How is it possible to live in this world, where suffering and deterioration are rampant, and yet be steadily at peace, even joyful? In the face of so much pain and decay, is it self-indulgent to be joyful?
You might bring these two things into one frame of awareness — the mess of the world (or your life) and the longed-for well-being inside — and if you allow them to touch one another, in your mind, you are likely to conclude that the one makes the other impossible. Or that the one makes the other unreasonable, as if a person doesn’t somehow “deserve” joy, with all the suffering in the world. As if joy had to be earned.
If joy comes to you from the outside, it will be taken from you.
There is no contradiction between the world’s problems (or personal ones) and profound calm within. Always and everywhere, the answer is to just do what you are doing right now. Be where you are, in the immediate reality.
If you’re lying in bed, and it’s night and you’re tired, the thing to do is sink into the arms of sleep. If you’re at the site of a devastating natural disaster, and you hear a wrenching sob a few feet from where you stand, turn toward the sound. Go to that man who has just found his child’s body crumpled beneath the wreckage. Rub his back. Listen to him weep and rage. Take his grief into your heart. Help him pick up his child’s body.
If you are in your bed listening to the radio about this man and his child, take the two of them into your heart for a few moments, letting it hurt, as it must. Then turn off the radio and sleep.
It’s possible to stand in unflinching recognition of the world’s ongoing pain, to feel deep compassion, to take action that’s within your reach, and also to sleep soundly. To live your days filled with well-being and ease. If joy requires circumstances to be a certain way, it will be endlessly elusive. If certain conditions are needed for light-heartedness to flower, then (since life is constantly in flux) inner peace will always be fleeting.
If joy comes to you from the outside, it will be taken from you. This is a law of nature immutable as gravity.
The only source of lasting well-being is within.
But where do we get it, you say? Oh, but it’s already here. It’s been here right along, the whole time you’ve been learning how to walk, sitting in desks and pews, having lovers, getting divorced, collecting achy body parts, getting promotions, losing your job, getting a diagnosis. The whole time you’re watching the news and wringing your hands, pacing the waiting room, waiting in line, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the mail to come, waiting for an answer.
Waiting for your life to begin.
There is only one way to get to it, to find it. And that is to be only in the very moment you are in, only this — whatever it may hold. The content of the moment is completely irrelevant to This. Just be this moment. Don’t think about it. Feel it. Let the past die. Let the future die. (They never lived anyhow, apart from in your head.)
Watch the news. See what’s happening. Then turn it off. Don’t carry it around with you. Either drive to the airport and get on a plane and go there and do something, or send money or make phone calls, if that can help. Otherwise, eat your dinner. Only eat your dinner. This exact succulent slice of zucchini, green and seedy and soft. It is, right now, the only truth. It is through the bite of zucchini that you get to the only perfect joy that is to be had, ever.
When time has died for you, when your mind has ceased its pointless turning of gears, you will not be able to find your way out of this well-being. You will not need a lover, nor beautiful clothing, nor a good job, nor health, not recognition, nor hobbies. Nor world peace, justice, wise leaders, revolution. Nothing, nothing, nothing.