There is a poem by Rumi: “One night a man was crying, Allah! Allah! His lips grew sweet with the praising, until a cynic said, “So! I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?” The man had no answer to that. He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep. He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick, green foliage. “Why did you stop praising?” “Because I’ve never heard anything back.” “This longing you express is the return message.” The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. That whining is the connection. There are love dogs no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them.”
Recently in an unnamed television series the protagonist asked a question of the main character during a time when he was trying to influence him to do something he did not what to do and knew was wrong. He asked him, “Do you want to live a life of happiness or a life of meaning?” He went on to say, “If you want to live a life of happiness then live in the present moment all the time and never think of what has been or what will be, but if you want to live a life of meaning then you must live in discontent of the past and the future and be committed to change”.
The message of course was an either/or message as though there is some choice we must make about how we live our life. Are we driven by the fires of discontent in our life? Do we constantly want something different than what we have? Do we want a better house, a nicer car, a better job, a better relationship, or are we satisfied with the status quo? Is it possible for us to be happily discontented or are those two experiences mutually exclusive? Personally I believe it is possible to be happy and discontent at the very same time, but it depends on us understanding that what warms you also can burn you if you are not respectful of the energy with which you are working.
In the poem by Rumi there is a call to understanding that the desire of the soul is to understand our nature and embrace it with the passion of a love dog whining for its’ master. Often in our work life we are serving a master of sorts, we call that our boss. We find that the requirements of our work may include things we do not like to do. The discontent may come from having to do the bidding of another and we are tempted to allow this to create angst. My belief around this issue is that I have a choice in any moment how I can respond to the expectations of the world in which I live and in this context I chose to be in the present moment and feel a sense of peace that comes from knowing that I am OK in this moment. I ask myself, “Do I have a roof over my head, do I have enough to eat, am I warm, is there enough for my basic needs?” The answer is always “yes” and therefore I have no reason to be discontent in this moment. I then ask myself, “what am I seeking to accomplish, what is the great good being served with this work, what if I am able to perform these expectations and feel good about it and even enjoy it, and where will this lead me?” So in this present moment of peace comes the embracing of the discontent and the result is to live with one foot in both realities and to be happily discontent.
My friend Kari Joys in her book “Choosing Lightheartedness”(on Amazon or at www.kari-joys.com) identifies the primary positive emotions we feel which are happiness and peace. All other positive feelings come out of these two basic ones. When we choose to ground ourselves in these emotions in the moment, we can embrace the discontent and use it like we use fire to keep us warm. We can have our dreams and goals and desires for the future and still live our life in the present moment of peace and happiness because life is not just about what you accomplish, it is about how you accomplish it. It is about the values we bring into our daily experience that guide us on our journey to the fulfillment of our purpose.
A few years ago about when I left my church to work full time for CHOICE I told my congregation that my discontent was not about them or the Church; it was about being called to something that I wasn’t sure about but knew it was part of my journey. In other words I had nothing clear I could give them other than I knew it was the next step in my evolution as a person and in my desire to serve. It felt a lot like the Indiana Jones movie where he had to step confidently onto a bridge that wasn’t there but appeared when he stepped out in faith that it would.
Discontent is the fire that drives us forward, happiness and peace are the feelings that allow us to use the fire in ways that move us along so we can enjoy the journey toward the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams and our purpose in life.