Two Kinds of People & Three Things to Keep Close to Your Heart

A photo of the salt flats near Robert Smithton's Spiral Jetty earthwork in Utah
Everything is changing; nothing is permanent—now what?

The way I see it, there are two kinds of people: those who can find happiness when faced with the greatest challenges and tribulations, and those who find unhappiness even when given the greatest advantages and privilege. I bet you’ve known some of each. The first kind, nothing can harm; the second, nothing can satisfy. The former is infinitely capable of acceptance and adaptation; the latter never fails to find fault and assign blame. 

I’d like to believe that we can choose which type of person we are. 

To be the sort of gal or guy who finds peace amidst the metaphorical storm, there are a few important things to keep close to your heart. First, things change. Empires rise and fall. Stars form and expire. Our galaxy is whipping away from every other galaxy in space like spots on the surface of an expanding balloon. You and everyone you know and care about will grow sick, grow old, and die. There are only so many ways of looking on this unavoidable truth. Accept it, fight it, ignore it, or give in to despair. Only the first of these makes sense to me. The second is futile, the third temporary, and the fourth self-destructive. 

OK, everything is changing; nothing is permanent, not even the things I hold most dear—now what? 

Now you loosen your iron grip on things as they are now and on things as you want them to be. Because to find happiness in a world that inevitably takes from you all you treasure, you must be willing to love things for what they are, even as they become something else. You have to love the impermanence intrinsic in everything. You have to be OK with change, because change is constant. Permanence is just a figment of our clever monkey minds.

Another thing to keep near to your heart—bloody and fibrous and built for only a finite number of beats—is that suffering comes from within. The person who’s never happy is an expert at finding fault in the external world. He sees other people or the government or some illness or his bad luck as the source of his pain. The Buddha, so it’s said, noticed that the real source of our pain is internal. Attachment to our idea of how the world should be is the root of suffering, and relinquishing such attachments can offer freedom from suffering. 

Dr. Henry K. Beecher, in a study performed during WWII, likewise noticed the profound role of the mind in our experience of pain. He found soldiers wounded in battle were far less likely than civilians suffering from similar wounds to request analgesics. The answer was in the context. For the soldiers, injury meant an escape from the battlefield; for the civilians, it meant possible disruption of home and work life. “The intensity of suffering,” Beecher concluded, “is largely determined by what the pain means to the patient.” 

A third thing to keep tucked away inside that whooshing, palpitating, four-chambered orb of striated muscle in your chest is the fact that words and arguments will only get you so far. As hard as we may try to snare the deepest truths in our net of language, they always slip away. So too is this bit of writing just a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself. (What is “finger”? What is “moon?!”) Depending on how you look at it, this is cause either for disappointment or delight. Your choice.

Published by

Justin Roth

A busy mind that aspires to be still.

7 thoughts on “Two Kinds of People & Three Things to Keep Close to Your Heart”

    1. A quote from Shunryu Suzuki that I love (and that I had in mind when writing this piece):

      “In actual experience of life, our life is not plural, not only plural, but also singular. Each one of us are independent and dependent. We…after some years we will die. That will be the end of our life but if we just think that is our end of life that is wrong understanding. And if we think we do not die, that is also wrong understanding. We die and we do not die and that is right understanding.”

      If that adds anything to the way you read it… It pertains especially to the last paragraph, about the insufficiency of language…

  1. I think we can all fluctuate between the two…. because life is a crazy roller voaster ride.

    Thank you, Justin. Live it… sharing it!

  2. Just a thought to moderate the bias (even if I share your bias completely). The same people that can never be satisfied are the ones who strive for the highest peaks, or hardest routes. They (hopefully) attain enlightenment through excess one day, and along the way accomplish many wonderful (or terrible) things.

    if we truly accept, we wouldn’t climb at all.

    1. I’m not sure I agree with this. I think you can climb without striving and grasping. I think you can climb ritualistically, and as a part of maintaining unity of body and mind, rather than for the attainment of a goal such as a summit, an FA, or a number grade. Thought granted this is just a theory, I feel like I’ve touched on this state before. But your point is taken—what’s the difference between non-attachment and apathy? Not sure I have an answer, but I have a deep sense that there’s a difference…

  3. In 2013, my wife and I lost our second child to a rare terminal chromosomal disorder. And 8 months later, my wife had a miscarriage that nearly ended her life, and put her in the hospital for days.
    We were both crushed emotionally by these events for more than a year afterward. We desperately searched for a way to move forward. the pain nearly ended our marriage on several occasions. But after some time, and many long conversations with family, friends and eachother, we found we returned to two recurrent ideas. “Everything happens for a reason” or “The world is just chaotic, and bad things happen randomly.”

    But, paradoxically, you would think the “Everything happens for a reason” idea would provide comfort and solace, but it did not. You see, when you believe that “everything happens for a reason”, it is one step away from a divine and guiding hand, providing meaning, reward and punishment to your life. In our worst moments, it was easy to believe that the universe/GOD/allah was trying to send us a message about our path. And as we planned on trying on having a baby again, it was not difficult to believe that we were being punished, or did not deserve the suffering we were dealt.
    It was only when we arrived at the idea that life is inherently random, increasing entropy, did we see that we weren’t being punished. We didn’t deserve losing our second child, but that the chaotic nature of life dictated that our luck would correct to the mean.
    We gained confidence, and positive energy from the fact that, in this case, chaos worked in our favor. And when we let go of the outcome’ success or failure, we could move forward. And no more. Just forward.
    Our little boy Cedar was born Feb or 2015.

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