Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Changing how I look at happiness

If "happiness" isn't a useful word to you, try another one (fulfillment, bliss, joy, ...).

I feel it's important that I change my perspective on it.

I usually think of it as something I'll get, by doing or achieving the right things. I may not think of it this way consciously, but that's fundamentally how I treat it. I think most people do.

If I'm feeling spiritual, then maybe I'll get it by achieving the right meditation states. But it amounts to the same thing.

But what if joy is something that you do, not something that you get? When you achieve the right things (according to whatever standard you've set up for yourself), you do joy. It doesn't come from some magic fairy, or some part of your brain that's outside your control.

If you find the word "do" too striving, perhaps the word "allow" is sufficiently soft. But either way, it's not some outside force that lets it in.

But this doesn't go far enough. Okay, so joy is something that I can "allow." What if I don't feel worthy of it? Then I may not allow it. If I look closely, it's because I feel that I don't deserve it. So then maybe meditation subtly becomes the process of earning joy.

Now another twist: joy isn't something that I deserve or earn. It's a responsibility. A sacred duty.

Perhaps for some, turning it into a "duty" makes it feel oppressive, like a chore. For me, I link it to the Bodhisattva Vow I took some years ago. That was one of the most emotional moments of my life. It was the feeling that I'm devoting my life to the most meaningful purpose, with witnesses. In the same way that parenthood may be a duty but is also (I'm told) the most sublime of joys, the duty of being happy can be viewed as the greatest gift I could bestow myself and the world.

How could it be a gift to the world? One simple reason is that I get more done when I'm joyful, and I'm also kinder. True joy is never selfish. An even more direct reason is that everyone wants to be joyful, so why not be a role model?

I intend to really internalize that.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -- Marianne Williamson 

Another explanation of nonduality

First, a definition: when I use the word "sound," I'm referring to a particular kind of experience. Snap your fingers and listen. What you hear is a sound. Now, imagine that a tree once fell in a forest when nobody was around. Whether or not it actually produced a sound is a matter for philosophers. But unless you actually heard something just now (which okay maybe you did if you have a good imagination...), I'm not calling that a "sound" for our purposes. Maybe you want to call it an "abstract sound" or a "theoretical sound" or something, but make a clear distinction between that and things you actually hear. So here "sound" refers to a particular kind of experience, not some abstraction.

We say that we "hear a sound." There are two things: hearing and the sound. More generally, we say that we "experience an experience." The word "experience" is both a verb and a noun, reflecting how we think of perception.

But notice that there's no such thing as "hearing" in the abstract -- that is, hearing without a sound. Whenever you hear, you hear a sound. Similarly, there's no such thing as a "sound" in the abstract (recalling our definition above). The category of experience we call "sound" requires hearing for its very definition. Spend some time with this in your own experience. Try to find an instance of sound that isn't heard, or an instance of hearing that doesn't involve a sound. You can't.

This may seem mundane, but it's not. According to the nondual traditions (which exist both in the east and in Abrahamic mystical traditions), the very reason we suffer (i.e., feel anything less than completely satisfied with and fulfilled by existence) is that we mentally split an intrinsically undivided and indivisible reality into two parts: the subject (I, doing the experiencing) and the object (the world being experienced). As a result, we believe ourselves to be fundamentally isolated, like a man on an island whose communication with the outside world is limited to bottles floating back and forth. You may think "I don't feel isolated!", but if you have a sense of being "in here" while the world is "out there," then indeed you do feel that way, whether it consciously bothers you or not.

When we're really engaged, like in the state of flow, that imagined isolation can drop away. But even in flow, unless we have a remarkably high degree of awareness, we can subtly miss out on the wonder of what's occurring. That's why hours pass like seconds in that state. If you lived your life in that kind of state, maybe the next five decades would pass in minutes.

The second difficulty is that we conceive of flow as a particular kind of state, which by definition we can enter but must inevitably leave. Sometimes people describe Zen in this way.

But Zen isn't a particular experience or state. It's a realization: that the world wasn't actually divided until we inserted that woeful division ourselves. In fact, it could never actually be divided at all. That was all just a funny dream we invented, a little game we played with ourselves so that we could have the joy of rediscovering the astonishing and ravishing truth of existence.