Human life is like a pendulum. It is dangling and tossing between the positive and the negative opinions, good and bad, right and wrong, the true and the false, highs and lows, thick and thin, and a whole heap of other dualities. All that is subjective, however. It cannot affect you unless you let it.
Let me narrate a little story to you:
There was a monk once. For years he practiced meditation, contemplation, and forbearance, yet he could not gain enlightenment. He still felt troubled by the world around him, especially when people failed to see his saintliness or disagreed with him what he thought was the truth. He still felt bad when people mistreated him, had negative opinions about him, and, good when he was treated well. He wanted to rise above, remain indifferent to such worldly offerings but he could not.
One day he approached his guru and confessed his inner turmoil and restlessness. His master listened patiently and gave him a key and directions to a certain room.
“Go and meditate there for three days unmoving. Leave the door open and maintain silence. The truth will dawn on you,” the master instructed.
He obeyed his guru and went to the place to meditate. Much to his dismay, it was in a market, next to a busy hallway, in the center of a crowded city. He was skeptical about meditating in a noisy place for inner quietude. Nevertheless, he proceeded. As soon as he unlocked the door, a nauseating stench greeted him. He soon realized that there was a toilet just above the room. For a moment he felt crossed with his guru. Then again, the guru must have a reason he thought.
The room was unclean, without any windows, and looked like an abandoned shop. There was seepage on the walls and the ground was somewhat wet. The waste pipe above was leaking. He assumed lotus position and sat down to meditate. Every so often, he could hear the sound of a flushing toilet. He understood that he was meditating directly below a public toilet. His restlessness only built up more.
A million worries engulfed him. He was concerned what if the pipe above him burst, what all people, who were passing by, talked about him, how would he know that seventy-two hours had passed, what if he fainted from the stench, what if he someone came and interrupted his meditation mid-way and so on.
On the third day, while he was engrossed in such thoughts, the plumbing above him burst and fecal matter fell on his head. Before he could determine his next step, two men walked by.
“Who is this man?” one asked in disgust seeing the monk smeared in excreta.
“God knows! Some claim he is a holy man while many say he is a shithead.”
The monk was enlightened as soon as he heard that. He understood that the whole world can only have one of the two opinions about him and everyone is bound to have some opinion. In essence, none of the opinions actually matter unless you let them. They cannot affect you or bother you unless you accept them. They cannot multiply unless you respond to them. Such opinions are not eternal unless you react towards them. They hold no intrinsic meaning unless you contemplate on them. They cannot change you unless you cultivate them.
Everyone who knows you is going to have an opinion about you. A lot many who have no clue about you are likely to have an even stronger opinion about you. Those who meet you form opinions based on their experience. And many who have never met you, form their opinions based on others’. Such is the nature of this material world. The biggest democracies, religions, sects, cults run on this principle. Everyone has the right to have an opinion. And you have the right to accept, reject, or ignore it. It is your choice that affects your state of happiness.
If you start listening to yourself, when your inner voice finds an audience in you, the outer ones matter less and less. When, how you are seen by others and their opinions stops bothering you, a blanket of peace drapes, almost shields, you. And the one who is peaceful is happy indeed. Happiness is the outcome of your actions, physical or mental. You may want to read – What is your opinion about yourself?
Know when what, and where to keep versus let go. Such knowledge comes with practice, with awareness. It is about attitude and outlook. This is the journey of turning inward.