…How do we handle the contrast between what is ideal and what is real?
We can moan and whinge or retreat into fantasy and desire, but from the Buddha’s perspective, it’s always about establishing a sense of clarity and equanimity within the reality of the present moment.
With something like the weather, it’s fairly easy for us to see our unrealistic hopes clearly and accept them for what they are. But in other areas, it’s more difficult. For instance, living as we do in a spiritual community, we may hold to a utopian notion that everyone here should be mindful, peaceful, contented, and harmonious. And it’s true—we should be. But we can keep in mind that this “should” is based on an ideal. The reality is oftentimes quite different.
So it’s necessary to learn how to navigate those times when we, or others, aren’t living up to the elevated principles that we hold. To do that, we can reflect on whether it’s realistic to expect everybody to live up to our lofty notions simply because these notions are what we would like or prefer. We can reflect on how well we personally adapt and respond to the realities of our existence and see that it is often difficult to live up to our own ideas of perfection.
This doesn’t mean we should throw out all the ideals we have and tell ourselves to forget it. Holding to wholesome ideals can be a skillful thing to do. But we need to be very cautious of measuring ourselves against those high values all the time. Doing that exacerbates dissatisfaction, discontent, and a sense of suffering.
In former times, navigation at sea depended on frequently checking the stars with a sextant to set and maintain a realistic course of direction. It wasn’t about trying to reach the stars! In a similar way, as practitioners we merely need to set ourselves on a wholesome, skillful course; we don’t need to constantly frustrate ourselves or others by trying to comply with unrealistic notions of perfection.
Usually our ideals—even wholesome ones—are filled with wishful thinking and fantasy. So it’s important to ground our elevated standards in reality. By doing that, we can find a realistic course of action that supports our living skillfully.
Applying the Dhamma in our day-to-day lives, we can learn to live with each other and with ourselves in a beneficial, wholesome way.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume One, (pdf) pp.29-30.