Having seen both movies about St Francis, and read pamphlets in the Guardian about the life of monastics at St Athos, I'm feeling inspired to simplify my needs and wants from life. All in order to find and cultivate a deeper sense of contentment in myself. Living a lay lifestyle as a Buddhist is never easy. It is the main challenge that Sangharakshita's 'neither monk nor lay' vision for the WBO, throws up. It would be much easier to guard the gates of the senses and renounce desires, if you're physically isolated from the source of them,half way up a mountain. Instead we are perpetually surrounded by tempting choices all the time. But then things are just things, and desires are just desires, only in our minds do we bring them both together. We can't entirely place the blame on the things for stimulating the desires. It is more that desires reach out and attach themselves to things.
My daily life seems currently consumed by the anxious fretting and morbid discontent of a fractious tormenting gremlin. It speaks a persistent question - 'what exactly would make life happy for you Vidyavajra.? Have you any idea at all?' Much of the time, I fall into the same patterns of behaviour as most people do. I find myself looking to material possessions, people and physical circumstances to bring contentment. To some extent these work, and they are the good things in my life, things I feel grateful for - my practice- my relationship with David - my friends and my creative interests. But, somehow this never seems enough to make life feel complete and resolved. I find I'm still searching for some indefinable thing,which is always out there, hidden beyond the horizon. This imagined future is always richer with dreams, that possibly will bring fuller contentment, than the present experience can summon. Though the solution is sought externally, the problem is driven by an internal sensation, of existential emptiness - a being devoid of meaning. Could I be more content with what I already have, and abandon the seemingly futile search for something to fill and plug that emptiness with?
It seems an even more remote possiblity after weeks like the one just past. One where internal conflicts and strain within myself, competed for my attention, as disharmony underlying in my work team poked its head out from under the carpet. I'm finding it difficult to bear with, and overcome the resistance and dread I'm feeling about going into work. I have been objectively overwhelmed, with far too much on my plate. So it is no wonder that I've longed for a simpler, less stressful life. I don't think this means just adopting a simpler lifestyle, it is, I believe, pretty simple already. It has primarily to become emotionally simpler. As I formulate the question 'How do you cultivate a state of stillness, simplicity and contentment, within an existing state of restlessness, complexity and discontentment?' I know the answer already. It comes down to observation and awareness of what causes discontent to arise, to a change incorrect perceptions, and the feeling responses that arise on the back of them. Half the battle is knowing how to do that. It comes, in essence, back to the meditation and dharma study I already do. But, do I trust that this is the way to a solution, that here is the answer? For me it appears to be just lying there dormant, like an enormous beached whale awaiting the right time and conditions to throw it back into the ocean, only then to find its simplist and most natural engagement with life. What would that be like if I found that way of living?