Q&A: What is the Greatest Obstacle to Finding Contentment?
No one around me supports my meditation. Their thoughts are scattered and their actions are disruptive. Being around them is disturbing. I need to live where people will support my spiritual aspirations, share my meditation practice, and feed my sense of tranquility. Where should I go?
No matter where you go this problem will follow, so it is better to solve it right where you are. You are expecting your family and friends to help you in your meditation and you want people to behave in a certain way so that you will not be disturbed. You do not realize that it is your own expectations, not the people around you, that are disturbing you. Close your door and don’t carry those people in your mind, and you can meditate undisturbed.
Why do you care whether someone supports your practice or not? Can anybody really support your practice during the practice itself? If I arrange my legs properly, will it help you stay in a meditative pose? Of course not: my body is mine, and your body is yours. The same is true for the mind. How can the state of someone else’s mind support your meditation? The truth is that nobody can support you in anything. When you are injured, no one can share your pain. No one can breathe for you. No one can die for you. Just as no one can share your pain, no one can share your joy, and no one can share your meditation and the peace derived from it. Both tranquility and disturbance are your own personal experiences.
Be practical. Do not expect others to meditate in order to keep you company. Cultivate an attitude of neutrality toward everyone and everything. Consider both those who like you and those who do not like you to be equal. When you sit for meditation with an attitude of equanimity, your mind will be at peace, and a peaceful mind cannot be disturbed by external causes.
If the world around you is noisy and displeasing, then behave like a turtle. Withdraw yourself not only physically, but mentally. The first step is to realize that you are an individual working on yourself. Remind yourself: “All relationships come and go; I existed before these people were part of it, and I will continue to exist when these people are gone.” Why not get out of everybody’s life for ten or fifteen minutes a day and see how wonderful it feels? The truth is that you are deliberately dragging the people around you into your mind and disturbing yourself.
That doesn’t make much sense. Being disturbed is unpleasant. Why would I deliberately disturb myself?
The greatest obstacle in meditation is loneliness. The mind is not trained to enjoy solitude, and so it suffers from loneliness. To cope, the mind brings forward memories—both pleasant and unpleasant—to keep it company. Agitation and anger come at the invitation of your mind. Then it says, “These people are bothering me, these thoughts are bothering me.” It is your mind—no one else’s. How can anything take place in your mind unless you allow it to?
The mind is playing a game called “Attachment” and is fooling itself by pretending that external forces are responsible for your happiness. Attachment is the root cause of all mental disturbances, and expectations play the biggest role. Your expectations breed likes and dislikes. Then you get attached to your likes and dislikes and cling to them. It is your expectations that create distractions and disturbances when you do your meditation practice—not the outside world and not the people around you.
It is hard to imagine being free of expectations—they seem to be such a big part of life. How can I use my meditation practice to overcome them?
Expectations cannot be overcome by meditation. When you are in the grip of expectations, the meditative techniques of yoga are useless unless they are supported by the philosophy of Vedanta. Pondering the principles of Vedanta is called contemplation. To free yourself of expectations, you need to practice contemplation.
The truths set forth in the Vedantic scriptures remind us of two facts. First, the objects of the world and worldly relationships are short-lived. They can make our life relatively comfortable, provided we know how to use them properly. But if we expect worldly objects and relationships to secure our happiness, we will be disappointed. Disappointment leads to misery. The second fact is that there is a higher force, which is ever-existent and which is omniscient. That and that alone is the source of genuine security and protection. This force accompanies us all the time.
By using these two simple facts as contemplative guidelines we can calm our mind and free it from all expectations. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you have formulated an investment strategy that you expect will bring you peace and prosperity. For a long time your stocks were doing extraordinarily well and you were thrilled. But without warning, your stocks plummeted and you suffered a severe loss. This caused you to sink into an anxious depression. At the same time your spouse, who you thought was your soul mate, dumped you for someone else. Now this world, which seemed so rosy a few short weeks ago, seems like a terrible place. You do not feel motivated to do anything, including your meditation practice. Even when you do manage to force yourself to sit for meditation, all you do is brood about your losses. Instead of meditating, you are complaining, grieving, and intensifying your anger and despair.
Now is the time to turn to contemplation: “I had a fairly good life before I got into the stock market and before I met my spouse. Who was around in those days to keep me happy and healthy? When I was hanging upside down for nine months in my mother’s womb, what kind of investments was I making then? Who was providing everything I needed to grow? How foolish I have been to forget that invisible, benevolent force that accompanies us always, protecting, guiding, and nurturing. Instead of remembering that force, I am complaining and worrying. Instead of brooding on the past, I will open my heart to receive guidance from that divine force.”
As you go deeper in your contemplation, you will notice that all of your expectations are being channeled toward the Divine, the ever-existent reality who has been protecting and guiding you from the beginning of your life—and even before then. You will find yourself exploring the deeper dimensions of life, where peace and happiness are not dependent on transitory worldly success. This does not mean that you will become passive or withdrawn. On the contrary, you will find yourself inspired to be active in the world and to be kind and compassionate to those around you—but you will not expect anything from anyone but the Divine. This is pure faith, and once the virtue of pure faith begins to blossom in your heart, you will no longer be dependent on the world and worldly relations to make you happy. Contentment will become your nature.