Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Never Enough

"Springtime in the Desert"
- along a wilderness trail -

You probably won’t find a more beautiful place in the entire country than the Southern California desert in springtime – moderate temperatures, blue skies, blossoms on the cacti, yellow buds on the shrubs and trees, wildflowers covering the desert floor. In fact, it’s so beautiful out here that our population more than triples with visitors and tourists at this time of year.

Yesterday morning I was out waking along one of the trails outside our home, basking in the luxury of a glorious spring day, when I came upon a group of visitors walking on the path alongside me.  They were actively engaged in a lively conversation about how they would spend their afternoon. Some were closely examining a list of potential activities supplied by the local Chamber of Commerce, one other person was talking on her cellphone making lunch plans with a friend; and as they all planned for something else, they were missing everything along the way – the flowering cacti, the blossoms on the trees, the fresh fragrances of the desert in springtime. It occurred to me that I was observing an “icon” of life in our contemporary culture

I am reminded of a book by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. In his book, Harari observed that contemporary people (especially in so-called advanced societies) are almost obsessed with achieving a sense of happiness and well-being in their personal lives. He also noted that, even though there have been tremendous technological, medical and sociological advances over the past years, it never seems to be enough - people still report that they are unhappy.

People who live in societies like America or Japan or Europe generally have enough food to eat, they don’t die in the streets from uncontrolled diseases and they enjoy many if not most of the “creature comforts” life has to offer; and yet, the suicide rates in these countries is far greater than in poorer nations and it has grown exponentially over the past decades as many people report that they are dissatisfied with their lives.

Professor Harari suggested that “expectation” is the reason so many people who are so obsessed with happiness essentially remain unhappy - the more we achieve, the more we expect to achieve, nothing is ever enough:

We become satisfied when reality matches our expectations,
but the bad news is that,
as conditions improve, expectations balloon.
Dramatic improvements in conditions
such as humankind has experienced in recent decades
translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment.

Long ago the Buddha taught that “craving” and “desire” were poisons to spiritual health and causes of human suffering and pain. He said:

From craving is born grief.
From craving is born fear.
Desire is the cause of suffering.
When you stop desiring you stop suffering.

Perhaps we all need to heed this ancient wisdom now more than ever in our own contemporary times. When we always “crave” the bigger, the better and the newer, the better car, the newer phone, the bigger house, the better job, more agreeable neighbors, when we are always desirous of something more (like those visitors I encountered on the path yesterday) we will inevitably miss the joy of what is

A while back I came across something the Dalai Lama once said – a wise and profound observation about why so many people aren’t “happy” nowadays:  

Human beings sacrifice their health in order to make money.
Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health.
And then they are so anxious about the future
that they do not enjoy the present.
They live as if they are never going to die
and then die having never really lived.

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