The Danger of a Comfortable Life
The other day a friend mentioned that he had plans to help an acquaintance pack a u-haul trailer later that afternoon. Curious, I asked about the circumstances. This person, my friend said, has a degree in petroleum engineering, but had refused the jobs offered to him when he completed school because he had come to question his willingness to participate in the petroleum industry. After a couple years out here in Colorado, where he has been working seasonally, his family convinced him to return to the east coast to take a job with a huge gas company. The way they reasoned it to him was this, that if he worked a good job for a few years he could save up enough money to go back to school and do what he really wants.
I got the wim-wams all over when I heard this. On the surface the proposal sounds reasonable enough, but I sensed a danger in it that caused me to feel concerned for this young man, even though I’ve never met him. I know only too well how easily we are deceived by our thoughts. I have seen in myself and in countless others that we are put to sleep, that we are made to drift unconsciously through our lives, often for many years, by the simplest and most primitive tricks that conditioned mind brings to bear. Too often at the monastery someone would show up in the midst of spiritual catastrophe after two or even three decades spend blindly following the imperatives of their social programming rather than the inspiration of their hearts. Their stories where all pretty much the same. While they were in school, these folks would tell me, they maintained a fiery independence and a sweet sense of idealism and hope. As they graduated, however, they knuckled under to the pressure of their families and to the long habit of their progenitors and chose the “good job” over their longing to travel or in other ways to experience life, and over the necessity that they deepen their understanding of themselves and what they truly wanted before choosing their path. When our minds are clear it appears that they will always remain clear, and so it was easy for these people to persuade themselves that they would remain committed to their values, that they would work for the change they envisioned within the system and somehow maintain their passion while they enjoyed the comfort of a prosperous life. We give ourselves more credit than we deserve, however. Conditioned mind is too powerful in the lives of most people to allow for this level of freedom without sliding gradually into dependence and all the invisible suffering that goes with it. Twenty or thirty years later they would wake up, saying, “What have I done with my life?” And these are the lucky ones. The less fortunate never wake up, and go on trying and failing to find real happiness within conditioned mind for the rest of their days.
When I express this point of view, which I often do, I am sometimes called “cynical”. The label fits, I suppose, but I would rather say that I’m being realistic. Too many people on this planet — nearly all of them, I would suggest — are pursuing lives that they never really chose, that were chosen for them by their social conditioning, and are missing the whole point of being alive here on this planet as we spin together through space. The point is not to be comfortable. The point is not to have a lot of stuff or a fat bank account so that you feel secure. The point is most emphatically not to be good or to do the right thing. The point of being here is to LIVE.
The young man referred to earlier started his drive back to Michigan today in order to begin his new job. I so wish I could have had a gentle word with him before he left. It’s doubtful that would have done much good, it’s true — I would have but little influence with him in comparison with conditioned mind — but it would have felt good to try. Perhaps the thing I feel most grateful for in my own life is that there were people who encouraged me to think for myself and to deeply consider what my heart was asking for when I was his age. What I want most to tell him is this, that if he finds he truly feels called to a life of prosperity, and that if he wishes to raise a family or whatever goes with that, then that’s wonderful and I hope he will follow that path with his whole heart. If he doubts, however, then I would wish for him a critical eye and enough patience to see him through to a place of clarity. Comfort is one of the most seductive things going, and it is very far from being the same thing as happiness. I would hate for him to lose himself along the way.