we are warned against contentment. It is called complacency. "You'll never get anywhere if you rest on your laurels," we are told. Contentment does not preclude intention to pursue goals or desire for improvement. It does not equal complacency. It does suggest a release from the state of feeling a lack of something. It involves noticing how much good is in your life. It involves letting go of craving for things to be different than they are.
How to be more contented? Not by chasing contentment as if it were a prize to be won, but by being more aware, by seeing the good that exists right here, right now. Some of us can't recognize what is good in our life because we are focused on how it could be better. Or we have come to believe that we can't rest while there is injustice and evil in the world, or that the badness of things invalidates the goodness of things. If this is how we think, then it may be helpful to remember that as Lao Tsu said, "The bad can be the raw material for the good." Good and evil, justice and injustice, wealth and poverty do not exist independent of one another. They ebb and flow. They are mutually arising. The bad in the world does not invalidate the good. Sometimes we may forget the good because our attention keeps going back to the bad, the dramatic, the frightening. For most of us, to focus on the good in the world and in us requires intention and practice.
Take a few minutes now to think about the goodness in your life.
What gives you comfort?
What is beautiful?
What do you love?
Luxuriate in the warmth of emotion that these good things offer you.
If thoughts about the inadequacy of these things come to mind, acknowledge them and accept the inadequacies as part of the whole, just as you accept both light areas and dark areas in a beautiful picture.
Allow yourself to accept the reality of conditions as they are now and find the part of those conditions that is satisfying.
Allow a sense of peace to arise from within.
Allow yourself to feel appreciation for the unique life you live and the many miracles which support you in your living.
© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett