February 21, 2010


Have you ever noticed that people are always going on about the things they don't have as opposed to the things that they do?

As human beings we often rely on the external world to determine our sense of well being. 

If I get a better job - I will be happy. If I meet Mr. Right - I will be happy. 

If we get married / have another child, I know we could be happy. If I buy the new plasma, Ipod, outfit, car ... and on and on it goes. 

Of course the very notion of external happiness is completely unreliable and entirely dependent on circumstances above and beyond our control. You might lose your job because of budget cuts or your partner has an affair and suddenly the concept of "happiness' seems like a cheap and nasty fantasy to which you no longer belong. 

For centuries, the mystics have been banging on about the practice of non-attachment in relation to suffering and happiness. 

The theory goes that as long as we remain attached to the trappings of the external world, we allow ourselves to suffer and only when we free ourselves from these attachments will we ever truly be happy. A more modern theory claims that if you accept reality at any given time - you will be happy. 

When you argue with reality - you suffer - because all suffering is mental. So what then is the difference between external and internal happiness and can you ever really have one without the other? 

Recently, I caught myself feeling happy and when I say happy, I don't just mean less depressed. Finally, I had reached a place within myself where I was at ease - where the noise and the distractions from the external world had dissolved - a place where I had everything I needed to be happy.  

Somewhere along the line I realised that for me personally, happiness has less to do with what I do not have and everything to do with acceptance. 

By acceptance I mean acceptance of myself and my life, as opposed to the illusion that happiness is always right around the corner. 

Only when you stop to observe that you already have everything you need, do you begin to notice that everything else is just an illusion, (or at least that's what they tell me).  

Practicing non-attachment is not easy but it is something we could all try to develop because life can change in the blink of an eye and illusions can be abruptly interrupted. 

Just weeks after I had settled into my newfound inner contentment, life threw me a new set of chaotic circumstances that would make even the most self-contained monk have a hissy fit on the supermarket floor. 

I would like to say that I handled the situation with poise, reverence and acceptance but I quickly reverted to my old ways of chain- smoking, drinking excessively and wishing (rather loudly) that everything could be different. 

Thankfully things have calmed down again and order has been restored and while I am disappointed that I allowed myself to be affected by the chaos, that I allowed myself to suffer, I am grateful for the lesson, for the awareness and for the opportunity to grow. 

Sometimes the world can throw us things that we do not think we can handle, but inevitably we always can. The trick is to learn to accept these challenges, no matter how difficult or chaotic, to learn to live in harmony with the way things are, with the knowledge that everything is transient and that this too will eventually pass. 

It is the act of fighting these challenges that causes us to suffer, because all suffering is mental. 

Just hours before my dear friend Nira died of cancer, I asked her if she had any regrets. She opened her eyes and said "my only regret is so much useless suffering - and for what?" Nira was one of my greatest teachers and I miss her dearly but I try to remember everything she taught me, every day, in every way that I can. 

She once told me that every failure is an opportunity and that there is no such thing as a mistake and so I will continue to take time each day to reflect and to accept both the blessings and the failures in my life and to make a space for happiness in my mind and my heart. 


Tony Anders said...

Happiness is a choice and I too find it funny when people say when "X" happens, "I will be happy", like there is an external contingency that excludes us from experiencing it. Good observation!

By MelCole of PA said...

Interesting post. Life is so full of happiness aside from sadness. It's an adventure for one to seek it and a miracle when it appears as a surprise!

NJ said...

Going by what great lord Buddha preached following middle pathway is the source of sustained happiness.