Lots of modern day “self-help” advice as well as ancient philosopher wisdom comes down to a basic premise: contentment is found in actually wanting what you already have. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s how sages through the ages have expressed this sentiment:
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. ― Epicurus
He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ― Socrates
Being satisfied with what we already have is a magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted, and inspired way. ― Pema Chodron
So, that may be all fine and good, you say, but the million-dollar question then becomes: how?
I bring this up because, as a tarot reader, I’d say 99% of my readings focus on trying to delineate, find insight about, or otherwise determine how my client can reach an outcome that he or she wants. Whether it’s hope for finally finding a fulfilling relationship, ideas for a more rewarding career, or simply how to get along better with a family member, the bottom line is that in tarot readings as in life, we’re looking for a way to reach something that we don’t currently have.
This is human nature, of course, but, the thoughts presented at the beginning of this post encourage us to take a step back and think to ourselves: what if I just accepted things as they already are? This type of thinking, for me as an American, is so counterintuitive to some ingrained cultural values (self-improvement, getting ahead, “making the most of yourself” etc. etc.) that it almost feels uncomfortable just typing it. A deeply-rooted voice rises up and says: “What?! How dare you! Never become complacent. Never rest. Never accept less than you deserve. Always keep climbing.” The idea that I might take a moment to consider that I can be content, accepting, and even possibly embrace what I already have right now in this moment, seems not only absurd, but virtually impossible.
And then there’s the other question that rises up: what if what I have right now truly is unacceptable? Is any experience beyond acceptable? One may rightfully ask the question: should I be “happy” that I’m without a job? Or: should I “find contentment” in the fact that I just got diagnosed with cancer?
Are we being asked here to simply put on a brave face and pretend everything’s ok when we’re going through an honest-to-goodness life crisis?
Personally, I think that the core of this advice hinges on an ability to stop resisting what life throws at us. There’s no denying that each of us will inevitably face our share of challenges, crises, and heartache, and oftentimes a lot of these events are beyond our ability to control or stop them from happening. That being the reality of life on this planet, the advice here takes on a new shade of grace.
How might my compassion for myself and others change, if I stopped fighting against what’s going on right now and stepped back to be open to exactly what’s happening in this moment, right now, and exactly what I have (or don’t have)?”
Naturally, in life it’s important to have goals, ambition, motivation, and try to make your way. But in the meantime, how does life feel to you? If living in the moment is miserable, and your happiness is constantly pushed off into a distant and hazy “Once I have/achieve/become “X”, then I’ll finally be happy,” you might find that nothing is ever enough to bring you the contentment you imagine will be yours.
Is there a way to find contentment in the place you’re at right now, while you simultaneously look ahead to achieve what you would like to have going forward?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in the nearly three years since I divorced my partner of 10 years and began a new life as a single mother of three preschool age children, has been the challenge of finding compassion and respect for myself as being good enough already. In these years, in all my insecurities and criticisms of myself, I’ve kept trying to find the “right” strategy that would help me finally become the “right” person that would somehow magically be doing the “right” things to finally be accepted by the “right” people. Funny thing is that a target like this is a moving target, because someone who doesn’t think they’re good enough already, will never be good enough. The bar keeps rising, and in the meantime we miss the whole point: just like contentment comes from wanting what we already have, loving ourselves comes from accepting who we are, right now, already, without any adjustments or improvements.
Another thought-provoking statement from Pema Chodron is: “The desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression against yourself.”
While Chodron’s teachings refer to her particular practice of Buddhism and meditation, these are themes for living, and tarot teaches us a lot about these polarities. It’s been said that a tarot deck is a reflection of everything we contain inside of ourselves: dark and light, passive and aggressive, emotional and rational, harmonious and destructive. When we can accept ourselves and our experiences in a wholistic way, a way in which we don’t try to eradicate that which is uncomfortable but rather curiously open to it and seek to understand what the experience can teach us, we have a more compassionate approach towards life.
In closing, I’ll draw three cards to answer the question:
How can we find contentment in our lives and be happy with what we have, when we are facing a crisis that seems to be destroying everything?
Here we have the mourning of the 5 of Cups, book-ended by two cards of two: Wands and Cups. The middle card signifies this experience of crisis and loss. We will all be called to mourn losses at different times in our lives, and the grieving process will be different for each experience. The important message is similar to the one underlying this post: “acceptance.” When the 5 of Cups appears in readings, I advise my clients to examine not only what they are mourning over, but whether or not they’re even consciously grieving the loss, or trying to avoid the pain that it provokes. The promise of the 5 of Cups is that when the sadness is over and the grieving is complete, there are still two brand-new cups (representing new opportunities for filling your heart) standing in waiting. In this spread we see those two cups jumping over into the card the Two of Cups.
Here we’re being reminded that life is cyclical: on the left, new dreams, new hopes, essentially “wanting what we don’t already have.” In the middle, loss, heartbreak, grief. In the end, sharing, love, balance, harmony. Everything is contained in every moment. Life is what is. When we can embrace the full range of experiences, we can feel faith in knowing that life is constant change: nothing ever stays the same. We can accept what we have now, because we know that what we’ll have in the future will be different. Maybe better, maybe worse, but always right where we’re at.
As a practical exercise when trying to accept a situation you currently face but don’t want, you can use the questions below from Mike Robbins (excerpted from his article Want What You Have) and draw a tarot card to answer each of them, then journal your thoughts and feedback:
- What good is here that I’m currently not seeing?
- What is this situation teaching me that I’m grateful for?
- Why is this happening for (not to) me?
- What would it look like if I surrendered to this instead of fighting against it?
- What aspect of myself can I appreciate more deeply as a way of loosening the grip of this issue in my life?
Your thoughts? Please share in the comments!