A couple months ago, I read Byron Katie’s excellent book, “Loving What Is.” It’s on a very short list of books I highly recommend to everyone. Among other things, one wisdom bit that’s stuck with me is her discussion of the three types of business:
1) Your business. Your own beliefs, views, ideals, thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions, reactions, etc.
2) Other people’s business. Other people’s beliefs, views, ideals, thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions, reactions, etc.
3) God’s business. Not God as a divine being, but God as the way things are. An earthquake or rainy day is God’s business. A collapse in the stock market or an airline delay. The best candidate getting the job or the invention of more energy-efficient fuels. A broken leg or life-threatening illness. All of that is out of your control—aka, it’s God’s business.
Here’s the punchline: a large chunk of your suffering comes from being in someone else’s business.
You’re upset that you’re partner isn’t being very considerate. You’re irritated that you have the flu. You’re anxious about your job security. You’re depressed over the state of the world—the poverty, the crime, the inequality, the inevitability of your own death.
Those are all things that you ultimately have no control over—they are someone else’s business.
Remember the title of the book? Loving what is. One of the central keys is deeply understanding that your happiness does not come from outside—from other people or God doing good business. Rather, your happiness comes from inside—from you handling your own business.
One that caused me a lot of unnecessary suffering for many years was anger, sadness and depression towards the state of the world. I spent several years in third world countries and saw the aftermath of genocidal warfare, the current day poverty and how the US socio-politico-economic model perpetuates it all.
I tried to wrap my head around it all. It shouldn’t be like this, I thought. People should be nice to one another. The world should be fair and just. God’s business is such bullshit!
As I’ve gradually shifted to my own business, the anger and sadness are still there—however, there’s also been a shift from suffering to skillful action. This doesn’t mean I’m busy solving the world’s problems, it just means being friendly to a grocery store clerk, starting a blog or being a beacon of sanity in an insane world—small gestures, one by one.
Nowadays, my major challenge is staying in my own business when people around me are in bad moods. Not getting dragged down by their energy, becoming irritable, disengaging or trying to fix them.
Similar to the state-of-the-world example, I’m noticing that when I manage to stay in my own business, my suffering is less and the emphasis is more on skillful action—giving space or maybe going closer, listening or maybe timely speaking, or, most of all, simply responding to what is rather than what I’d like there to be.
As a homework assignment, notice every time your thoughts and emotions go into someone else’s business (or God’s) and gently steer them back to your own. If you keep this assignment up over time, it could seriously change your life.