Thursday, August 6, 2015

Civilization and Its Discontents

by Dennis Hunter

"People who are really happy with themselves are f***ing boring. The worst word in the world is content." — actor Kevin Spacey, who turned 56 last week

I think maybe I understand what Kevin Spacey meant by that statement. Drive and personal ambition are important American values. Always aiming higher, not settling for less. More, better, stronger, faster. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Spacey plays (so very, very well) one of the most evil, Machiavellian, greedy, power-obsessed characters on television, in the disturbingly good Netflix series “House of Cards,” which provides a devastating and hair-raising glimpse into American national politics.

But I disagree with Spacey’s statement. Because I think it’s actually incredibly, incredibly rare for human beings to experience true contentment. And contentment is one of the secret, neglected keys to spiritual awakening and self-realization.

Most of us live our lives chronically caught up in a pervasive feeling of what ancient yogis and Buddhists referred to as “dukkha,” a Sanskrit word that (unfortunately) is often translated as “suffering” but could be (more accurately) rendered as discontentment, dis-ease, imbalance, a sense of lack and insufficiency that plagues us and leaves us—no matter how much good stuff we get—always wanting more.

The ancient yogis and Buddhists said that on the flip side of this coin that is our human experience is the opposite of dukkha: sukha. Sukha, (again, unfortunately) is most often translated into English as “bliss,” which sounds like some kind of fuzzy, pleasurable state that is assumed to be the opposite of suffering. (By that definition, a junkie strung out on heroin could be experiencing sukha.) But there are much better choices for rendering “sukha” into English: contentment, for one, or a sense of ease and well-being, balance, things working smoothly and harmoniously according to the natural order.

Contentment is one of the magical, golden keys to a life well-lived. Without cultivating a basic sense of contentment and gratitude for what we have, we cannot unlock the doors that keep us trapped in our self-made prisons of resentment, jealousy, greed, and all the other afflictive emotional patterns that diminish and discolor our human experience. We don’t have to rest on our laurels and become doormats, but developing a greater sense of contentment and appreciation for what we already have is a really good place to start.

— Hunter


“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others.
Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval.
Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
― Lao Tzu

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
― Socrates

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