In Buddhism, the number 10,000 is a symbol for innumerable. A well-known Buddhist phrase is “ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows,” which means that the journey of life is a continuous flux of difficulties. Every person’s experience of life includes a mix of joys and sorrows. A person may think that the good life is one with more joys and fewer sorrows. What percentage would you be willing to live with? 80% joys, 20% sorrows? 60%/40%? Could you live with 50%/50%?
What if living a good life has little to do with joys or sorrows, but how we respond to them? People often sabotage their happiness through theiraversion to sorrows and clinging to joys.
We typically divide up our experience of life into two main categories: the “Want” category, and the “Don’t Want” category. For example, we “want” health, financial freedom, success, love, security, and happiness; we “don’t want” illness, financial stress, failure, loss, and suffering.
It is easy to make the “Don’t Want” category, wrong. We do not want unpleasant experiences or sorrows in our lives, and we imagine that our happiness depends on either avoiding or eliminating them. But consider that it is our adverse reaction to sorrows that cause our greatest suffering. You will have hardships and difficulties in this world. It is the way life is. Yes of course, we can sometimes cause or avoid hardships, but even if we lived life flawlessly, we would still have setbacks, disappointments, adversities, struggles, and misfortunes.
The good news is that our peace and wellbeing is not dependent upon the absence of life's sorrows. When me make our sorrows wrong or the enemy of our happiness, we are adding suffering to our lives. Much of life is outside our control, but we can metabolize life circumstances and experiences to advance our well-being. Life is only what happens; your experience of life is what you make of it through your mindsets, actions, and choices.
Whatever comes your way, no event or circumstance can strip you of the choice to honor your highest truth, act according to virtue and wisdom, or learn something valuable for your life journey. In fact, what truly matters most deeply in life can never be threatened by any circumstance.
We can also add suffering to our lives by how we relate to our ten thousand joys. We want our joys and pleasant experiences to be permanent. This desire will always lead to suffering because the human situation is characterized by impermanence. So even our ten thousand joys are tainted by the underlying dissatisfaction of knowing, at a gut level, that the experience will not last. The fear of losing what we have is woven in and around every joy that comes our way. We fearfully grasp, clutch, clench and try to control the good things in our lives.
A fundamental reality of our existence is change. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Holding all things loosely is a significant aspect of living life well. It is not allowing things to own you. It's giving just due to anything and everything that is part of your life but not clutching to it beyond that.
True wellbeing is not escaping the "Don't want" category or clinging to what arises in the "Want" category, but it's giving up these categories altogether. Life is always and only one thing – an invitation to embrace what matters most. That invitation is laced through each of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows. Instead of spurning the one and clinging to the other, we can acknowledge each as they arise and then let them go.
© Jim Palmer, 2019. All Rights Reserved.