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When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of distress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without any pain. – Rumi
When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’ – the Dalai Lama
He who is contented is rich. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. – Lao Tzu
No matter who you are, someone else will always have more. Yet on the contrary, most of us have exactly what we need at all times. The fact that we may be unaware of this does not diminish its reality.The grass is always greener on the other side, or so the saying goes.
If you pay attention, you can even see these spiritual truths play themselves out in the lives of animals. We have two cats with wildly differing personalities. Scout, a perspicacious tabby, was rescued as a newborn and has lived the life of a king. He has been pampered, coddled and adored since birth. An exclusively indoor cat, Scout has never had to want or fear for anything. Bella, our exotic homeless black and white beauty, came to our door two years ago, emaciated, lactating and frightened. She had much to fear living on the streets, starving and near death.
After living with both cats, I began to observe how these two animals react so very differently to the same situations. When we take them to the veterinarian, Scout stays calm, relaxed and happy. Bella just about jumps out of her fur with fear, which makes her life so much more difficult. Scout trusts us, content that we will look out for his safety. Bella fears every minute of the trip, worrying about what will happen next. She doesn’t trust, because bad things have happened to her.
I often think that God must see me like this, when I don’t trust and become fearful like Bella. If I would truly listen to His words, I think, I could be at peace:
For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. – Philippians 4:11
O Son of Spirit! Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 8.
I observe another example of contentment when it comes to feeding the cats. Scout has a sensitive stomach. He has to eat the boring dry cat food with no fun flavor enhancements or additives. Bella gets the yummy cat food. Because of Scout’s trust in us, he contentedly eats the food we put out for him, even though he probably prefers the other. Sometimes I see him looking at Bella’s food, but as soon as I say, “No, Scout,” he turns away immediately and won’t touch it. If I were him I would think that wasn’t fair, but Scout seems content that we know what is good for him.
If people could have that kind of trust and contentment, we would be much happier:
O Quintessence of Passion! Put away all covetousness and seek contentment; for the covetous hath ever been deprived, and the contented hath ever been loved and praised. – Ibid., p. 39.
O Son of Man! Upon the tree of effulgent glory I have hung for thee the choicest fruits, wherefore hast thou turned away and contented thyself with that which is less good? Return then unto that which is better for thee in the realm on high. – Ibid., p. 9.
Scout’s innocence reminds me of the innocence of a child. When we were young and all our needs were met, we were content and trusting. When the trials of life descend upon us, though, we discover that bad things can happen. Then we can learn a more deep and abiding trust—a trust and contentment in God that comes as a result of our own experience, understanding, and maturity. This deeper, more spiritual contentment does not depend on outward circumstance, and cannot be taken away. Though our lives go through changes, and they always do, we can remain calm and serene if we trust in the providence and the love of God.
We are blessed beyond measure. We are exactly where we need to be at any given moment, and everything we need is already inside of us. With contentment we realize that we have enough and we are enough:
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self subsisting. – Ibid., p. 6.
In this Valley he feeleth the winds of divine contentment blowing from the plane of the spirit. He burneth away the veils of want, and with inward and outward eye, perceiveth within and without all things the day of: “God will compensate each one out of His abundance.” From sorrow he turneth to bliss, from anguish to joy. His grief and mourning yield to delight and rapture.
Although to outward view, the wayfarers in this Valley may dwell upon the dust, yet inwardly they are throned in the heights of mystic meaning; they eat of the endless bounties of inner significances, and drink of the delicate wines of the spirit. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 29-30.
Contentment is not conditioned on time, place or circumstance, but in the trust of God’s love and grace.
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