In my ongoing quest to pounce on and capture inner peace for my very own (a task which to date appears to require sleuthing skills that could qualify me to join the CIA) I have noticed a persistent, repetitive obstacle which it likes to hide behind.
Preferences. Specifically, mine.
I have noticed that I vastly prefer some things over others. For instance, vacation. When offered a choice between work and vacation, I prefer vacation. I prefer birds to dogs (or cats or any other creatures for that matter), green tea to black, Cape Cod to Houston.
I prefer pants to jeans, blue to all other colors, and I would choose creative writing any day over the client-directed business articles I am frequently asked to write.
So, I have preferences. Who doesn’t? The problem with preferences is, they are seemingly incompatible with attaining contentment. How can I be content when I am also discontent – when I am looking forward to this, but dreading that, longing for the company of this person and ducking behind a building to avoid that person?
I have concluded that I can’t. Bummer.
Does this mean that I can’t have preferences? I would suspect not, since they persist in spite of all attempts to date to rid myself of them. I have no plans to give up my bird, Pearl, my comfy house with central a/c and heat, or my cute vintage dresses.
In fact, I already tried all that once – I moved to India, lived in an ashram, and wore what amounted to pajamas for six months. The first thing I did when I got back home was to recolor my hair (you’ve never seen so much grey), buy new threads, and order myself a frappuccino.
So…..preferences. I am now trying a slightly different tactic. I notice that when I detect an inner battle between a preference for one thing and against something else (they do seem to travel in pairs) I have to work a bit harder to find what is good in the thing I am resisting. It seems taking a black/white approach to my preferences works as poorly as taking a black/white approach to recovery or anything else – there are always helpful shades of grey to consider if only I can remember to look for them.
For instance, I want to go to Cape Cod each year on vacation for a month. But I don’t want to leave my bird, Pearl. That is a simple one – Pearl doesn’t travel well, so my preference for her comfort makes it easier to make peace with the parts I don’t prefer.
Here’s one most people seem to be able to relate well to – I don’t want to work, but I do want to get paid. Or I want to work, but not at the job I am being asked to do. There are all kinds of these at varying levels of difficulty, and they crop up daily, hourly, by the minute.
So the key in attaining contentment, serenity, equipoise seems to be seeking what I suspect the Dalai Lama might term “the middle way” – a place that is not outside of nor too embedded within the battle of the preferences itself, but more of like an impartial moderator or witness, who simply observes the preferences as they arise and retreat, nodding sagely and saying, “Interesting. Interesting.”
This approach seems to work well to help me manage my emotions and thoughts, so I have decided to try it on my preferences as well. My goal? To be able to enjoy ALL of my days (yes I know this is a preference too), not just the ones I think I will.
Today’s Takeaway: What works well for you to find pleasure in less-pleasurable things, and to withstand the departure of activities or persons you have greatly looked forward to?
Tea photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 15 Nov 2012