Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Grass Is Always Greener

When I step off the plane in a country like Indonesia, I look around, and feel a sort of bucolic/tropical/peaceful daydream come over me. The heavy equatorial air is almost succulent, and as it washes over your brain you start to slow down and dream of ripe mangoes, so orange that you don’t need a PhD to know that there is vitamin A there. I think of my busy life in the US, and watch the locals amble down the rice paddies, heading to the temple, or a soccer game, or who knows where. I see a man sleeping on his rice field palapala, in his straw hat, and think: wow, this guy has it figured out - a peaceful life, working in the beautiful green rice fields, taking naps, eating healthy local food, no television, no electricity, just the man and the land. Even if he is not making much money, and it is hard, back breaking work (thoughts which I may or may not have let into my daydream), I still think, wow - I have to figure out how to move here - find a nice simple house, buy local food, and slow down the pace of my life.

Yet over time, I begin to wonder - or project 3 months into the future...picture myself sitting in my new house….I cant speak the local dialect, I have no work, I don’t know anyone, and I am not in my culture, I wasn’t raised here, I don’t know the traditions, I have to leave the country every 30 days just to get my visa renewed...and so on.

Then consider the other side.... This farmer looks at me and says wow - this guy has it
dialed right. He's here on vacation, his dollar is worth 10,000 times more than mine, and he is eating at restaurants where his average bill is my months salary, buying luxury foods not even from this country, and then still is enjoying Bintang's and clove cigarettes whenever he likes. I want to go to America and make that kind of money. I don’t care if I have to sit in a cubicle all day in air-con (hey free-aircon) and stare my life away into a computer, I will even get paid to sit down! I can live in a nice condo, with a refrigerator, microwave and electric coffee maker and stove, and drive on the freeway to work everyday.

As we daydream more, we can even go a step further and convince ourselves that the simple, hermetic life is more "enlightened" - and that is very green grass. Escape the day to day, and sit in a field and meditate while we pick rice. Yet when we get there, and it is hot, and there are flies, and snakes, and we earn 2000 rupiah/day, we may forget our mission of enlightenment, and focus on how hard the work is, and how hot the sun is, and how we wish we were back in the air-con, going to the pub with office mates for happy hour. Should I move back? Did I make a mistake? And the farmer finds himself locked into a job of misery doing data entry, having to work overtime to make the rent payments, eating 99cent hot dog deals because its all the food he can afford, and dreading the 75mph traffic on the freeway - dreaming of his rice paddy, fresh food, and wondering why he left to pursue the American dream and the almighty dollar, and how rich he is now that he has that lifestyle.

And on and on it goes, the hamster wheel of life, running and running and running away, looking for the holy grail, the mystery – but stop, slow down, recognize that it is all around us, all the time, no matter where we go, what we do, what we drive, what we eat. As we drop the concern for these details of life, and start realizing why we are living, we may enjoy every moment that we have. Share this with our fellow humans, help each other, become aware of what we are doing and being. Let the grass be greener, because after running around the wheel a few too many times, we will start to see that the grass over there is really the same grass over here, just seen from a different perspective, but, REALLY THE SAME.

Why do we always want what we do not have? The grass is always greener, even when we haven’t even the faintest idea about what the other side even feels like or looks like. We live in America, but want to live on a tropical island. We live in Philippines, and want to eat Pizza Hut, and commute to work on a “freeway”. It is one of the great human challenges- to be happy where we are, focus on our living - instead of our living arrangements. It is far to easy to spend away an entire life looking for that perfect spot, or job, or car, or house, or trying to figure out how to transplant your life into a foreign culture, a far away land, or an escape. These details just are not what we are to worry about. After all, what is perfect anyway, and does it really matter if you have wood floors or concrete, or a thatch roof versus steel? Focusing on these details removes us from the real work of life, and takes us out of the moment. We are forever lost in
a world of illusion, wondering how we can make it better, get what that person has. The grass is always greener speaks to the fact that we are trying to escape the difficult work of life. Not the manual labor, but the actually owning up to what we are here for, and how we can help ourselves and others live better and feel loved. If we wake up, and feel good about what we were born with, or even where we have ended up, then we can forget the detail, and focus on the work at hand - living. Smell the flowers, enjoy the view, smile at people, and be compassionate. Then we may see that the grass is always green here and now, and always good - and that feels very free, very light, and very alive.

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