Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Be Still

A few days ago, I began to read Robert Ellsberg's book, "The Saints' Guide to Happiness." Of the many "guides to happiness" out there, this one is definitely worth your time. Chapter four of the book focuses on the theme of being still. Something we know little about. Ellsberg illustrates how important it is to learn to be content and to be quiet. Very few people have mastered the art of silence. We constantly fill our lives with noise and business. We hate to be still. Even when our surroundings are calm, our minds are working overtime. Ellsberg calls this, "inner noise." He writes, "Even when it is quiet outdoors, we are filled with internal voices and alarms, reminding us of what needs to be done, what we have done poorly, what has been done in the past" (Ellsberg, 61). Throughout the chapter, Ellsberg pleads with us to follow the example of the saints by eliminating distractions, learning to be alone, embracing the present moment and listening to the inner voice. If we seek these goals, we will be on the way to a fulfilling and lasting sort of happiness.

The section of chapter four that particularly struck my interest was the concept of living in the present. We are given the present, but hardly anyone truly knows how to approach it. We are burdened by or long for the past and we fear or anticipate the future, meanwhile, we are wasting the present. The gift of today. Pascal says, "We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future... thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so" (Ellsberg, 65). That is a powerful statement full of wisdom. We need to stop focusing on the past and the future in order to embrace where we are and truly live. Buddha instructs, "It is the way of deep observation to see that the past no longer exists and the future has yet to come, and to dwell at ease in the present moment, free from desire" (Ellsberg, 67). We are giving the best life to the self when we remove the thoughts of the past and the pressures of the future. When we simplify our mindset and find fulfillement in the here and now.

Towards the end of the chapter, Ellsberg talks about the many frustrating and annoying situations that often make up our daily lives. Ellsberg writes, "Life inevitably supplies us with tedious situations: sitting in traffic, standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, returning books to the library... God's will is present in these moments, no less than in occasions of comfort and joy, perhaps calling us to greater patience, humility and compassion" (Ellsberg, 72). This concept of choosing to be happy even in the tedious happenings of life is something I've thought about quite a bit lately. On Saturday, I spent over two hours waiting at the CVS pharmacy to get a simple TB test done that was required for my internship. I went in to the minute clinic thinking that this would take only a few minutes. Apparently, when they say "minute" they mean "hours." At first when I noticed that my name was number seven on the waiting list, I felt myself get really irritated and annoyed. Then, as I looked around, I noticed the ugliness and anger on the faces of those waiting around me. Nobody wanted to be there. Nobody was happy. It was then that I thought of the foolishness of that mindset. We were all going to wait, so why wait with a scowl on our faces? I had to make a conscious decision to find the good in the present moment and hopefully, spread some of that cheer on to others. I found that my waiting experience was much more enjoyable when I wiped away my frown and tried to celebrate the moment. This idea is something that I've taken with me to my internship as well. I work in a counseling office, and am involved with lots of menial administrative tasks. While I'm stuffing envelopes or shredding paper, I try to enjoy the moment. To stop the feelings of discontent as soon as they arise. As a result, my day goes faster, my coworkers seem friendlier and I am much happier. There is joy to be found in the present, all we need to do is be still, acknowledge it and let it flourish.