I’ve written a lot on this blog about my struggle with striving. Always thinking there’s more to achieve, that I can be better, do more, save the world! Never stop “being more” than I already am! And how exhausting that is…
It’s one of the things that so attracted me to the Zen of Thich Nhat Hanh, who introduced me to the concept of aimlessness, one of the buddhist canon’s ‘Three doors of liberation’. And it certainly was completely liberating to me to be told ‘you already are what you want to be’, ‘there’s no need to run or hurry any more, there’s nothing to search for, everything you need is right here in the present moment.’
It’s the best medicine I’ve ever tasted (there’s a perfect explanation of aimlessness in this transcribed dharma talk).
I’ve pretty much got the ‘there’s no need to strive’ thing sorted out now most of the time, as long as I keep myself relatively busy. My mind needs something new and different to work on, it seems to be healthier like that (I remember the guy who wrote the book Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, saying he writes because if he doesn’t he basically drives himself mad very quickly, and I totally related to that!)
At the moment I’m learning guitar, with the help of the wonderful justinguitar.com, and the process is keeping me very happy – now I’ve slowed down a bit, realised I’m not in a hurry to be ‘really good’ at it. Hurry, rush and haste are still my biggest difficulty. So often I find myself leaving to meet someone, or pick up my son from school, or whatever, and being in a mad stressed rush as I leave the house. I think I just have to be prepared to accept being late. The rush is unhealthy. I need to join the ‘slow life movement’, if there is one.
The Spanish have a proverb, ‘vísteme despacio, que tengo prisa’ – Dress me slowly, I’m in a hurry.
But back to the striving and wanting and achieving thing. For a long time I focussed on having inherited this from my mother, but it’s more than that. It was part of my schooling, it’s part of society, our industrialised, materialist, consumerist world – be more, consume more, earn more, get more, faster and faster… My mother got it from there, her parents probably did too, and so on back (to the industrial revolution?) – and so on forwards to our children if we don’t work it out.
The concept of aimlessness has helped me enormously, but the other day I read something else by Thich Nhat Hahn that I thought summed things up so wonderfully that I’ve been thinking (and smiling!) about it every since. That a good enough life is good enough. It’s as simple as that. Why look for more if life is already good enough? He says:
“There is a Vietnamese proverb, “Tri tuc, tien tuc, dai tuc, ha thoi tuc.” That means, settling for “good enough” is enough. If we wait until all our needs and wants are met, we may wait forever. “Tri tuc” means “good enough.” “Good enough” means being content with the minimum amount necessary. Your shirt and pair of shoes can last another year. It’s all right for three or four people to share a desk for studying, there’s no need for each to have her own desk. Settling for “good enough” in terms of simple living will bring us contentment, satisfaction, and happiness immediately. As long as we think our lives are not good enough, we will not have happiness. As soon as we realize our lives are good enough, happiness immediately appears. That is the practice of contentment.” From Two Treasures, by Thich Nhat Hanh
So, yes, a good enough life is good enough. And mine, without doubt, is good enough.
13 thoughts on “A Good Enough Life”
such wisdom, i am so grateful you are in this world sharing your journey with us, i send my blessings…
Thank you Elizabeth. The wisdom is received from others, and I’m just happy sharing my experience of putting it into practice, sometimes more successfully than others!
Dear Ben, I am smiling at your blog. I am 76 next month and I am wondering whether I get to read all the books I would like to read before I am ashes. So much for My expectations! I am also type A personality 😦 . We have to counter our genetic makeup. Gratitude is my motto for everything I have. That is good enough. The best to you and your family.
Thank you Barbara Ma 🙂 I’m sure you’re going to have time to read plenty of those books!
Thanks for this Ben.. I think we grew up at a similar time in a similar place ( south of UK) and I am, like you, always striving striving striving . The Swedes also have a saying “Lagom är bäst”, literally “The right amount is best” . Like you, I run my own business and it is always a challenge to stop, chill and breath but we have slowed down a bit and life is good. Still more practice needed 🙂
Thanks for your comment Jessie. I love that Swedish saying, complete wisdom in 5 words!
Aimless wandering is a good thing. I’ve done it all over Spain, California, and now I am in Texas. Neil Young is a good start in guitar if you are familiar. Play music that means something to you. Try to sing, you use a different part of your brain from playing the guitar. Don’t give up too easily, the guitar will open up to you and your fingers will find the positioning to make a g and then f chord.
Thanks Patrick. Yes, I love Neil Young 🙂 And thanks for emphasising the need to play music that means something to me, very true – when I practice songs that I’m not so bothered about, it really drags, but when I play favourites it’s twice as inspiring. Good to hear it from you too. G is under control, F is next!
I too have started learning guitar, and have too often found myself frustrated at the pace (or lake there of) of my improvements. Luckily, I have an excellent local instructor who “reboots” me when I have gotten lost or fixated on one particular melody, measure, technique, etc. Along with yoga, it’s a real lesson in accepting what is, right at this moment, and recognizing the mind’s yearning for how it wants things to be instead. I also think this is related to ego–it always wants to be center stage, is so easily threatened, and at the same time is highly critical of everything I attempt. I’m working on the practice of saying to myself throughout the day: “Oh, that’s ego talking again. I’ll be polite and listen, but I know it gives poor advice and creates needless worry over small things.”
…and I want to offer this website from a research group affiliated with UC Berkeley here in California. So full of great stuff! Getting on its mailing list is fun if you have room for one more weekly email in your inbox!
Hi James, I’m finding the guitar learning process fascinating. It has similarities to language learning, in that there are plateaus where I feel stuck for a while then suddenly improve – and again there is the frustration and the desire to be ‘fluent’, but then finding you can get along OK at the level you are.
But yes, I’ve slowed down and decided to take it easy, I’ve already had some wonderful experiences playing with a friend one day for a few mintues, and playing and singing with my son – I even, to my amazement, wrote a song! All that after just a few months and supposedly not knowing much, so I guess every step of the process can be hugely enjoyable.
Thanks for the link to the Greater Good, I’ll check it out now!
Ben – what a fine thing to read! You probably won’t remember me (Jon) but I was a follower of Notes In Spanish way back when. My wife (Rayke) and I came down for the Great Madrid Getaway (or whatever it was called) and had a wonderful good time with you and Marina, your dad, and all the others.
I remember that I tried very hard to encourage you with your guitar-playing back then, as you tried to encourage us with out Spanish-learning. I am so happy to see that you are back on track with the guitar, and I am happy to be back on track with the Spanish.
That’s why I’m writing… I slipped away for several years, and didn’t study. I kept reading Spanish, and kept visiting, but I didn’t really work on it. Recently someone suggested I try an on-line thing called DuoLingo. It was good for me, because it inspired me to work at it again, and to commit to 30 minutes a day of dedicated learning time. When I finished that course, I thought “what will I do now?”
And I remembered that I had the full Notes In Spanish course, including Inspired Beginners. So the last few weeks I have been driving around Holland, going to my work locations, listening to Ben and Marina talking about life in Spain. And it feels so good, it’s like being with old friends again. Today I heard all about how hot it is in Madrid (while it was freezing cold here, and hail was falling!) and about how you were planning to redecorate your apartment.
I’m very happy to see that you are still here, and still working on that guitar. If you keep working on the guitar, I’ll keep working on my Spanish!
PS – you mentioned walking and talking with your seven-year-old son, and I remembered when he was born, and how excited all the NIS forum family was for you all.
Great to hear from you! I remember you well and have been thinking about you too recently as you gave me a great tip years ago about playing the guitar – when I play a chord to play different strings each time I strum it, maybe moving up and down from top to bottom a bit – I think you know what I mean, but it sounds great and I often remember you telling me that!
So, sounds good to me, you keep up with the Spanish, I’ll keep up with the guitar! I’m being much more determined and structured about it this time, and really intend the journey to go on!
I hope to catch up with you again some time to check on our progress!
Thanks for writing,
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