UNITED STATES—Indifference is freedom from our own capriciousness, a pivotal quality for cultivating life success and industriousness. Indifference means being unenslaved by outcome. Being open to all the charming and not-so-charming possibilities multiplies the chances for contentment. Tony de Mello (inspirational wiseman) compares it to ordering soup at a restaurant. You have your heart set on French onion soup, and the waiter says, “I’m sorry sir, we’re all out of that today.” Then you ask for split-pea soup.
“I’m sorry, we’re out of that too… but we have a nice vegetable beef.”
“I’ll take vegetable,” you say, while thinking “hold the beef,” but who wants to be picky? You are cultivating the magical state of indifference.
At Tony de Mello’s restaurant you are happy with what is; what we wanted and planned has vanished without a trace. At my imaginary restaurant the waiter keeps going down the list, and there are more and more no’s to contend with. Finally, “Do you have a glass of water?” “Sorry, we’re all out of that.” Then you blow up. Or you say, “That’s OK. Maybe it will rain today,” and then you blow up. The point is: we’d best be free of the shadows cast by previous vexations or there’s hell to pay.
The much-lauded virtue of forgiveness really boils down to indifference to what has passed before. People say forgive and forget. To fully forgive is to remember, indifferently and without malice. That is the soul of indifference.
Indifference does not rule out desiring to do or have something—far from it. Our desires and wishes are paramount. Indifference is what allows us not to have a hissy fit when it “doesn’t go my way.”
Here’s an illustration for anybody who uses the streets. Approaching an intersection, we face the red light/green light; it will be one or the other when we finally reach the intersection. What is your agenda? Are you thinking “It is what it is, and I will calmly react to reality”? If a driver or pedestrian is hell-bent on the outcome (late to work or an appointment) they’ll be clinging onto that green, and is disastrous when the light turns from green to red at the last moment. You may even flout speed limits to make that green light or, be appalled at the slowness of companions in the roadway and (god forbid) honk.
Indifference it not always possible. Inwardly, I find myself bristling at the joke of it all, being rebuffed so many times and then finally my top blows. By then it’s too late to say, “Lighten up, boy!” I have blown a fuse, despite all valiant attempts to be a zen samurai. Then, once again, we can apply that sublime salve of indifference and immediately forgive ourselves.
Now more than ever, indifference is crucial as technology makes the world smaller and faster. It demands going from grieving to gutsy in a nano-second, from peeved to cordial in the time it takes to answer a cellphone. It is demanded every time we open email with a plan and are immediately riveted by new and unexpected tidings. Indifference is a good steady friend to see us through the turbulence and bring us to a state of profound receptivity.
I keep in mind how indifference to the “script” being tossed aside has often resulted in a bit of terrific. For me, it was walking home one night down Fountain Avenue, on my way to supper, and some old friends drove past:
“We’re going to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and we have an extra ticket.” Sure, there were plans discarded, logistics to be dealt with; we homo sapiens are eternally plotting away. I finally said yes to the concert, and was the better for it.
Our anticipation and desire will always exist; our hearts must be set on something or it ain’t living. Indifference is the solvent to open the heart to more possibilities, reset it on something better, and enable us to take what is on life’s menu and take it gladly.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” available on amazon.com. Grady welcome reader mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.