A Change of Perspective
Perhaps you have heard this story before, but it is worth retelling:
A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a tiny one-room house. They were always getting in each other's way, and there was so little space they could hardly breathe! Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. "Go see the rabbi" she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.
The rabbi greeted him and said, "I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me."
And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, "We're even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn't be worse."
The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man's problem. Then he said, "Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?" "I promise," the poor man said.
The rabbi then asked the poor man: "Do you own any animals?" "Yes," he said. "I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens." "Good," the rabbi said. "When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you."
The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.
The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. "What have you done to me, Rabbi?" he cried. "It's awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!"
The rabbi listened and said calmly, "Now go home and take the chickens back outside."
The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. "The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!" he moaned. "The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!" The good rabbi said, "Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you."
So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. "What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it's like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?"
The rabbi said sweetly, "My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house." And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.
The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. "O Rabbi," he said with a big smile on his face, "we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and peaceful and we've got room to spare! What a joy!" 1
Nothing had changed in this man’s life except his perspective. He still had a wife and six children, but now their noise was acceptable and bearable. We can achieve the same contentment in our lives that this man achieved if we have the right perspective. Hazur Maharaj Ji used to say that we cannot change the weather outside, but we can put on strong boots and a warm jacket so we won’t be bothered by the storm. We cannot change the events of our life but we can adjust our attitude towards these events. In essence, we can have a positive attitude towards life or a negative one. Contentment and happiness are in our hands.
How then, do we achieve this right attitude, this positive perspective? The world is in turmoil. There is neither certainty nor peace to be found in the world except the certainty that things will always be uncertain; that we will not find contentment or happiness through our jobs, through the policies of our government nor through having more possessions. So, again, how do we find that peace of mind that we all desire?
The answer is clear. We have to find it inside ourselves. Outside there will always be unrest. Inside, if we search hard enough, we will find an ocean of contentment, a sea of peace and equilibrium. But how do we make this search? Where do we look inside? The ocean of contentment is already there within everybody. We just have to realize who we actually are. We aren’t the unrest or fears of our mind. We aren’t our worries or our anxieties. We are, at our core, Shabd – the very Lord himself. What a profound thing to realize; that our essence is the Lord. We can realize it!
We each have that same Nam inside us. It is what gives us life and sustains us. We have the grace and love of the Satguru inside. But we are continually getting lost on our journey and believe that we can achieve happiness if certain worldly desires are met. At that moment we need to remind ourselves that what we have is what he has given us. What we have is enough; we can be contented with things as they are. We just need to get rid of that extra cow and those chickens that are crowding our mind.
Those of us who have the gift of Nam have the perfect tool to focus our mind, simran. Simran will help us to empty our mind of lust, greed, anger, and all the passions that plague us. With focus comes the ability to control our emotions, to not react. The ability to control our mind doesn’t come in a week or a month. It is a lifelong struggle. But as we journey on the path and commit ourselves to the goal of stilling the mind we do find that we react less. We find that we are able to see someone else’s perspective on an issue; therefore we become less angry with them. Slowly, slowly we are changing.
Our commitment to a positive lifestyle is a huge step in the struggle to channelize our mind in a positive direction. By being vegetarian, not drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, by living a positive and honest life, we are making a statement that we are clear in our goal, clear in the direction we want our life to go. This is no small thing. Society today wants us to consume, wants us to realize that happiness comes from consumption. More, more, more is the cry that comes from every advertisement but this cry is false and misleading. Happiness comes from controlling our behaviour. It comes from our commitment to our goal of being positive and realizing that satisfaction comes from inner contentment, not outer indulgence.
Our master is always reminding us that through positive action we will be creating an atmosphere in our mind that is strong enough to withstand any and all attempts to steer us off course. Baba Ji is inside us, always pushing us in the direction of love. If we take his advice to heart and put in as much effort as we are able, then we will have the same contentment as that farmer. Nothing will have changed, but our attitude, our perspective, will be different. Now our attitude will be positive – fragrant with that atmosphere in which we will be able to enjoy His Will.
- Traditional story: retold by Aaron Zehah in https://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2292