I Have Enough: A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life

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In “A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life,” Lama Marut introduces a simple set of exercises that offer a revolutionary, and yet wholly practical, approach to creating and sustaining happiness in a frenetic modern age.
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Among the most revolutionary actions a person could take in a society like ours is really no action at all. Just stop. Don’t buy any more stuff. Don’t even want to buy stuff. Just be content.

Transform problems into opportunities; set yourself free from fear and anxiety; unburden yourself of past resentment; create an action plan for true happiness. In A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life (Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing, 2012), Lama Marut voices the next generation of spiritualism by addressing today’s need for fearless honesty, practicality and simplicity, and offering meditations and action plans designed to incite true, unpackaged happiness. The following passage is from Chapter 1, “Burning With Desire: Consumerism and Its Alternative—Radical Contentment.” 

Getting Happy

I grew up in a religious household. My father and grandfather were both ordained Baptist ministers. Our meals and bedtimes were occasions for prayer, Mom led us in regular Bible study, and the family went to church all the time—three times a week, at least (Sunday morning’s traditional service, Sunday evening for “youth group,” and Wednesday evening for some long-forgotten reason). And nobody was that happy about it.

We kids didn’t want to go. We had to take baths and put on uncomfortable clothes and were precluded from watching television or playing with our friends during the time we were in church. So we were all crying. This irritated our parents, who were not only unhappy with us kids but, soon enough, were fighting with one another.

Then we’d get to church and we’d sit for an hour and a half in those intentionally uncomfortable pews they make especially and only for churches and synagogues. Dad more or less immediately fell asleep; the kids fidgeted the whole time; and Mom stayed busy trying to contain the fidgeting kids. Everyone was looking at their watches to see if it was almost over yet. We could hardly wait until the religious part of the week was finished so that we could go back to the more enjoyable aspects of our lives.

What’s wrong with this picture? Something was seriously askew. Why, if the purpose of religion is to bring contentment, happiness, and joy, can the practice of religion seem so tedious to so many of us?

Religion is not supposed to be mind-numbingly dreary. If the goal of a spiritual life is to bring its practitioners to happiness, the means to that goal cannot be to make them as bored and uncomfortable as possible until—presto chango!—suddenly somehow everyone’s joyful.

I know that everyone’s experience of religion was not like the one I had growing up. Once or twice a year, we got to go visit our sister congregation in the African-American community. It was eye-opening to me to see people having fun in church—singing, dancing, shouting, and waving their arms in the air. They even had an expression for it: “Get happy.” As in, “We go to church to ‘get happy.’” I remember thinking, “How come we can’t have fun in church like they do?”

It’s very important to get this straight from the start: The purpose of a spiritual practice is indeed to “get happy.” And if it’s an authentic tradition that has lasted for thousands of years, you should be getting happier by putting into practice what the tradition teaches. If you’re not getting happier, it’s almost a 100 percent certainty that it’s not a problem with the time-tested religion. It’s not like religion doesn’t work. You’re just not doing it right. You’re not practicing your spirituality properly.

Among other things, this means that in order to derive the fruit of a spiritual way of life—the happiness it will bring—one has to actually practice it, on a daily basis. We can’t expect to get much out of a spiritual discipline that we access in a cursory, reluctant way once a week for an hour or so, or only on two or three religious holidays per year. At various junctures in this book, we’ll talk about the components of a daily practice, and in the epilogue we’ll summarize what should be included every day in order to really get the juice out of your spiritual training. But unless there is a daily discipline, you can’t really expect your spiritual life to do what it can do for you.

So if you are connected to an authentic spiritual tradition, a good gauge of how well you’re practicing is to ask yourself: Are you getting happier? Are you getting closer, little by little, to the promise and the end of all religious traditions—the ultimate state of peace, joy, and happiness? Achieving that goal won’t happen automatically. It takes regular, sustained, and substantial effort on the part of the practitioner.

In the Eastern traditions they talk about the goal as nirvana (the “blowing out” or “extinguishing” of all unhappiness) or moksha, “freedom” or “liberation” from suffering. When one is free of unhappiness, it is said, one is left with perfect bliss.

The Western religions have also always promised such a result at the end of the path. But at least in my experience, some of us in the West seem to have forgotten that this is the point of religion.

As I was sitting, bored, in church or Sunday school, I often heard about “heaven.” I was told that if I went to church and listened to sermons (and didn’t fidget so much), I’d go to heaven after I died.

“So what will it be like in heaven?” I’d ask the Sunday school teacher.

“Well, there are golden roads and pearly gates, and you’ll have wings, and you’ll sit on a cloud, and you’ll play a harp all day.”

A harp? Don’t they have any electric guitars up there? Heaven didn’t sound like that much fun either!

When I was a kid and heard adults describing the goal of religion, no one ever really emphasized the idea that you would be in ecstatic bliss the whole time. (In fact, I don’t recall anyone ever even using the word “bliss” in my Baptist church, except maybe when talking about things you shouldn’t do.) No one mentioned that in heaven we would never again be unhappy, or troubled, or worried. That we would have no problems, or anxieties, or disappointments. That we would enter a state where everything was perfect forever. 

It was only in the so-called Negro spirituals that I got even an inkling of what the real goal of spirituality was:

O Lord! Shout for Joy!
O Lord! Shout for Joy!
Early in the morning
Shout for joy
Early in the morning
Shout for joy

O Lord! Shout for Joy!
O Lord! Shout for Joy!
Feeling like shouting
Shout for joy
Feeling like shouting

O Lord! Shout for Joy!
O Lord! Shout for Joy!
Feeling like praying
Shout for joy
Feeling like praying
Shout for joy

O Lord! Shout for Joy!
O Lord! Shout for Joy!
Now I’m getting happy
Shout for joy
Now I’m getting happy
Shout for joy!

Perhaps it was only those who really understood the pain of life—the slaves and their ancestors, but also the poor white folks who sang similar hymns in their churches—who really understood and longed for the alternative that religion was offering.

Maybe one of the reasons so many people have stopped going to church, synagogue, or mosque in modern Western culture is that they’ve forgotten the goal (ultimate happiness), and, because they haven’t invested time and energy in a real religious practice, they do not experience the means to the goal as happiness-producing. So they turn to other avenues as outlets for the pursuit of happiness—crazy hours on the job, consumerism, serial boyfriends or girlfriends, exotic vacations, and so on.

The serious, dedicated practice of a spiritual life should be fun. And as you progress in your practice, it should get funner. And finally one should reach the ultimate goal, which in the past has been called “salvation” or “heaven” or “nirvana,” but which we might think of as . . . the funnest!

Fight the Power! Be Content.

So the goal of an authentic spiritual practice of any variety is to stop suffering and attain perfect happiness. And on the way to perfect happiness, one should be getting happier and happier. It is, as I’ve said above, a very good measure to how well you understand what one needs to do and how assiduously you are practicing your religion—“Is my life improving? Am I waking up with more optimism rather than dread? Am I getting gradually happier?”

In order to achieve ultimate happiness, we have to start with lesser versions. Did you really think that you’d just be unhappy for a long time and then suddenly become happy? Generally things don’t work that way. One doesn’t become a concert-level musician overnight, without years and years of lessons and rehearsing. Change occurs slowly and gradually, in small increments—and through regular practice. And that’s how it works with the quest for happiness too.

In Sanskrit texts there is a helpful vocabulary for this progression toward the ultimate goal of spiritual practice. We start with santosha (“contentment”), about which we’ll say more in a minute. Santosha leads to sukha, usually translated as “happiness,” that deep-seated sense of well-being that leads you to wake up looking forward to each new day. Sukha eventually evolves into mudita, or “joy,” the kind of irrepressible elation we see in people like the present Dalai Lama. Eventually and with continued efforts, mudita morphs into the highest form of happiness, our goal in life—ananda or “bliss, ecstasy.”

The starting point, the “entry level” for true and deep happiness, is santosha or “contentment.” It is impossible to achieve the higher forms of happiness until and unless we attain contentment. Many of us seem to resist this fact. We seem to think that we can somehow become happy without first learning how to just be content.

“So what more do I need to obtain in order to achieve contentment?” It is this very question that has thus far precluded us from attaining it. We don’t need to get anything more to be content. We need to be happy with what we have. And when that happens, we are content. And until that happens we will never be content.

I think there are basically two ways to think about contentment. The first is to stay happy in the moment—to be content with the present. Everything is fine right now—here and now. And for people living charmed lives, like most of us do, that shouldn’t be too hard, at least most of the time. For people like us, things actually are just fine in the here and now about 99 percent of the time.

Contentment would be a harder sell if we were speaking to any of the millions of people in our world who are living totally marginal economic lives, or to those in the middle of a war zone. But for people like most of us—people who have enough to eat; who have air-conditioning and central heating; who have security, family and friends, and a good education—for most of us, most of the time, everything is pretty much fine. Isn’t it?

I used to spend a lot of time in India, where I would often rent an apartment in one of the finer neighborhoods of Pune. In India, poverty isn’t segregated the way it is in the West. The poor live on the same streets as the wealthy, and many would ask for help as the wealthy (of which I, the beneficiary of a generous US scholarship, certainly was one) walked by on the way to or from their homes.

There were just too many needy people to help. So I would ask the advice of my upper-middle-class Indian neighbors, who had developed a sort of survival technique for their consciences. They recommended that I choose one of the many poor as my sort of “designated beggar” and at least give a little something to him every day.

Anyway, when I feel sort of crabby and find myself kvetching about the things that go wrong in my life, I sometimes bring to mind my “designated beggar” from Pune. I picture him in front of me and then force myself to tell him—someone who is living in a cardboard box on the street, with inadequate food, rags for clothes, and so on—what’s upsetting me today. My “problems” are usually so trivial compared to his that it’s not long before I’m too embarrassed to feel that upset about them anymore. From a comparative perspective, the “first-world problems” we usually complain about are nothing.

We’re usually scab-pickers. You know how it is, when you have a little scab on your hand or arm and you just can’t leave it alone? Your whole body is fine, but you obsess about the little scab. Our problems are mostly like little scabs compared to the vast majority of things that are just fine.

Of course, there are times when, even for the very luckiest of us, things aren’t OK. If you’ve just been hit by a truck, or received bad news about your health from the doctor, or just lost a loved one, things at that moment are not fine. You are in the middle of what Buddhism calls “the suffering of suffering”— unmistakable pain. You are in the disaster instead of being between disasters.

We’ll deal more with “the suffering of suffering” later, but for people like most of us, most of the time, we are in that in-between state where everything is pretty much just fine. Everything actually is OK, but we’re just discontent and unhappy anyway. We wish we were somewhere else or sometime else. We daydream nostalgically about times gone by, or, even more often, we anticipate times that have not yet come. We’re almost never content with being in the here and now.

So that’s one level of santosha. The road to happiness begins with just staying happy in the present. Which is hard—there’s no doubt about it—no matter how well things are going for us. If you don’t believe me, just try it. Just try to spend a day, even an hour or ten minutes, being content in the present place and time. We’ll return to the difficulty of “being here, now” and offer some tricks for cultivating happiness in the present later in this book.

The second kind of santosha is also difficult—maybe even more so now than ever. It is to be content with what you have. Contentment with one’s things (and also with one’s experiences—the Lonely Planet countries visited on holiday; the television shows, DVDs, and feature films watched; the sexual escapades enjoyed; and so on) has gotten even more difficult for those of us living now in the maw of unbridled consumer capitalism.

Staying content with what we have should be a lot easier for us than it seems to be most of the time. For people living unbelievably blessed lives like most of us, it is a little surprising (when we stop to think about it) and also more than a little shameful to always want even more than we already have—more consumer goods, more exotic vacations, more and better relationships, more promotions at work, more entertainment experiences.

But we also have to recognize that, at every turn, our own worst tendencies are encouraged and exacerbated. In case you haven’t noticed, the whole economic structure is arrayed to convince us that we don’t have enough. All the time and from every angle—from the television, radio, billboards, and internet ads—we are bombarded with the same message: “Don’t be satisfied. You need more.”

In order to get even the starter-kit version of happiness that is santosha, we are going to have to swim upstream from the flow of the dominant and all-pervasive forces aligned against us. A spiritual renegade should not strive to become well adjusted in a society where the economy is powered by discontent. We’re going to have to fight the power if we want to be happy. We’re going to have to resist the siren song of consumer capitalism.

And it is the power. To fight the power, we have to recognize it as the power. Most of the time we’re so immersed in and bedazzled by it that we don’t even see how all-encompassing it is. We have to pay attention, especially during those critical moments when the real face of the power peeks out from behind one of its many masks. One of those times occurred in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (“9/11”). Do you remember? Thousands of innocent people killed, an entire nation traumatized, and what did we hear from some of our leaders? “Don’t let the terrorists win! Don’t be afraid! Return to the malls and resume shopping!”

The dominant power we live under is not democracy or some other noble ideal—it is consumerism! And we are constantly encouraged by this power to be dissatisfied with our present lives and circumstances. This is, in fact, the essence of the consumer-capitalist society we live in—to never stop wanting, acquiring, devouring; to never be happy with what we currently have. We are bombarded daily by messages ranging from television commercials to pop-ups on the internet to political propaganda, all of which exhort us to desire and to buy more . . . and more, and more, without end, without satiety.

Contentment is the antithesis of the consumerist value system at the center of our current culture. And it is sine qua non of happiness, its essential precondition. Without contentment, we can never be happy.

So what does that tell you about our shopping-mall culture? Your unhappiness is its life’s blood! Rebelling against a force like this is just an expression of sanity; remaining complacent is a recipe for certain grief. Among the most revolutionary actions a person could take in a society like ours is really no action at all. Just stop. Don’t buy any more stuff. Don’t even want to buy stuff. Just be content. 

Whenever we feel dissatisfied with our material lives, we might want to get back in touch with the hard facts. Go to globalrichlist.com, enter your annual income, and find out how you rank in the world. You’ll be amazed by how high on the hog you are living.

Check out a few of the stats:

• The average income in the United States is the second highest in the world. (Only Luxembourg’s is higher.)

• The 20 percent of the world’s people living in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of total private consumption expenditures, while the poorest 20 percent consume a minuscule 1.3 percent of the total.

• The richest fifth consume 45 percent of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth, 5 percent.

• The wealthiest 20 percent consume 58 percent of total energy, the poorest fifth, less than 4 percent.

• Two billion people in our world live on one dollar per day, and, according to some statistics, 50 percent suffer from malnutrition.

And on it goes. These statistics are not meant to make us feel guilty. They are meant to make us aware of the reality of our lives. We should call them to mind when we succumb to the temptation of thinking we somehow don’t have enough.

I have invented a mantra—a set of sacred words, a prayer, or a magical spell—that I impart to my students to help them achieve santosha. You can call it the “Contentment Mantra.” You say it over and over again—especially when tempted by ads for new products and billboards for the latest blockbuster movie. And when you believe what the mantra is saying, you will have contentment.

Like most mantras, the Contentment Mantra has some Sanskrit in it (to let you know it’s a mantra). But it also has English in it so you know what it means. Here it is. Repeat it out loud:

Om, I have enough, ah hum!

Om” is the traditional way to begin a mantra; it means “here comes a mantra.” “Ah hum” is one way to signal the end of the mantra; it means “the mantra’s now finished.” That’s the Sanskrit part.

“I have enough” means exactly what it says: “I have enough. I have enough money. I have enough clothes. I have enough cars. I have enough room in my apartment or house. I have enough friends. I have enough success at the job. I have enough entertainment experiences.” We have enough.

Say the Contentment Mantra over and over, all day long. When you believe it, you’ll have santosha and you’ll be on the road to the higher levels of happiness. But until you believe it, you’ll never have contentment and won’t even have begun fulfilling the very purpose of your life.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life by Lama Marut, published by Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012.

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