Learning how to appreciate the little things in life


The columnist visited the mysterious Easter Island a few years back and loves to share stories of his trip with anyone interested. — Photos: LEESAN

Generally speaking, most people will one day find themselves being in a position where they are constantly demanding for more, yet don’t actually need much. Some tend to feel that it is their birthright to ask for more. And if that’s not enough, their lust for things grows with time.

I, too, must admit that my heart was once filled to the brim with the urge to pursue more power, social status, and material wealth.

Luckily, throughout my life, I have managed to satisfy some of these desires: a big house, a luxury car, and so on. Unfortunately, because of the efforts I have put in to get these things, the desire to have more does not die down. It seems that there is never an end to human’s material pursuits and vanity, and such a cycle can sink humanity further into darkness.

Of course, there are also some people who really do enjoy the thrill of these continuous pursuits ...

American humanistic psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow once wrote that people are not happy even though they don’t really lack anything. Instead, they are perpetually overwhelmed by anxiety, frustration, and despair. Could it be that their endless lust has triggered an imbalance somewhere?

To dodge the trap of lust, we will need to reassess our own value system and lifestyle so that we won’t ever be dictated by our constant desires. We need to tell the difference between want and need, and learn to discern which is essential, and which is sheer vanity.

Additionally, we need to nurture the attitude and ability to be content with a simple life, and appreciate everything that is already in our possession, rather than allowing ourselves to be subconsciously overcome by greed.

In the wee hours of the morning one fine day, I was standing on Japan’s Mount Fuji. Because of the unusually low temperatures up there, I had to keep looking for some place where I could warm myself. At a darkly lit corner, I saw three men gathering around a charcoal stove. I quickly walked towards them: one of them was apparently a porter, the other could be a traveller, while the third man could have been the business owner of a nearby stall.

The columnist's travel buddies Bee Seng (left) and Sau Cheng joined him on an epic drive from Chengdu, China to the Yamaha Yumco lake in Tibet.The columnist's travel buddies Bee Seng (left) and Sau Cheng joined him on an epic drive from Chengdu, China to the Yamaha Yumco lake in Tibet.

Not a word was uttered, and everyone was just there warming themselves. I don’t know why, but right at that moment, I thought about the kind of desires these people might have. They must each have something they desired, I figured, and wondered what they were.

Some people will be happy for the rest of their lives once their basic needs are met, but for me, I seem to have sidetracked into a higher level of lust. The more I gain, the more I find myself dragged into the whirlpool of never-ending pursuits. Thinking about this, I would sometimes ask myself: Who am I actually?

I recall this quote from Tao Te Ching (an ancient book of philosophy by Laozi): “He who understands others is clever, but he who knows himself is wise.”

The thing is, do I really know myself? Even though I managed to conquer the 3,776m-high Mount Fuji, was I really content with what I had achieved or should I prepare myself for yet another summit? Is that determination or mere kiasu mentality?

I remember another saying that more or less goes like this: “The depth with which one understands oneself determines how well one knows the world. We will thoroughly know the world once we understand ourselves completely.” In other words, hidden truths will be unveiled the moment we’ve found our true selves.

What is one’s “true self”? Every human being is made up of three different psychic agents: Id, Ego, and Superego. “Superego” is a person’s spirituality, morality driven by ideals, as well as the spirit in pursuit of excellence, sense of identity, passion, and soul. So, where on Earth is our “Superego”?

There is this cafe named Dawa Dolma at the Barkhor Square at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, said to be the secret hangout of the sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso. It is a place where he enjoyed reciting poems and merrymaking with his most beloved Dawa Dolma. One of the most famous quotes from Tsangyang Gyatso is: “Inside the Potala Palace, I’m the greatest king of the snow land; but loitering in the streets of Lhasa, I’m the most attractive lover of this world.”

It is said that when he was in power, Tsangyang Gyatso was more interested in romance than running his country. Well, not really. All he craved for was not power but the satisfaction of his inner needs. He lived a carefree life because he managed to find his “Superego” and had written many incredible poems in his relatively short lifespan.

The columnist having fun with the old shell of a giant Galapagos tortoise. These creatures can live up hundreds of years, and locals believe that they are the ‘guardians of Earth’. — Photos: LEESANThe columnist having fun with the old shell of a giant Galapagos tortoise. These creatures can live up hundreds of years, and locals believe that they are the ‘guardians of Earth’. — Photos: LEESAN

At Jokhang Temple, Tibetan Buddhist devotees from all across the country make their pilgrimages there, devoting their whole lives to their unbending faith and conviction in anticipation of a better next life. These people are devoid of every material possession: no house, no money, no worries, no anxiety, and probably no illness or pain, but because they don’t have all these, they possess unparalleled spiritual bliss.

On the contrary, our happiness has been typically interpreted as “possession of material wealth visible to other people” – plenty of houses, luxury cars, cash, power and status. But our inner worlds might just be empty boxes devoid of hope and happiness.

What gives the Tibetan devotees a true sense of satisfaction is the most fundamental needs they require for survival and growth, including their faith, food, water, a dwelling place, interpersonal relations, and a sense of security, among other things.

Unlike our desires, these basic needs are finite. Once the needs are satisfied, people will get to experience a true sense of satisfaction and happiness. At the same time, they can maintain their inner equilibrium and sense of satisfaction. Just like the gorillas in the mountains, or the whales in the oceans whose needs rely on the integrity of their surrounding environment. Once their living environment is jeopardised, they are forced to seek a new habitat where they can live peacefully.

In short, they do not have too much lust. All they want is a safe living environment.

I must agree that as long as we have a strong determination to free ourselves from the control of our desires, these desires could be a force to propel us forward in life.

I have a lot of friends from Tzu Chi (a non-profit Buddhist organisation from Taiwan that focuses on community service and charitable programmes), and many of them are actually very successful professionals who at one point were stuck in the quagmire of lust, but somehow chanced upon a drastic turning point, motivating them to be thankful and change.

They have learned to appreciate what’s in their possession and are more willing now to share with other people.

Such a disposition of generosity and gratitude can bring a true sense of satisfaction and promote greater harmony and integration in our society.

One of them even told me, “Other than life and death, there’s nothing in life that we cannot let go of. Let’s just live our lives the way we want!”

I would like to reiterate here that even though we have too many things we desire in life, what we actually need is perhaps just that little bit. I guess this is what makes a blessed life.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the globe-trotting traveller who has visited 139 countries and seven continents, enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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