The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless. -- Alan Watts
DESPITE the many cliches on life being all about change and how the only constant is change, people (including myself) still find themselves very much attached to the idea of permanence. In fact, a huge chunk of our time and effort is devoted to securing a stable job or income, being able to build a home with solid foundations, and securing wealth that will last for generations.
For others, it is not so much about wealth but about preserving one's honor and reputation, making sure not to tarnish the family name. Or it might be about having a set of friends or a life partner who will be with you through thick or thin.
The desire for permanence is especially evident in our ideas of the afterlife -- when we look forward to an eternity of pleasure and bliss in whatever form that may take -- mansions, virgins, being reunited with loved ones, being in the presence of the creator, or being one with the universe and everything.
So for many of us, happiness became attached to attaining some measure of stability in life, which has meant to most people, the endless acquisition of wealth, power and stature in order to better deal with life's challenges. We tend to think, "If only I had this or that, or him or her, I would be happy," only to find out that once we have attained what we once thought our greatest desire, we become happy only for a short while and then we are once more miserable and unsatisfied.
The key to a happy life is to cultivate detachment, but not indifference. When we are disappointed, we tend to say "I AM disappointed," and when we are sad we say, "I AM sad." But are you really your disappointment or your sadness? The reverse is also true, when you say, "I AM happy" or "I AM excited," you are not your happiness or excitement either.
Recognize the presence of these feelings but be aware that they are not you, nor should they define you.
The student once complained to the master, "You keep questioning and knocking down beliefs that I have held dear since I was a child."
"And what is the problem with that?" said the master.
"I feel like you are not leaving me with any solid ground to stand firm on," said the student.
"What is the solid ground of an eagle swooping down the cliffs? Or of a dolphin slicing through the ocean?" replied the master. "When will you realize that life is not about finding solid ground but learning to navigate through the winds and tides of change? Imagine entering a tower and climbing up a spiral staircase. You do not know what is on top and you can only see a few steps ahead. At each step you take, the step behind you falls away into the darkness. That is what life is all about."
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on January 26, 2018.
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