Brian Moore the former English rugby international player sees something of discontent in himself. What he wanted was success. And he pushed himself really hard over and over again to do well. He now recognises that whether it be in sport, business or whatever field you are in, if you are too driven you can drive yourself into the ground.
Some people have high ambition and specific goals to match. But those of them who are too driven have discontent even when they get to where they wanted to be.
Discontent hankering after things
You also may hanker after things you haven’t got; fame, or fortune, people or possessions. For example perhaps all you think you need is just a new sofa and when you get it everything will be sorted. But when it arrives you find there’s something else you must have — a new holiday, a new job. For some people a basic discontent persists no matter what they get or achieve. Something else looms on the horizon and they long for that too. Sooner or later they won’t get what they want because nobody gets all they want in life.
Discontent hanging on to things
When people in India hunt for monkeys, they set out a heavy wooden box with a small hole on top just big enough for a monkey to squeeze a hand through. Inside the box is a banana. A monkey smells the fruit and reaches inside to grab it. The hunters approach to capture him. As it tugs and pulls, it can’t pull the banana through the hole. The strange thing is the monkey refuses to let go and run away before being captured.
Sometimes you may wonder if you too hang on to things no matter what the cost because you assume your happiness depends on having them.
Discontent of envy
In a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ type of society, envy can arise when there is a love of having more and more of the same things that other people have, only better and better things. In a competitive intellectual society, envy can also raise its ugly head. In both cases it is striving for anything which is owned, prized or wanted by others in order to gain their approval and admiration.
According to the major spiritual traditions, these sort of feelings arise when the superficial things of life are the sole centre of attention for their own sake, at the expense of deeper human values, human relationships and social obligations.
Story of Nasrudin
The Islamic mystics tell a story about Nasrudin out walking who found a man sitting on the side of the road crying. He wailed “I am so poor. I have no money and everything I own is in this little bag.”
“Ah-ha!,” said Nasrudin, who immediately grabbed the bag and ran as fast as he could until he was out of sight..
“Now I have nothing at all,” cried the poor man, weeping still harder as he trudged along the road in the direction Nasrudin had gone. A mile away he found his bag sitting in the middle of the road, and he immediately became ecstatic. “Thank God,” he cried out. “I have all my possessions back. Thank you, thank you.”
“How curious!” exclaimed Nasrudin, appearing out of the bushes by the side of the road. “How curious that the same bag that made you weep now makes you ecstatic.”
Discontent not noticing the valuable
Sometimes what is valuable is not noticed. It is hidden away in the simplest things of life but we do not see it or appreciate it because of the frantic pace of our lives. Overwhelmed by numerous commitments, activities and appointments, our lives are filled to the brim with things to do and little time to be – things to achieve and little time to appreciate. Greedy to accomplish more, we pack our daily schedules with things to do and places to go. Believing that achieving our goals is more important than being still to quieten the mind and appreciating the many treasures and simple joys stored up for us within the present moment.
Discontent not trusting in the Divine
Emanuel Swedenborg taught that those who trust in the Divine remain in equanimity whether they obtain their desires or not ; and they do not grieve over the loss of them for they are content with their lot. If they become wealthy they do not set their hearts on wealth. If they are given social status they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others.
Is this not the route away from discontent and towards satisfaction and peace of mind?
Copyright Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems