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  • “One bank of the river is happiness, the other misery. It’s best to stay in the midst of the stream, and away from the banks.”
    ~ unknown

    We are a nation of goal seekers. From the moment we enter elementary school, until the day of retirement, our society demands that we wake up each day and address a task list, aimed at some sort of achievement.

    I began this month seeking greater clarity on my life purpose. What is it that I really should be doing?

    And here begins the achievement trap. Inherent in this questioning is that I believe that where I am, what I’m doing right now, isn’t purposeful.

    We plant seeds for a rose garden. If our only desire is for the rose bushes to hurry up and grow, so we can ultimately snip the buds before they die, we’ve missed the vast majority of the joy that can be found in the process.

    To quote Jack Kornfield of the Buddha’s teachings:

    “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”

    In our desire to clip the bud for our bouquet, we’ve missed the inter-relatedness of all things. How important the soil is that was once garbage, where the rain came from that nurtures the plant, the bumblebees that pollinate the blooms, the beauty of the buds as they first sprout from the thorny branches, and even the death of the petals, that fall back into the earth to replenish the soil.

    Osho begs:

    “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up, it dies, and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be.
    Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

    I was brought back to a simple realization in a conversation with my meditation teacher yesterday.

    Finding happiness or our soul’s purpose has not just one, but three ingredients. As my teacher pointed out with the opening quote: We seek the bank of happiness, and wish to stay away from misery. But what about the river, the true stream of life? Was I finding my enjoyment in that?

    Yes, I truly am. But I was feeling the pressure cooker of society telling me that I should be producing some results from my effortless swimming. She gently reminded me that I’d worked very hard to attain my freedom, so that I could swim for a bit in the quiet river of life. That now was the time to fully enjoy it, no matter what others had to say about it. I was doing exactly what I should be doing! Rejoining the mainstream of goal-oriented life would arise again, all too soon. And then, I’d be back to missing these days of being out of the pressure cooker of achievement.

    I was actually missing my own garden growing, the blossoming of my soul. In my desire for my own bud to bloom, so I could clip it for all the world to see, I was forgetting to appreciate the process.

    I was beginning to forget about what it means to live life as a human “being” and was thrusting my own self back into the world of human “doings”. A world that took me years to dis-entangle myself from.

    Ajahn Chah writes of the Buddha’s teaching:

    “If we cut a log of wood and throw it into the river, and that log doesn’t sink or rot, or run aground on either of the banks of the river, that log will definitely reach the sea. Our practice is comparable to this. If you practice according to the path laid down by the Buddha, following the middle way, you will transcend two things.

    What two things? The two extremes: indulgence in pleasure and indulgence in pain.

    These are the two banks of the river. One of the banks of that river is hate, the other is love.

    Or you can say that one bank is happiness, the other unhappiness. When unhappiness disappears, happiness arises and lingers for a while and then dies. When happiness disappears, unhappiness arises again…on and on like this.

    The ‘log’ is a content mind. As it ‘flows down the river’ it will experience happiness and unhappiness. If the mind doesn’t cling to that happiness or unhappiness it will reach the ‘ocean’ of Nibbāna. You should see that there is nothing other than happiness and unhappiness arising and disappearing. If you don’t ‘run aground’ on these things then you are on the path.”

    The poet Rumi promises:

    “As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.”

    Fear not your path. Let the journey become your destination. Enjoy the twists and turns as they arise. This is the only true way to happiness and finding one’s soul purpose.

    My teacher said that “guilt is the mafia of the mind.” Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for living your life, and following your stream. Not your own mind, your mother, your best friend, your boss, or society as a whole.

    Like the little boat in my photo today, get comfortable being out in the open water. Take a step back from your task list today, stop paddling upstream, and learn to enjoy floating in the stream of life. In learning to just be, spontaneous purpose will arise. This is where the deeper whispers of the heart can be heard. And you just might, without even trying, find yourself living a life of happiness and contentment. I have.
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