Someday, I'm going to be happy! Yes, some day I will have all the things I want, all the money I want, all the time I want. I will be in the place I want to be, eating my favourite food with my favourite people and my favourite music will be playing. The weather will be perfect - not too cold and not too hot. The sun will be shining - not so bright that I have to squint
but enough to be warming and lovely. And then... yes then, I will be happy. For about one second... because something will change and I will not be able to hold onto that remarkably set of circumstances that made me happy. And then I will be unhappy.
A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small 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 a strange question. "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 we've got room to spare! What a joy!"
Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets, and I love her especially for the way she eminds us of the beauty in the mundane - of the wonders in the everyday things we pass by without noticing, without appreciating, without falling in love. "What did you notice?" She asks, and she describes with love and wonder the simple things around her - the simple things that
viewed with appreciation and gratitude are great miracles
"What did you hear?"
"What did you admire?"
"What astonished you?"
"What would you like to see again?"
"What was most tender?"
"What was most wonderful?"
So often, we cannot appreciate what is around us until it is gone. The simple moments of quiet and a bit of room to move are unnoticed until they are filled with the bodies and sounds and smells of farm animals in the small house.
Buddhism teaches to ask Mary Oliver's questions - it teaches us how to learn to watch the world with love - how to be grateful for this moment and everything in this moment. Suffering comes - teaches that great tradition - from grasping and clinging onto the illusions of what will make us happy. Happiness comes from learning to appreciate the wonders that are already here.
I'd like to invite you - as you are willing - to come up and light a candle for something small and very everyday. Something that you noticed, admired, were astonished by, saw as
tender, saw as wonderful. Just a few short words please so we can give everyone a chance if they want to come up.
We can learn to ask ourselves Mary Oliver's questions. We can learn to love the life we have, rather than long painfully for the life we think we'll love.
We can learn to love what we've got before it's gone.