Many years ago, my husband and I were cleaning our 1967 VW camper in preparation for a road trip to California (during which, as it happened, we met Babaji for the first time). After fixing it up, we added a final touch – a poster of a smiling Meher Baba with these words at the bottom: Don’t worry. Be happy. It was a charming, uplifting message (and a popular poster at the time). What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was actually a teaching, an instruction.
Living happily without worry was certainly not my usual response to life. I learned early in life that worrying about things meant you cared; if something was important, you worried about how it would turn out – as if worry could actually help you get what you wanted. Years ago, someone in the Centre office wrote daily quotes on a chalkboard by the office door. One I’ve always remembered said: “Worrying works; 99% of the things I worried about didn’t happen.”
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. As we know, life brings us all kinds of things. What would happen if we could be happy regardless of what those things are?
I have a letter from Babaji dated 1983, beginning – in capital letters: DON’T WORRY. EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT. I understood what he meant, but worrying was an established lifelong habit. How could I change it? Most of us try one way or another to control our lives so we get the good stuff and avoid the bad; we want to find a place of safety and comfort. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re trying to find happiness and peace, yet our habits often lead us in another direction.
Breaking lifelong habits requires awareness of and willingness to change our ingrained responses to life. Intellectual understanding isn’t enough; it takes practice – regular sadhana. Life will continue to present itself in all its various forms, offering infinite opportunities to practice new ways of responding.
Just as pain will come, so will pleasure. Just as hate will come, so will love. When both are accepted, unaffected by the mind, then there will be peace.
We usually need some retraining, and that’s where daily practice (the whole “bag of tricks” of yoga) comes in. Otherwise, our habitual responses to unpleasant experiences – anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, etc. – take over, leading us away from peace. They are more likely to lead to health problems or relationship issues. Our work is to breathe, relax and pay attention. All yoga practices support letting go of the belief that we are in charge and that life should be the way we want it.
Nisargadatta Maharaj, speaking to a man who complained that he was not happy, said:
M: What makes you unhappy?
Q: I have what I don’t want and I want what I don’t have.
M: Why don’t you invert it: want what you have and care not for what you don’t have?
We can learn to trust the universe, to trust life as it is. Daily practice helps us develop awareness, to see through the self-created dramas we live in; we can begin to relax and trust, no matter what the external situation is.
Life is full of tides like an ocean. Everyone’s boat goes up and down.
Carrying a heavy backpack with a positive frame of mind doesn’t reduce its weight, but the person carries it happily. Carrying a backpack with a negative frame of mind makes it feel heavier all the time. Carrying the load of life in the world with complete acceptance makes it easier to live.
This is life. It includes pleasure, pain, good, bad, happiness, depression, etc. There can’t be day without night. So don’t expect that you or anyone will always be happy and that nothing will go wrong. Stand in the world bravely and face good and bad equally. Life is for that. Try to develop positive qualities as much as you can.
contributed by Sharada
all quotes in italics are from writings by Baba Hari Dass
Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.