I sometimes worry that I'm mostly thinking and speaking like a privileged person, and thus irrelevant to those with fewer options in life.
And that's certainly true on a material level. Most people (if not everyone) reading this post are in my boat when compared to the truly disadvantaged, who don't actually have boats.
Where we all have the same options is in our minds. That's a fairly level playing field. That's the place where, in my opinion, once the hustle of a working life winds down, we can do some of our best work.
Like extinguishing self and banishing ego.
To some, that might sound preposterous. To others, it sounds obvious.
But those two jobs, if we're ready, might just be the longest, hardest, and most satisfying retirement projects of them all, thanks to the ripple effect.
I could go on. I might soon. But in the meantime, a friend of mine sent me his take on why we should all seriously think, at this stage of life, about giving up a few things rather than striving continually for more things (the reward-at-the-end-of-the-career approach).
My friend wrote his opinion rapidly and from the heart, so I've smoothed out some wrinkles. But this (below) is his, not mine, and I like what he says. I'm pretty sure that most Buddhists would too.
When you get to the end, there's a treat waiting. My friend said that he was trying to reduce an awful lot into a few paragraphs. His inspiration for reductionism is the late and masterful George Carlin, who provides the treat. I seldom laugh out loud when alone. I did.
The Want-Fear-Want Bus
by Erik van Miltenburg
I propose that the question of misery can be reduced to one root cause, identified some thousands of years ago, as: misery = attachment to the self (desire).
Or we could call it our egoic obsession with matters relating to the self, otherwise known as excessive self-interest.
Many items on our misery list boil down to this one problem: we are driven by the goal of enhancing the "self" at all costs.
(A few minutes of attention to our inner dialogue — the chattering monkey-mind within — makes this obsession abundantly clear. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.)
I can listen to my "self" raging on about, well, it doesn’t matter what it's about because that changes like the wind. But the chatter is always there.
So, in relation to worldly pursuits, we either:
A) want what we don’t have, or
B) are fearful of losing what we do have.
In relation to other people and their ideas, we usually either envy their position (better job, known for their work, better partner, seem happier, etc.) or feel superior to them because the "other" is less than us (look at that crackhead, the idiot in the Hummer, that lazy slug, etc.).
We all know these causes of misery:
More for me. More possessions are better, and if I don’t get them, I'm unhappy.
I'm so great. Especially compared to the other. Collectively, this becomes nationalism/fundamentalism, etc.
I'm so bad. Still obsessed with self in comparison with others.
I want it my way. Those other ways are just wrong.
I want to avoid discomfort. We think that we personally shouldn’t experience anything uncomfortable, although it’s okay for others.
I want pleasure. But everything changes. So we live in fear of losing pleasure, which is low-level misery.
I want to be viewed as a good person. The perfectly manicured lawn, snappy attire, good wine, job performance, parenting, etc. Difficult to attain. Low-level misery in the wishing.
The ultimate shibboleth is the vital importance of my personal happiness and satisfaction.
But can that ever be achieved for more than a short time as long as we are grasping after whatever it is we (think we) don’t have?
Immediately, there's something else to want, and until we get it, there's invariably some degree of misery.
It's like soaring over a hurdle only to stumble on the other side, time and time again.
And individual miserableness becomes societal if it exists in enough of us, which it does.
Then there are the consequences.
If we think we somehow deserve to have triple rations of the best of everything, and "totally live our dreams," the ecology of life eventually breaks down. We get climate change and other terminal illnesses.
It's mathematically clear that not everyone can have it their way.
And then, propelled by — of all things, discontent — I want again.
Who wants off the Want-Fear-Want Bus?