In my continuing efforts to demystify the spirituality of awareness, I often find myself at what might be described as the back door of Buddhism. That is, I embrace ideas associated with Buddhism, but without paying the price of constant study and discipline.
One such theft is of the idea that happiness hinges on detaching oneself from expectations—those uniquely human constructs built on the past and future, but having nothing to do with the present moment.
That said, detachment does imply faith. Yes, you most certainly have plans and goals; yes, you apply yourself to the task at hand. But beyond that you believe the universe will steer you to exactly the outcome it—and you for that matter—needs.
An old friend of mine applied this tenet in his encounter, many years ago now, with cocci meningitis, a fungal infection of the lining of the brain. It was thought at the time to be a terminal diagnosis.
Walter—an aspiring Buddhist by the way—tried just about every alternative, new-age treatment you can think of. He meditated. He hung out with crystals. He traveled afar and dug deep within for answers. (The first thing one spiritual/medical guru, in Texas, asked him was, “So, Walter, why did you decide to get sick?”)
I’ll never forget when Walter announced to our men’s group that he’d come to a place of peace with the disease, come what may. As he put it, “It’s like ice cream; if having cocci meningitis is vanilla, then not having it is chocolate. Either way, life is delicious.”
Walter, twenty-plus years later, is still with us.
The trick is to handle these events the best we can, not let them handle us.
A GREATER REALITY
We all face events and decisions every day in which we vest the outcome with a value—from how the barista makes our latte in the morning, to whether the house we just bought is really as good a deal as we think it is, to coping with illness, even death.
And we always have the choice between seeing unexpected consequences as failings or misfortune, and seeing them as simply parts of a greater reality which can be labeled as neither good nor bad. It just is.
The trick is to handle these events the best we can, but not let them handle us. And, once we know we’re doing our best, as Walter did, we let go of the outcome.
It’s incredible how liberating this attitude can be. For it does not suffer fools gladly; useless emotions like disappointment, regret and fear are dismissed before they can utter a word.
This is how I want to live my life. But it’s not easy. Ever since I was three or four, nearly every lesson I’ve been taught, every message absorbed from the culture, every example held up to me, has been about investing all you’ve got in an outcome and never letting go of that expectation.
It may be an outcome we could never have
imagined, one understood only by the boundless
wisdom of the universe.
Perhaps it’s the luxury of being an older, more independent man, but my instincts have been quarreling with all those do-or-die lessons. They're arguing—when they can get a word in edgewise—that the outward pursuit of success, happiness, faith…whatever…is a fool's quest.
Human beings are hard-wired for happiness. So, instead of looking outside ourselves for a certain result or to acquire some special juju, the real answer is to look within. It is a process not of acquisition, but of divesture, shedding all the garbage that has piled up on top of the perfect juju we already have.
So Walter's point—made, admirably, under the direst of circumstances—is well taken. Except that I'd add one thing. If the outcome we would have liked (before our conversion to quasi-Buddhism, of course) is chocolate, and the one we wouldn't is vanilla, there's a third option: a result that is neither—an outcome we could never have imagined, one understood only by the boundless wisdom of the universe.
As I ponder the deliciousness of all three of these possibilities, an odd thought sidles into my consciousness—a craving for ice cream. Not vanilla; not chocolate. Neapolitan.