The repairman of my apartment complex stepped into my home. His lifetime of thoughts were communicated to me in an instant. Years of worry, sadness and pain were thoroughly contoured onto his face. Lines ran deep, leaving proof, as clear as day, of a life of defeat. His eyes have retreated deep into their sockets and his cheeks are sunken and dark.
I tell him what needs to be done and he groans out loud. His voice and his movements support the evidence I see in his face. He trudges into the other room, his tool bag sulking as it droops from his hand. He is fighting gravity as he walks. Before setting about on his task, he pauses to glance up at me as if to plead, “Do I really have to do this?”
A few minutes later, after telling me that he is finished, I see that he has done the bare minimum, tenuously rigging it to work just long enough to get him out the door. “Don’t you think,” I try to be polite as I speak, “that doing it like that will mean that you will have to come back and fix this again in a few days?” He groans again and I see the lines of frustration shape his face.
He stands up and wipes his dry forehead as if it is dripping in sweat. He looks at me, and I look deep into his sad, sunken eyes. I see his pain and am moved. I smile, hoping it will go deep through his eyes and touch his soul. After a moment of confused hesitation, he smiles in return. His smile is like sunshine bursting through clouds which have long obscured it.
He seems relieved. I can see small smile wrinkles shoot forth from the corners of his eyes. Tension fades, he gently nods and gets back to work. This time he gets the job done well and is no longer rushing.
Having the Power to Choose Your Life
“Be extra kind to him,” a neighbor told me of the repairman before his arrival, “he has a really difficult job, is paid very little and has a hard life.” I don’t doubt that this is true, but her next comment struck me, “and he will never have anything better.” This, I know, does not have to be true.
I am not saying that it is easy to change one’s lot in life, but it certainly is possible and we can find many examples of those who have in fact done so. Blaming circumstances – environment, friends, family, career, childhood – allows us to feel that we are not responsible for what has happened to us. It is not our fault. However, there is a side effect of thinking this way. By doing so, you give away a valuable power of yours: the power to change your life and the lives of others.
Yes, we are not always able to control what happens to us. Yet we are able, to a great degree, to control how we react to what happens to us. It takes much practice, as does any great skill, but learning to discipline your mind gives us an enormous gift: it gives us the power to choose how we wish to live our lives, regardless of what befalls us.
Knowing that, in the end, it is you and you alone that determine your experience of life comes another great gift: the realization that peace and happiness are not to be found outside of you. Happiness and peace, as is true of any state of mind, is a choice. If you are hoping that a new job or a new relationship will bring you happiness, you will meet with disappointment. You will soon look to the next job or relationship, and the cycle will repeat itself.
As Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Perhaps we think we are not doing the same thing over and over, after all, we are looking for a new job or a new relationship. Yet, it is the same method, the same pattern, by which we are seeking the same result.
With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power
The often quoted Spider-Man phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is widely attributed to the character Uncle Ben. The reverse is true as well: with great responsibility comes great power.
Ultimately, it comes down to you. You have the power, and the responsibility, to choose how you wish to experience this life. You have the power and the responsibility to choose how you wish treat others. And even if it is difficult to do so, is it not much more difficult and painful to do the opposite?
To look outside you for the source of your joy and suffering makes you dependent on an ever-changing and evolving world. It is because of this impermanence that we cannot hold onto external joys for very long.
However, if you look within yourself, you will discover the source of stability, peace and joy. And your past does not matter, for it is in this very moment, the present moment, that you choose how you live your life. Right now, if you give away the responsibility, you give away the power. Think about that.
If you accept responsibility for your own life, the power to design it is yours as well. So, smile and happily accept the responsibility for your own experience of life, because if you do so right now, your power will instantly be returned to you.