The spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, once wrote, “Accept this moment as if you had chosen it.”
That’s not so different, is it, from what the spiritual teacher, Saint Paul, described, when he wrote, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:11)?
How does one learn to be content? Our advertising world…indeed our entire system of economics…would likely morph into something quite different if suddenly advertisers were no longer permitted to promote products without the clever capacity of creating discontent in consumers.
Contentment is not complacency.
Contentment is not laziness.
Contentment is not avoidance. Nor is it an aversion to goal-setting.
Some measure of discontentedness is, therefore, necessary, isn’t it?
I think so.
Presently, for example, I am not content with where I am professionally and, as a consequence, I am evaluating, setting new goals, and moving my professional life forward.
Contented and Discontented
So is this discontent a failure on my part to live contentedly?
Maybe. That is to say, it could be. Certainly, the potential is there for the displeasure I feel to steal from me the peace I should know.
“So, how do I know when the discontent I feel with where I am in life is a dangerous discontentedness I need to avoid?”
The answer might lie in the question itself.
“When the ‘discontent’ you feel
becomes a state of ‘discontentedness’
let that be to you a warning sign”
Then, what is contentment?
What is it Saint Paul and Eckhart Tolle are saying?
Contentment is Acceptance
Contentment is acceptance of what is.
I no longer seek to blame God, for example, or the Devil or anyone or anything else for that matter, for showing up in my life. Why would I? What could possibly be the point in seeking to attribute to God something so trivial as my situation? Which is why I shudder every time I see an NFL player, or fans, attribute to God such trivial matters as who wins the Super Bowl.
I seek instead to respond to what shows up as if I had ordered it myself, like ordering a dish from a menu in my favorite restaurant.
Now, do not misunderstand. It is not that I regard what has shown up as the consequence of some unconscious wish on my part. Rather, what I am saying is this: whether I like what has shown up or not, is no longer the first and foremost matter.
The first order of business is accepting the fact that what has shown up has shown up. I have the choice of facing it, therefore…of living into it…of accepting it…
Or, I have a choice of resisting it. And, if I do, and I usually do, then I have just created another problem. Not only do I have the situation at hand which I am resisting, but I have now my resistance with which to wrestle as well.
What Contentment Is…
Whenever, therefore, something unpleasant shows up, and it isn’t long before something usually does, I seek to embrace it as much as I can and as soon as I can. I do this by seeking to know and name what I’m feeling about it, accept that feeling, instead of resisting it, and then move on to the situation I am facing.
If all of this sounds infinitely easier than it really is, then you’re reading between the lines correctly. The fact is, I live with much resistance to what is. I am often discontent to the point it becomes a state of discontentment. Which is what I must learn to avoid, and I am learning it slowly, and it is the one thing each of us, to varying degrees, must learn, too.
Now, I should add that, while contentment is acceptance, it isn’t giving up. Sometimes, people mistakenly think that “acceptance” is rolling over and giving in when everything else inside you cries out to fight back.
Contentment is Making Peace with What Is
For example, I did not think I would have a heart attack at fifty-nine. I resisted, and still slightly resist, the reality that I have heart disease. Even to admit this is not a little rattling to me. But it is a fact that impacts every other area of my life and for the rest of my life.
Now, I can accept this…live into it fully…understand the changes I must make so as to prolong my health and life…
Or, I can live in denial of it, which usually expresses itself in the continuation of those behaviors, lifestyle and habits, etc. that likely were contributing factors in premature heart disease.
If I were to choose the latter course of action, which I am not choosing, the possibility of a repeat performance sometime in the not-too-distant future is probable.
I intend to change that outcome. Discontent with what is the state of my health, I choose to act responsibly, not roll over or live in a state of perpetual discontentedness or depression over it.
I will not say, “This was God’s will,” or worse, “God’s trying to teach me something,” or, worse still, “God is punishing me for something.” What good would any of that do? Besides, the theology behind such statements is primitive, puny, and pathetic.
What I do say, however, is that “I am learning to be content with cardiac issue…” and, for me, that means…
- I am learning to accept myself, my condition, while, at the same time, doing what I may to improve matters;
- I am learning to forgive myself for ignoring my inner voice, a voice that warned me on multiple occasions to let go of some lifestyle habits I had been practicing for much too long – your inner voice knows.
- I am learning to relax more and be more…to be more self-reflective and to ask before I impulsively act on things, “Is this really needed?” “What in me desires this so much?” “Is it something I need or want?” “Is this feeding a deeper need about which I am presently unconscious?” “What might I learn from this to take me deeper into life…my life…and, deeper into contentment?”
This is contentment or the acceptance of “this moment as if you had chosen it.” It is the pathway to peace and Your Best Life Now!
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.