Misery is defined as: to get what you don’t want, and to not get what you want. Both Scott and Amundsen experienced this law. Amundsen’s sobering words simply confirm how most people are unable to accept these universal laws – many are tragic victims of non-acceptance.
Although we wish to have all of our wants and have none of what we don’t want, we know it’s not possible. As Chinua Achebe (Nigerian novelist, poet and winner of the Booker Prize) put it graphically, “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has bought his own stool.”
Therefore all our endeavours are to maximize what we want and minimize what we don’t want. That keeps us busy. To get happiness, which for many is simply an attempt to reduce misery, we use technology, money or individualism; we compromise on our relationships and on the simple joys of life because we want freedom from misery.
When there is excessive heat we air condition our rooms and when nature declares it’s going to be cold, we have room heaters. Thus all our endeavours are to avoid unpleasant experiences and increase pleasant ones. Yet tragically despite all our attempts there are some miseries we just can’t avoid: death, disease and old age. Whether we succeed in solving many of our business or relationship issues, these overarching phenomenon spoil the show.
Seeing misery through wisdom books
The wisdom books over millennia have revealed that this is the crucial difference between us humans and the animals: we can see how these attempts to reduce misery are inevitably frustrating. But most human beings avoid discussing these issues and busy themselves in procuring things for the body. Ironically the main vehicle through which we seek happiness in this world is this body, and material nature expertly destroys this body every moment. It’s as if one man is slowly constructing a skyscraper while the other is destroying the very foundation of the building. One of my teachers at the monastery quipped, “In youth we lose our health to get wealth, and as we get older, we give up our wealth to get back our health, and eventually we lose all our wealth and with death, all our health as well.”
To be continued…