One of my most favorite quotes:
Comparison is the thief of joy. – Theodore Roosevelt
Two of my own specific examples of how I get caught in this particular comparison trap are with those who garden and those who have a work-out/exercise regiment of some kind.
I find that gardens and physically fit people abound here in Missoula. I sometimes find myself thinking: Man, I should be more into gardening or: Man, I should get a gym membership – and, ya know, go, or whatever.
But I don’t. I don’t do either one. And I can make myself feel bad about it. Until I remember, once again, that I’m very content and happy with everything I prioritize my time with – that there’s only so much time in the day and I make conscious choices about how I spend that time, and it all suits me just fine.
A light breeze blows,
showering me with creme-colored, circular elm seeds,
littering my outdoor work-space with debris.
I huff at my freshly cleared-off tablecloth becoming strewn with seed pods…again.
But, what am I expecting to have happen here? I’m sitting outside under a freakin’ elm tree, after all.
There’s a certain kind of learned, common human insanity that plagues our patterns of thought in detrimental, destructive ways.
I think it’s worth asking ourselves this question: What percentage of my day is spent wishing something was other than as it is?
I wish I were more _____ and less _____. I wish so-and-so was less of a jerk, for that dude to drive better, and for that lady to pipe down. I wish I had a cup of coffee or a brownie or a stiff drink. I wish it was warmer out or cooler out or dryer out or wetter out. I wish I didn’t have to go to work or do the laundry or haul the kids all over town or make dinner….
Not to sound harsh or anything, but, if you really want to be happy, you’re gonna need to stop trying so hard.
There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
I’ve been thinking about the notions of praise and blame lately. Mainly about how common it is to fall prey to them and how empty they are of value and meaning. The other day, when I was on an airplane coming home, one of things I wrote down in my journal was:
As long as we’re looking for something outside of our own inner landscape to complete, validate, or otherwise be the maker of our sorrow and/or happiness, we will continue to suffer. And suffer we will – for the rest of our days.
What praise and blame have in common is that they help perpetuate the illusion that other people’s actions and words are what determine our quality of life. We are often dependent on others to both build up and maintain our self-worth and value and take the fall for any amount of discomfort or discontent we experience. We are continually putting our state of mental and emotional well-being in the hands of those around us.
We can never know what’s going on for someone else.
I was at the Tuscon airport a couple of days ago, preparing to fly back home here to Montana. I sat down at the terminal, in close enough proximity to a woman who’s cell phone conversation I could hear very readily. She was an attractive woman. Shoulder-length blonde hair, middle-aged. She was sitting at the electronic port station situated in front of a large window overlooking the tarmac. Although there was little I could do not to overhear her conversation, I felt badly for eavesdropping, so I quickened my pace in getting the music going on my iPod. In the meantime, however, I learned that she was leaving her 20-something-year-old son behind, to return back home, after situating him into a rehab. He was not at all well – detoxing, incoherent, unable to care for himself. His girlfriend would be not be allowing him to move back in when he got out. And there was a real possibility, and seemingly well-grounded motherly consideration, that he wasn’t done yet “out there,” using. It was hard for her to leave. But she seemed sturdy in her composure and confident in the decisions she’d made.
In looking at her I never would’ve thought to myself: I bet her son is going through a ravaging, brutal detox right now. I bet she just spent the last few days forcing him into rehab against his will and supporting him at his bedside as he went in and out of consciousness. And I bet she feels hopeful/broken about the whole messy situation.
And it’s like this with everyone we meet. We see someone, whether a stranger or even a loved one, and think we have them all figured out. And we totally don’t. We have no idea what’s going on for someone else.
I wonder why it’s so common for us to think we’re experts when it comes to other people. When we attach ourselves too strongly to our perceptions, it’s a recipe for creating separation and misunderstanding. As Thay teaches: 99% of our perceptions are incorrect. And ultimately it’s our mis-perceptions about ourselves, others, and life itself that causes the greatest amount of our suffering.
Today: I will practice to look beyond the surface, in order to connect and engage with others in a way that opens and extends my understanding and compassion.