I was asked this question recently and thought I’d share my thoughts and ask your opinion on it. The question was;
I was flying home the other week and was thinking about a metaphor for life that has kept dashing back and forth through my mind since then.
Looking out of the window before starting the descent everything was bright and sunny, however, as we descended, we went through clouds. Some small and fluffy, some dark and dense. And as we got lower and lower, everything got duller and more miserable.
It struck me that this is much the way I now think of life. We are all born naturally happy people, but then we think and do things which act like clouds and block out our natural happiness, leaving life duller and (for some) more miserable.
Michael Neill describes it as we are like water – naturally clear. But then we become murky and we only need to let the murk settle to get back to our natural happiness.
Just thoughts running through my head and I was wondering what your perspective on it is. What we need to do to get back to our natural happiness?
Ignore the clouds?
Climb/fly above the clouds?
Two Myths of Happiness
I believe there are two myths that people talk about a lot in connection with happiness that are misleading. The first and most important one, is that happiness is something you can achieve. In other words, ‘I achieved happiness in 1987 and haven’t been unhappy since’.
Happiness, anger and sadness are all responses to how we are interacting with the world. Sometimes we respond well and feel happy. Other times we don’t handle it well and feel bad. We can get better at how we respond and so feel better most of the time, but life always ups the ante. So it’s not a one time achievement as much as it is a ongoing interaction.
The second is the idea that it is the world that makes us unhappy through it’s conditioning.
It’s almost universally agreed that Babies are born naturally happy and the world knocks it out of them systematically. I know I’ve used this idea before, but as I hear it I’m wondering if it’s really accurate? I mean most of the babies I’ve known have spent a lot of their time crying their heads off.
So in my new report I’ve been giving this some thought. Here’s where I’m at with it…
There is this idea that children are born happy and loving. Yet when I look at young children, they are happy when they are getting what they want. But equally they can be completely self-obsessed, nasty and violent. Watch young kids in a nursery and they aren’t saying ‘after you’ve played with that’. They are bashing each other over the head and trampling over anyone to get what they want.
What they aren’t, is frequently unhappy. They don’t dwell on situations. They scream for what they want, but then they let it go. Instantly.
That’s because a Baby has no conception or concern over their own or anyone else’s feelings. It wants food, comfort or cleaning and it’ll disturb the world until it gets what it wants. What they do have is simple wants and so they quickly get them fulfilled and return quickly to a happy, fun-seeking state.
From Savage To Educated Game Player
So I’m thinking this nice idea that’s been going around the spiritual and self help circles that it’s the world’s conditioning that makes us unhappy is flawed. My view is that we are born as savage like, animalistic creatures with basic wants and desires and basic responses to getting these needs and desires met.
As we interact with the world we become educated by it. We grow in awareness and our desires become more complex. We turn from Savage to a Game Player. We go from wanting food to wanting a McDonalds (with toy) to wanting Caviar served with suitable deference and a nice wine.
Our aspirations are by definition, always beyond our ability to grasp and this causes us to feel unhappy.
Our frustration continues until we develop our abilities sufficiently that they align with our aspirations.
The Emotional Cycle
- In other words, we’re unhappy.
- This motivates us to go do something.
- Going and doing something develops our awareness, skills and maturity.
- We get what we hankered after and now we are blissfully happy.
- Unfortunately as we raised our game we also raised our aspirations and now we want something even more sophisticated that we need to strive for. And so the endless spiral continues.
Suffering and Attachment
It is as Buddha described in his four noble truths.
- All of life is suffering
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path.
A lot of Buddhists have taken this to mean that desire is a bad thing and many devote their lives to try to eliminate it.
I do think that the less attachment we have the less pain we have and the more open we are to listening to life. As opposed to wanting to tell life what it should be. Furthermore, the more mature our desires are, the less problems and conflict we will create.
However the drive to want more and higher and better is so deep rooted, it strikes me that it is a tool intelligently designed into the fabric of our nature to motivate us towards a more mature way of living. Much as the craving for food helps us to physically function.
Therefore I believe the better strategy is to go through the natural cycle quicker. Strip our desires into the simplest essence of what we are seeking. And then develop our maturity in line with our aspirations. This of course grows our aspirations, but I do think that how much we enjoy life is a reflection of how fresh it tastes and how vigorously we interact with it. Nothing is as soul destroying as boredom and being stuck with a twenty year old desire, that you’ve always craved, but never achieved.
This desire spiral is natural. The biggest problem with it is when;
- people pretend they don’t want what they do,
- we try to numb how we feel rather than go for what we want,
- or when we refuse to fix the bugs in our Operating System that cause us to keep crashing into obstacles.
So in using your metaphor I think the descent through the clouds begins when we focus on what we want, but don’t have. The longer this happens, the sharper the descent. The more physically focused our attention is, the more prone to depression we become.
When you obsess about something you want, but don’t have. When you are jealous of another. When you are paralysed by fear of what might happen, your consciousness is trapped by your attachment. This is a psychological imprisonment just as limiting and depriving as physical incarceration.
The soaring above the clouds happens when we are free. Free from desire and free to focus on whatever interests us. Much of the turmoil and stress that people experience is because they have these fears, resentments and conflicts that hold their focus down on issues that cannot bring them anything but misery.
Say for example, you feel betrayed. Rehashing what happened and how valid your anger and indignation is, can never bring you anything but misery. Yes, you do have to think about the issue because it is significant and you can’t just forget about it. But your thinking about it, has to be specific in a way that enables you to integrate the experience into your wider view of how the world works. Thinking that resolves the issue and takes away the emotive sting. So that the issue no longer has a pull on you.
When you’ve done that, you are psychologically free. And from a position of freedom you will automatically place your consciousness on what is most exciting and exhilarating to you. Because freedom means all options are equally available. Therefore in a position of emotional freedom, you will automatically rise to the highest state.