Neil, a friend and former student of mine, and I were discussing the lesson of a Zen/Taoist tale. Neither of us could remember the actual tale but the lesson was that happiness/contentment/peace was to be found within. Neil, in trying to recall it, described it like this: A man is discontent with his life so he keeps moving to different places in search of peace, only to find he's never satisfied. The ending alludes to the fact that his problem would never be solved by where he goes, because the problems are inside of him and can only be solved by his own awakening to the Truth. That no matter how hard he looked outwardly, he would still only find what he was looking for, within. I was searching my brain for the actual tale, which I have failed so far, but in the search I recalled this one and another favorite story of mine on a similar but slightly different theme.
The first one is about a traveller who wanders into the outskirts of a town and upon seeing an old man sitting along side the road, approaches him and asks, "What are the people like in this town?" The old man answers with a question, "Tell me, what were they like in the town from whence you came?" "They were rude and unfriendly and I really didn't like it there!" the traveller answers. "Oh," says the old man, "I"m afraid that's what you will find here, too." So the traveller sits down with the old man along side the road to think about where to go next. After a short while, along comes another traveller who approaches the old man with the same question. Again the old man answers, "What were the people like in the town from whence you came?" "Oh," answers the second traveller, "they were wonderfully friendly people. "Ah," says the old man, "that's just what they are like here!"
The second tale is a story about a man who has fallen out of love with his wife and goes to the minister of his church to ask for advice on what to do with his situation. He tells the minister that he no longer loves his wife and is suffering so because he doesn’t want to break up his family and yet since he doesn’t love her anymore, the only thing he can think of to do is divorce her.
“Oh,” says the minister, “the thing to do to solve the problem is to love her!” “But, that’s just it,” says the husband, “I don’t”. “Yes,” says the minister, “I know, that’s the problem. You don’t love her. You must love her to solve the problem.” The husband doesn’t understand. The minister explains, “You think love is a noun, something you find or fall into. But love is a verb. It is something you give or extend to another. If you start to extend love to her, you will begin to feel love for her again. What you give is what you feel. You started out loving her and so you felt love. If you want to solve your problem, go and give her love."
I remember the “aha” I experienced when I first heard that story. Love feels automatic at first as if we just “fall” into it. A little later, the ego steps in and starts to judge whether this person is worthy of our love. We begin to judge everything they do because we are projecting our own lack of self-love on the other. In Truth, there is nothing but love. Love is what we are. An enlightened being sees only the beloved in whomever they look upon. It is only the ego choosing to exclude. Of course, we have our personal preferences in terms of who shares our values and interests, but love, in the true sense of the word, does not leave a soul out.
Think of how wonderful we would all feel if we never stopped loving, if we just changed the nature of our relationships when they no longer fit our values or interests, but kept on loving and honoring the other. We all grow and change and sometimes in very different ways. Sometimes it is necessary to reactivate the love and renew the relationship. Sometimes it is necessary to let go of a relationship as it is, but keep the love.