Do you ever get the feeling your life would be so much better if you cared less about how it goes? I sometimes look at my cats, who basically lay around all day long, and think they look pretty happy. If they get a little bored, they play with a ball of yarn or catch a bird. (Yes, they’re cliche that way.)
Of course, such a life would drive me crazy. In fact, it’s days like the cats’, when I stay in bed all morning just to pass the time and can’t seem to get my day going, that usually bring up such questions. Ironic, I know.
It feels like I’ve been spending a lot of time lately exploring questions of boredom, achievement, motivation, ambition, contentment, and desire…or, to be as cliche as my cats, The Meaning of Life.
I know some people who go through life without much ambition. They are rarely disappointed. Some of them seem quite content; some don’t. I don’t know. For me, so much of life’s fulfillment or enjoyment seems to come from accomplishing things I’ve had to work toward. Why is that?
Buddhism — a religion I like, maybe because it’s about being and doing, and not just believing — teaches that desire is the cause of all suffering and that satisfaction can only be achieved by freeing ourselves from desiring what we don’t have. So true. And easier said than done.
Interestingly, Mick Jagger is saying basically the same thing in the Rolling Stones’ first #1 hit, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965). I know you’ve heard it before, but give that song another listen. It’s all about trying to get things he doesn’t have — girls and white shirts, mostly — and being frustrated. The harder he tries, the worse it gets. (Buddhism is also telling me to just let that double negative in the song title slide.)
I have been trying lately to disentangle unhealthy desire from goals and ambitions in my life. It certainly isn’t wrong to have goals and ambitions. I feel like I would go crazy if I didn’t. But I also go a little crazy because I do. A fantasy of mine, one that will probably never be realized, is to have no to-do list. Imagine!
I’m trying to learn to be content with where I am in the present rather than projecting expectations of future happiness and feeling I cannot be happy until I get there. Because I may never get there. You never know.
I may change course, choose a different path. I may discover things along the way that I would have missed had I not been mindful of the here and now. So often I find myself focused on what comes next rather than where I am, excited about the future but missing the present.
Then I catch myself and come back to now. When it comes down to it, that’s really all we’ve got.