Happiness: The Highest Gift
By Julian Kalmar
Part 1 "Sitting Still"
Can you imagine living happily no matter what happens? Thirty-eight years ago a great master craftsman began teaching me how to do this. Unbelievably, it took me 36 years to truly appreciate his enormous gift.
In 2002, a back injury sentenced me to living in bed 22 hours a day. I lost my business, a 6-figure income, and the ability to move about freely. When a friend asked me how I could still be so happy, the value of the master's lessons snapped into focus: It had never occurred to me to be unhappy!
The master, an old-world Hungarian watchmaker, began my lessons when I was four. He granted me the privilege of sitting beside him as he repaired watches and clocks.
My first happiness lesson was to sit quietly, without distracting him from his delicate repairs. Amazingly, I succeeded almost without trying, for as the master worked something magical happened. A great love and peace filled the workshop, and I fell into the deafening silence that surrounded him. As I focused on his work, my stillness on the outside was soon reflected by stillness on the inside. All sense of misfortune, stress, and unhappiness melted away.
The master taught me that focusing on your tasks destroys negative emotions. Negativity thrives when you focus on what's wrong. Focusing on your tasks suffocates the negatives by stilling your thoughts. Focusing also improves the quality of your work, brings satisfaction in a job well done, and eventually profound joy.
Part 2 "Facing The Unknown"
Over the years, I'd seen the old Hungarian master craftsman fix just about every type of watch and clock imaginable. But I was always amazed at his uncanny ability to put the mechanisms back together. So one day I said to him, "You know, for years I've watched you repair watches and clocks. Carefully you'd take them apart, clean them, and finally put them back together. How do you know where all the pieces go?"
Without hesitation, and with a wry smile, he said, "I don't always!"
For a moment I was struck dumb, and then filled with roaring laughter. He was kidding, or so I thought. After we'd finished laughing, he said, "Whenever you do something you've never done before, don't panic. You can do it. Look at it very carefully. Make notes. Draw pictures. Take it apart slowly. Take your time. Carefully watch how things go together."
Not knowing how to do something can threaten self-esteem, confidence, and credibility. The master's technique converts these threats into opportunities. Admitting you don't know (but that you'll find out), demonstrates intelligence and credibility. You also won't have to live up to a self-created illusion, so you'll focus better on solving the problem.
Using every available tool, including time, and other people's know-how, you'll work things out and learn a lot doing it. Unknowns will become a source of gratifying intellectual challenge. Your ego will shrink, and you'll be proud of your new skills. You'll develop genuine confidence and self-esteem.
Part 3 "Single-Pointed Focus"
Watches and clocks contain many screws, gears, jewels and springs. In contrast to the complexity of these little machines, the way the old Hungarian watchmaker worked was profoundly simple. He fully focused on each part he touched as if it were the most sacred part in all the world. To him, in that moment, nothing else existed. He would pick up a part, place it carefully into position, and fasten it with care. There was no haste.
Once the part was installed, there was an almost imperceptible pause while the master stopped to admire the perfection of the careful placement. Only then would he direct his attention to the next part, again devoting his entire being to it. His single-pointed focus on one tiny part after another, created a beautiful serenity in his workshop. This was nothing less than a communion: The spirit of the master and the spirit of each part became inextricably and forever intertwined. It was a cosmic dance.
Most of us race frenetically from one place to another, trying to do three things at once, and rarely giving full attention to anything. We do not properly honor our tools, possessions, time, or other people. Our rushing keeps us in a constant state of tension. Achieving the master's deep sense of peace and well being, requires doing only one thing at a time. By choosing to honor each thing, person, place, and time, we can live richly spiritual lives even during activities we once considered chores.
Part 4 "Changing Viewpoints"
During his watch repairs, the master craftsman was exceptionally careful. However, once in a great while, a little part would jump out from between his tweezers and fly onto the floor. The irregularities in the wooden floor made superb camouflage for the little parts, so finding them sometimes took half an hour. Slowing our searches was the very real danger of destroying a part by stepping on it.
As a youngster, I wasn't allowed to move until the part was spotted. Later, when it was clear I could be careful, the master showed me a new way of searching.
After visually scanning an area big enough for my body, the master had me lie down. Then, by sighting along the floor with one eye closed, the errant part became instantly visible! My new viewpoint made finding parts easy. So it is with life. Many of life's difficulties result from poor viewpoints. We make things harder than they need to be—and prolong our suffering—because we don't think of changing viewpoints.
For example, is stubbing your toe a source of upset, or is it a reminder that awareness keeps you from harm? Is breaking your foot an inconvenience, or does it give you great appreciation for your hands and feet? Is your teenager 'uncooperative', or is this a chance to improve your people skills and learn to choose your fights? Each difficulty is a doorway to a happier life when used as a cue to finding a better viewpoint.
Part 5 "Pain vs. Suffering"
Happiness lessons weren't restricted to the master's workshop. Once as we drove to a store, a three-legged dog limped by trying to keep up with two other dogs. As a six-year-old I became terribly sad for the poor dog. When the master asked what was wrong, I told him. He said, "Oh, don't worry about him, he's perfectly happy. Don't you see his wagging tail and happy smile?"
"Yes," I said, "but he's lost a leg. I feel so sorry for him."
"Julian, that dog was probably hit by a car and was in terrible pain. A vet amputated his leg to save his life," said the master. I got a lump in my throat and started tearing up.
"Julian, if that dog felt sorry for himself, he'd be hiding somewhere with his tail down. Look at him. He's playing with his friends, tail in the air, sniffing things, and exploring. He's too involved to care about his missing leg. People mope around for months if they lose a leg. They keep thinking about all the things they can't do. They 'suffer' more pain by keeping it going in their minds. So that dog is smarter than most people. He's doing what he's always done, and he probably doesn't even think about his leg. Pain can't be avoided sometimes, but suffering is a choice. We suffer when we dwell on past pain. So always try to be like that dog: Focus on what you want to do, and do it."
Part 6 - "Your Future’s In Your Hands"
One day I asked the master why his workshop always felt so peaceful. This is what he taught me. "Julian, just like these watches and clocks, with all their gears, jewels, springs and screws that can't be seen from the outside, people have hidden mechanisms."
"What kind of mechanisms," I questioned eagerly.
"There are many. One of them is responsible for the peace in this workshop. Do you know why I've asked you to be quiet while I work?"
"So you can concentrate," I said, a bit unsure.
"Yes, but there's much more to it. By focusing your mind and hands on the same task, peacefulness and joy are naturally produced. I create a tangible sense of peace and joy in this workshop using this natural hidden mechanism. Everyone can do this.
"Working with your hands also builds confidence in your personal abilities. You feel powerful knowing you know how to transform your world. For example, when I'm faced with a broken watch, I don't know what I'll find on the inside. That's a lot like life. You'll face a problem and not know how to fix it at first, so you'll feel a bit nervous. Every time you solve a problem you'll build confidence.
"Eventually you feel you can solve any problem and create anything you want in your life. That's when life becomes easy. You simply decide what you want and focus your mind and hands to create it. Your future is quite literally in your hands."