It’s so easy to make promises isn’t it? Our consumer culture thrives on it: we are endlessly striving to purchase products & services which assure us – either subtly or explicitly – of long life, renewed youth, greater beauty, increased wealth, better health or happier relationships. Yet when we unwrap our new purchase how long is it before the novelty wears off or it needs replacing? Surrounded by the clamour of false promises it’s no wonder we end up making a few ourselves.
As a child, my father always taught me not to make promises that I couldn’t keep, and it’s something that I still strive to do now. I’d guess that most of us pride ourselves on doing the same. But one thing nobody ever warned me about was the expectation trap: what happens when I make impossible promises to myself without even knowing it? The disappointment can be crushing: the repetition of such disappointment even more so.
Faced with any of life’s questions, I always turn to those who have already answered them. In this case it was Krishna, speaking the perennial philosophy of bhakti yoga in the Bhagavad Gita.
Two contrasting themes really struck me: the nature of spirit and the nature of matter.
Krishna expertly explains that the material energy which makes up our bodies, minds and the external world we live in is fleeting, temporary, always changing and ultimately unsatisfying. Conversley, when describing the spiritual energy of the Supreme Divinity – of which we are all parts and parcels – we hear that it is “eternal”, “unchangeable”, “amazing” and “joyful”. Elsewhere in the Vedic literature Krishna is well documented as being the sweetest, strongest, most knowledgable, opulent & eternally youthful friend you could ever wish for.
In this light it seems like the ad men are a pretty savvy bunch and perhaps we weren’t so daft to take their bait after all. According to the Gita, what they promise is very real – a part of our core being, in fact. Our greatest mistake is to persist – to ourselves and to others – in looking for those things in the wrong place.
My recent foray into the world of winter sports taught me a huge lesson: whoever we make a promise to, when we put our faith in the superficial, fleeting forms of material energy, we always end up disappointed. But delving deeply into the world of spirit gives results time and time again. It’s our most reliable friend and a surefire road to happiness for us and everybody else, too.