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The Dao of Contentment

by Cindy Wigglesworth

The "Dao" (or "Tao") of something is the natural way of it...its true nature.  The Dao of life consists of ebbs and flows, like the yin and yang symbol.  Within the dark is the seed of light.  Within the light is the seed of dark.  And in the ever-flowing beautiful relationship between opposites we find our reality.  In this philosophy it is up to us to find the natural way of things.  And once we find it we can live a life of contentment and, paradoxically, high effectiveness.

So what is the true nature of "contentment"?  And, as task-minded Westerners we then ask - what do I need to do to get it?

Contentment is defined as "the state of being happy and satisfied" by Merriam Webster.   The Urban Dictionary defines it as "The state of mind you reach when you look at your life in all it's imperfection, and say 'good enough'." 

So contentment seems to involve having an accepting attitude toward whatever is occurring.  A prerequisite for contentment appears to be a willingness to let things be - rather than trying to make them be different.  It appears to be a state of nonattachment to outcomes - having no expectations for how things "should be."  It is a state of not "shoulding" (smile) on anyone or anything.  Therefore Rule #1 is "No SHOULDING!"

So a peaceful, happy, steady state can be accomplished when we relinquish all "shoulds."  How simple that sounds!

The Dao of the world is both simple and complex.  It is complex in that everything seems to involve an ever-changing balance between opposites:   good and evil; pain and joy; health and sickness; and so on.  We feel like a ball being batted between many giant tennis racquets.  How do we stop being the victim of this "back and forth" pressure?  The simple answer is, we choose to see the back and forth as perfect just as it is.    "Go with the flow" and smile.  Smile at the good.  Smile at the bad.  Just smile.  This is the Dao of it.  So simple...yet not easy to do!

Furthermore, what if things are clearly NOT as they "should be."  What if we perceive great injustice and cruelty in the world?  What if passively accepting "what is" just causes more people to suffer?  Maybe it causes me to suffer injury, death or humiliation?  What is the Dao of Contentment then?

The Dao of Contentment is to smile and accept what is, and then act or not act, without concern for anything other than our own good intention and best effort.  
In this way we can be happy with Life's circumstances at all times...even while we are doing our best to change them.  

Explaining a bit further...
When we aren't happy there is one of two causes.  
1. We are unhappy due to an ego-based expectation of how things should be...yet no one is truly being abused. In this case no action is required. 
2. We are unhappy because we perceive harm is being done to ourselves or others and we feel we must set boundaries and fight against such a wrong.  

What is The Dao of Contentment in this second situation?

Discerning the source of our discontent is the challenge.  The experience of many wisdom teachers would say that we can learn to listen deeply to inner wisdom (what some might call the Divine) and thereby determine the right time and way to act.  Like all things in the yin-yang balance of the world, there is a time for action and a time for non-action. 

Let us say it is a time for action - how can we stay content in such a situation?  How can we fight for justice or a better future and be at peace.  A great wisdom teaching, the Bhagavad-Gita addresses exactly this situation.  We can choose to be grateful to Life for bringing us this perfect opportunity to discern wisely and act from love.   We can dedicate our action to the highest and best outcome for all concerned.  What we cannot do is walk away.  We have been placed at this crossroads and we see some wrong taking place.  

Thus we take action when it is needed.  If you are in the USA - that means you will hopefully take seriously your responsibility to vote your conscience.  Perhaps you will engage actively in the election process.  And you will learn to breathe and let things go. We release the outcomes to the Universe.  As the Beatles said, "Let it be." 

And through this attitude of mind and heart we can remain content in the midst of all things.  Content while doing.  Content while not doing.  Content in good times and in bad.  We can strip away our attachments to what is unimportant.  And we can act appropriately on what is important.   We can feel the energies within us rise and fall.  We can discern when to move and when to wait.  We can act from Love and Inner Wisdom.  And then we can let it be.  And all the while we can smile. 

How can we learn to hear this inner wisdom?  We can develop this ability by dutifully following any of the meditative, contemplative, centering traditions.  It takes disciplined effort - until it is finally effortless.  If you are of a faith tradition, drill deeply into the mystical traditions of that faith and you will find this inner voice.  If you prefer a secular path you can choose a non-theistic meditative or reflective practice.  I recommend combining any of these mystical, meditative practices with therapy.  I believe it takes most of us several years of therapy to really quiet the voices of our family of origin baggage and to work through our own ego inflations or neuroses.  Therapy and inner spiritual work can bring the inner voice of eternal wisdom...the voice of The Dao... into our lives. 

In the end we can learn to live with "the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference"   (the Serenity Prayer).  May you find your natural flow and maintain contentment all the years of your life!

 

Cindy Wigglesworth, MA is the bestselling author of SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence (SelectBooks, 2012), a book that won a Hoffer Award for best spiritual book of 2013. Her SQ21 spiritual intelligence self-assessment has created a validated and diversity-appropriate way of having spiritual conversations in the workplace. John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, calls SQ “the next frontier in leadership.” Cindy founded her business, now called Deep Change, in 2000 after working at ExxonMobil for 20 years in Human Resources management.  She teaches leadership development and focuses on the multiple intelligences required for success in our personal life and businesses. Cindy has spoken at numerous conferences including: Conscious Capitalism, Integral Leadership in Action, Business and Consciousness, Spirit in Business, Spirit at Work and the World Business Academy.  Cindy has appeared on Oprah, PBS, Fox26 News, TEDxLowerEastSide, TEDxSonomaCounty and numerous radio programs and conferences. Her blog can be found on the Her website is www.deepchange.com.  She can be reached at cindy@deepchange.com.

 

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