By Suma Varughese August 2011 Contentment is the peace we earn if we excel in the school of life; it is the cup that life’s victors hold. What stops this sublime quality from seeping into our lives and how can we attain it? Francis Carvalho is my medical insurance agent. In all my years of dealing with him, I have never seen him lose his cool even when I have raved and ranted about the steep rise in the cost of medical insurance. Instead, his response is that despite having to fork out a steep sum for his policy, he has always breathed a silent prayer of gratitude to God every year because he did not have occasion to use it. Contentment. It is all about perspective. It is about seeing the silver lining in the dark clouds. It is about gratitude for what one has been given. It is about trust that one will be taken care of. It is about stanching the bottomless thirst for more and more, and resting in the moment. It is an important constituent of happiness, for without it, there is no lasting joy. Contentment can seem like a milk and water quality but anyone who has striven for it will know how hard won it is. It is the quiet harbour that we slip into if we have triumphed over the storms of our life. It is the peace we earn if we excel in the school of life. “Contentment means being equally happy with the chicken I ate on Sunday and with the karela (bitter gourd) I will eat today (Monday).”Francis Carvalho, medical insurance agent Francis, a bespectacled 50-something, usually dressed formally in full sleeves and trousers, puts it succinctly. “Contentment means being equally happy with the chicken I ate on Sunday and with the karela (bitter gourd) I will eat today (Monday).” Chicken and karela – culinary polar opposites – brought together by the sauce of contentment. Ankur Gupta, who describes himself as a maverick techie, defines contentment as a dynamic state of balance that is attuned to the vagaries of life. “It is an unconditional state of happiness,” he says. For Ankur, growing freedom from material desires is spiking his contentment quotient. “I started my career with Johnson and Johnson,” says this BITS Pilani-IIM alumni. “I have had tea costing Rs 400 at the Hotel Taj Mahal and tea costing Rs 4 at an Irani place. At the end of the day, I prefer the four-rupee tea!” After three years of working in an MNC, Ankur found he could not work under anyone and “chose to be a free bird.” The loss of income or status has never caused him a moment of regret. “The biggest advantage of being my own boss comes from the width and depth of the areas I have explored,” says Ankur, who, apart from holding management training workshops, has written several books including interactive electronic story books, specialises in fractal art and is passionate about multiple intelligence. To the manner born Francis Carvalho gets in touch with his source of bottomless contentment Rachna Bhatt, a housewife based in Gandhinagar, is one of the lucky few who appear to have been to the manner born. “Even as a child of four or five years I never threw tantrums nor hankered after toys or chocolates like other children. Instead, sharing and giving away things to people who needed them more than I did, gave me untold joy even at that tender age.” She attributes it to having been born near the world-renowned dargah of Ajmer Sharif, and says that she sometimes feels like a 1000-year-old Sufi. Jatin Shah, a 50-something businessman drives a high-end SUV and occupies a three-bedroom apartment in upscale Lokhandwala, in Mumbai’s suburb of Andheri. Yet he too exudes that same soothing tincture of contentment that Francis does. An amiable smile on his face, he emanates alertness with deep relaxation, a quality that provoked his neighbour to remark as we were going down his building lift together. “You are the happiest of men”, to which Mr Shah tranquilly agreed. “It does not make sense to be discontented because no matter how much you crave, you will only get what is written in your destiny. So it is better to be rational and balanced.” Jatin Shah, businessman What makes him so contented? With admirable common sense, he retorts, “It does not make sense to be discontented because no matter how much you crave, you will only get what is written in your destiny. So it is better to be rational and balanced.” He has arrived at a unique mathematical equation to enable us to awaken to the reality of how much we actually need as opposed to how much we want. He says, “A 56-year-old friend of mine was depressed because he had lost some Rs four or five crores in the stock market. I asked him how many crores he had left, to which he responded that he had Rs 15 crores. When I found that his monthly expenditure was Rs 50, 000, I made him see that even if he lived for 33 years on the same expenditure, he would not spend more than Rs 2 crores. He cheered up when I pointed this out to him.” Wah wah, you want to say. How come this logic eludes the vast majority of humanity as we struggle, strive, flip flop, struggle some more, or skydive into despair? Inner lack There are, of course, many reasons why contentment eludes most of us but the root cause of the malaise is spiritual. Jatin Shah and his wife Pragna with their two maids, Shila and Deepa, and driver Farookh Discontentment is a symptom of our alienation from Source, and consequently, with our own true self. Lacking the knowledge that we are part of the Creator and therefore whole, perfect and complete, we suffer from a dreadful sense of inner lack. Like the musk deer that looks in vain for the fragrance that is his own nature, we are programmed to search frantically outside for what will fill our emptiness, our craving, our sense of something missing, never dreaming that these things lie within. We look for them in fame, power, fortune; in love and in relationships. Through achievements and honours. Our emptiness gets filled temporarily when we achieve these things. But fears and worries about whether they will last poison our happiness and we are back in the same situation, riven with want, biting our finger nails with anxiety; longing, longing for the elusive something that will appease us. The sense of inner lack gets even more accentuated when we suffer from poor self-esteem. Not being able to love, accept or trust yourself makes you dreadfully dependent on the outside world for your happiness. As someone whose self-esteem has been very low, I desperately looked outside at my family and friends to give me the positive strokes I needed to feel good about myself. For instance, in order to give of my best as a writer, I needed plenty of praise. When we are contented we are dynamically at rest, motivated to live gloriously but driven by nothing. I got that from my editors but when I myself became an editor, there was no one to tell me that I wrote well. As a consequence, I went through bouts of severe self-doubt which only began receding when I began my inner work of healing and repairing my sense of self-worth. Depending on the outside world for our happiness is one of our chief causes of discontentment because there is no guarantee that the world will give it to us; or once given, it will not take it back. For impermanence is the nature of the material world and any peace based on externalities is founded on an uncertain foundation. Insecurity Another consequence of being out of touch with our true self is insecurity. Without the knowledge that we are whole and perfect, or lacking the perfect certainty of surrender, we have no power to counteract against the awful uncertainties of life. Therefore we try and appease our fear by stockpiling money and possessions, hedging our bets and refusing to engage with the unknown. Fear of the future drives all our action, and fills us with anxiety, and restlessness. It compels us to amass more and more. Nothing is ever enough because insecurity is a state of mind not open to reason. A close friend who is getting on in years finds herself getting increasingly fretful every summer when water shortage reduces the water supply to her flat to an hour in the morning and half-an-hour in the evening. With anxiety writ on her face she scuttles about filling every possible container even though she and her daughter are not in need of much water. Babies are natural containers of contentment The same friend has been left comfortably off by her late husband but leads a most straitened existence. Why? “I don’t know what the future will bring,” she says worriedly. I too, have been a great victim to financial and every other form of insecurity. However, that did not stop me from letting go of a secure job in a mainstream magazine to join Life Positive when it was a start-up. I had also decided, rather daringly, to buy a house around the same time as I joined the magazine. Almost half my income went towards paying my EMI. My mother and I went through hard times but I never had to renege on my EMI for even a month. Money came from the most unexpected of sources. Two years ago my mother suffered from a stroke and became paralysed. Among the many issues it threw up was financial anxiety. Caring for a bedridden invalid is an expensive affair and I was not making the sort of money that would enable me to afford it. In the most amazing way Providence stepped in and members of my family, including uncles, aunts, even nephews and nieces, chipped in and helped me sail through the first year without my having to ask anyone for anything at all. All these experiences have taught me how miraculously one is looked after and that it is safe to trust the Universe. I may not yet be in the zone of contentment, but faith is gra
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