An except from Rabbi Brian’s upcoming book: Personalized Religion:
(Happiness,) Acceptance & Being Here.
Late 13th and early 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart said, “God wants nothing of you but the gift of a peace-filled heart.”
This is true. God wants my heart to be peace-filled.
This, I have learned, is not the same as happiness.
There is a notion on the street that God wants you to be happy all the time. That’s simply not right. (You might, after taking your religious life into your own hands, feel more peace-filled, but that’s not the same as happy.) God wants me to have a peace-filled heart, to experience all the emotions of a filled life, not for me to be constantly strung out on or looking for a hit of the drug “happiness.”
(Happy is a dangerous goal. “Happy” is a relative term, and therefore it both has limits and ends. The pursuit of constant happiness and its inevitable failure, however, does drive much of the U.S. economy.)
Peace isn’t just the absence of strife – it’s the harmony of the apparently disharmonious. A peace-filled heart is one that can contain in harmony the apparently disharmonious – happy and sad, love and hate, good and bad.
As a child, I used to fervently strive to see only the happy, to the point of denying “negative” emotions and imagining a “happy island” that someday I would reach. I’m wiser now to know that within each joy there is sadness – for example, at every wedding there is a cause for celebration that the couple found each other and there is also, while hardly ever acknowledged, a sadness that they will one day have to lose each other. I know now that there is a shadow side to every emotion and that God wants my heart to be filled, not delusional.
God wants me to be present to reality, accepting and experiencing reality as it is. To accept the things I cannot change, even if I don’t like them.
(Acceptance is not abetting, advocating, agreeing, aiding, approving, assisting, authenticating, authorizing, backing, complying, concurring, confirming, consenting, cultivating, encouraging, endorsing, furthering, liking, maintaining, permitting, promoting, ratifying, reinforcing, sanctifying, supporting, or sympathizing. Acceptance is saying, “It is what it is, and what it is, is what is.”)
To exist in the world, as it is, right now, wholly.
Jane once defined true happiness for a class I was teaching with the following:
Happiness is not things going or coming your way, but being in a relationship with reality.
That’s it. Taking reality as it is, accepting it. Exactly what Eckhart said, but in different words.
We can also sing it with the Beatles’s wording and melody, Let it be.
This truth is repackaged over and over and over again, in every language, and at least once a generation, one form of it becomes a hit. It’s the crux of the current-day bestsellers The Power of Now and Loving What Is. And, there’s reason to say it over and over again: it’s a truth, like a songbird or anything holy, that cannot be held in captivity and maintain its radiance.
It was said simply in three words by 1970s religious iconoclast Ram Dass, Be Here Now.
The truth is that this, right here, right now, is the only reality. Now. Here. Not hoping that anything will be different, but just being here with a peace-filled heart.
Lamenting, regretting, and living in the past is a denial of the splendor of the present. Fearing and overly preparing for the future does the same. We need to understand something that 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza said: “Reality and perfection are synonymous.”
With a theological bent to it, Eckhart said the same:
You might ask, ‘How can I know if something is God’s will?’ My answer is, ‘If it were not God’s will, it wouldn’t exist even for an instant; so if something happens, it must be God’s will.’
If we accept that reality is exactly as it is – then accepting that reality is exactly synonymous with God’s will isn’t a far leap at all.
Let me end with the rest of the above Eckhart quote:
If you truly enjoyed God’s will, you would feel exactly as though you were in the kingdom of heaven, whatever happened to you or didn’t happen to you.
And, if you care to, click here to see this post on the streetprophets site where this article went up last week and might have received some comments there.