Ambitions and sorrows

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus quotes this Persian saying: “The bitterest sorrow that anyone can know is to aspire to do much and to achieve nothing.” Said differently, our knowledge and desire can embrace and extend to almost any length, but our will and the concrete circumstances (happenstances) of our lives can frustrate nearly any ambition.
Resolving this “bitterest sorrow” means looking at desire and will as the pivot of the two sides of this human equation. Let knowledge — as awareness, as sensitivity, as consciousness — extend as far as our talents persuade us. But let desire, will — projections of ego — shrink to nothing. No projects, no schemes, no insistence or demands on reality. This can be difficult when a moral imperative moves us to anger or frustration. For to be aware means not only to have knowledge but to shape our lives and hearts to what is true. This does not automatically translate into action, except the imperative to change ourselves. This is the only necessary action: changing ourselves. All else will follow, if circumstances (happenstance, “karma”) allow. Only thusly will our best wishes be fulfilled, modestly guided by what is larger than our own little thoughts and feelings. Only thusly can we balance our aspirations and our achievements.