Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
WHAT IS WANTED IN LIFE?
IF THIS question were asked of several people each would perhaps make out a list of not less than a thousand things that he wanted in life. And yet even after writing them all down one rarely knows what one really wants. What one apparently wants in life is not what one really wants, for the nature of the outer life is illusion. As soon as one feels that one wants this or that, then the world of illusion will answer, 'Yes, you want me, this is the particular thing you want in life,' but when a person thinks he lacks something in life he only sees the outer lack. He does not find the lack which is within himself.
There is no doubt that what we lack most in life is to be tuned with the infinite and to be in rhythm with the infinite. In other words to be in rhythm with the conditions of life and to be in tune with the source of our existence. Our perpetual complaints against all things in life come from our not being in rhythm with the diverse conditions of life that we have to face. And then we think that if these conditions would only change into something that we wish, it would make our life easier. But that is an inexperienced expectation. If we were placed in the very conditions that we had just desired, believing them to be the best, we would not even then say that we were quite satisfied. We would surely find something lacking in that condition also. For with all the errors and mistakes and shortcomings we find in our external life, we see a perfect hand working behind it all. And if we looked at life a little more closely than we generally do we would certainly find that all the lacks and errors and mistakes and faults add up to something, making life as complete as the wise hand which is working behind it wishes it to be.
There is a Persian saying, 'The Gardener of this garden of the world knows best which plant to rear and which to remove.' One might say that this comes close to fatalism, but I do not wish to take you further in that direction. We come now into the sphere of action. No doubt man has it in his power to improve his life's conditions greatly if only he does not lose patience before a desirable condition is brought about, if his courage has not been exhausted, and if his hope has endured.
And now the question is how can one become at one with the rhythm of life, in other words with the conditions of life? One's condition of life and one's own desire are generally two conflicting things. If desire gives in to the condition, then the condition gets the upper hand. And if the condition is mastered, then no doubt desire has the upper hand. But the condition is not always master when there is a conflict, a struggle; only one needs caution in fighting a condition in life. If harmony can be established peacefully it is better to avoid battling, though it is a fact that those who complain most about life and those who are most disappointed and troubled with life are the ones who struggle most with life's conditions. Therefore in achieving at-one-ment with the conditions of life one need not always use a weapon. One should first try to harmonize with a particular condition of life. The great heroes who have really fought through life and gained life's victory in the real sense of the word, have not been those who have fought against conditions. They made peace with the conditions of life. The secret of the lives of the great Sufis, in whatever part of the world they have been, was that they met conditions, whether favorable or unfavorable, with the aim of becoming at one with the rhythm of life.
A desire is sometimes our friend and sometimes our own enemy. Sometimes in unfavorable conditions desire becomes agitated and loses its patience, and wishes to break the condition. And instead of breaking the conditions it breaks itself. The great souls have extended their hand first to their worst enemy, because the one who makes his enemy his friend will make a friend of his own self. A condition as bitter as poison will be turned into nectar if we can get into rhythm with that condition, if we can understand it, if we will endure that condition with patience, with courage, with hope. When there is a favorable condition we are very often afraid that it may pass, but when there is an adverse condition we do not generally think that it will pass. We think that it will last for ever. This comes from fear, from agitation, from the desire to get out of this condition, and thus we lose even hope, the only source that keeps us alive. When we see the nature of life, and how from morning till evening everything changes, why should we not keep the hope that an unfavorable condition will change and turn into a favorable condition? A person gets into the habit of expecting the worst. He who has had some bad experiences in his life always thinks that whatever comes to him will not be good. That nothing good will come to him because he has once gone through bad times. He thinks anybody else can have a better time than he because he is born under an unfavorable star.
In the same way there are many imaginative and intelligent people who day after day read the newspapers and always come to the conclusion that there will be a war. Every insignificant struggle they read about gives them the idea that the world must go to pieces. There are other people interested in astrology who have gone further and are expecting the end of the world year after year, month after month. It gives people a topic to speak about at the dinner table, and at the same time it gives a shock to those who wish to live a little longer than the world's end. Many such threats of the world's destruction have passed, but the prophecy and expectation still remain and will continue. Therefore the best thing is to go through every condition that life presents with patience, with understanding, with open eyes, and so try to rise above it with every little effort we can make.
Tuning ourselves to the infinite is achieved by the way of silence, by the way of meditation, by the way of thinking of something which is beyond and above all things of this mortal world. By giving some moments of our life to the thought of getting in tune with that which is the source and goal of all of us, realizing that in that source alone is the secret of our happiness and peace.
The nature of being in tune with the infinite is this: comparing our soul to a string of an instrument, it is tied at both ends. One is the infinite, and the other is the finite. When a person is conscious all the time of the finite then he is tuned to the finite, while the one who is conscious of the infinite is tuned to the infinite. Being in tune with the former makes us limited, weak, hopeless, and powerless. But by being in tune with the latter we obtain the power and strength that will pull us through life in whatever adverse conditions may arise.
The work that a Sufi considers to be his sacred task has nothing to do with any particular creed, nor has it to do with any particular religion. It is only this simple thing: to be in rhythm with life's conditions and to be in tune with the infinite. And when one asks how one can arrive at being in accord with life instead of being frightened by life's conditions, the answer is: by meeting it and observing it keenly, and then by trying to harmonize oneself for the time being with that condition, while the next effort is to rise above it if it is an adverse one.
Once a young Arab was sleeping in a field and a serpent happened to crawl over his palm, and in his sleep he held the serpent with all his might. The serpent was helpless and could not bite, but as soon as the young man awoke from his sleep he was frightened at the sight of a snake in his hand and at once let it go. And when the serpent was out of his hand the first thing it did was to bite. One can manage a condition better when it is in one's hand than when it has been lost. Then the situation is out of one's hand. For instance, if a person is cross, if he has lost his temper, the natural tendency is to pay him back in the same coin that he deals out. The outcome is a struggle which will culminate in disappointment. But when a person is cross and has lost his temper, then he is the weak one, and that is the time that you can manage him. That is the time that the situation is in your hand, when he is weak and you are strong.
In our life in this world we are dependent on one another, and wealth, however powerful it seems to be, is in the end not so powerful as it appears. Its power is limited and it does not always take away the dependence of one person upon another. The point is to meet one's condition with understanding and with complete resignation. Thus the first thing is to meet the condition as it is and the second is to better the condition. The more one can avoid conflict the better. At the same time we cannot always avoid a conflict, and we must not turn our back on it if it comes to us. After all, life is a struggle and we must be ready to struggle. Only, struggle must not make us drunk so that we lose the way of peace which is the first thing to consider. We must not be like a boxer who is always looking for another person to box with.