Friday, December 16, 2011

On happiness: question reality, perception is everything

Knowing life is short, enjoy it - day after day, moment after moment.
     - Suzuki Roshi

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
     - Rainer Maria Rilke

Cultivate a good heart.
     - Pema Chodron

These are among my key points of study and contemplation lately. What use is irritability, fear and thoughtless reaction? Nothing but misguided protection mechanisms. Protection from...a slow or "idiot" driver? Someone with a sour disposition? People with shall we say, challenging (or plain fucked up) communication styles? A series of unavoidable bills? These are the kind of things I've found myseslf reacting to with rage and frustration.

Most of us are reacting to these types of situations the same way, and for some, extremely frustrated, or even violent reactions to situations and circumstances with even less charge and intensity seem to be more and more commonplace. Understanding how this exaggerated, dramatized, reactionary modus operandi is at the root of both personal suffering and interpersonal, even global strife, compels me to want something different.

That the approach to change and growth, ultimately life itself, be a curious examination, a gentle looking and questioning, is a relief. Striving, grasping, even trying need not apply. Westerners approaching change this way can find it especially counter-intuitive. It's easy to just entirely "not get" what is going on. We stumble and look without seeing.  Softness and flexibility is too contrary to what we've been told since early childhood is be the best way to "achieve" something: pushing, striving, making it happen.

Happiness must first be understood before we can "find" it, where it has always been, resting in quiet contentment beneath the leaf litter and storms of our minds. Or as I heard in a talk delivered by Pema Chodron,

"at the center of anger is fear, at the center of fear is sadness, and at the center of sadness is the clear blue sky"

something to that effect. The point being that if we can just stop resisting everything, by hardening up into anger and fear, and soften into the "genuine heart of sadness" we can see the spaciousness and contentment of "happiness" is there always, even when obscured by roiling clouds and emotional lightning.

Seeing the sadness and embracing the experience of actually experiencing it has been interesting. I'm just beginning to play with this. I'm especially intrigued by the idea of happiness and sadness being not exactly polarities, but something more integrated and unified. Or is it that sadness is the soft, pulsing portal to enlightenment/fundamental happiness? I've got an image of something like the pearly gates, gray-pink clouds, wet and close, full of sadness. There's a glimmer of the golden gates shining just behind the mist, and through that the heavenly bliss of true freedom.

Since our response to phenomena like storms and spilt milk or those "idiot" drivers is born of our perception and where our attention goes, I hope more and more of us can awaken into a clearer perception of reality. Start seeing differently.

The West shuns sadness as if it were a social plague. I've always hated the practice of some random strangers to butt into your day with an aggressively chipper "SMILE!" when I'm walking somewhere, minding my own business. We all have the right to feel sad, or angry, or neutral, even ecstatic without a grin.

I'm suggesting that part of seeing differently is to stop labeling emotions and states of mind like sadness "BAD".

Clearly I blame the dominant Western culture for a lot. The concept of original sin, the ego-driven consumer culture, the notion that we are the center of the universe - to me, nothing is more damaging than these lies perpetuated to gain control over humanity via fear and false promises.

I guess we each have to create our own culture, cultivate new mental microclimates, i.e. a fresh perspective on everything. In the way each drop runs from puddle to stream to sea, or as our cells continually renew themselves creating what is essentially a whole new body, we can awaken individually then collectively, and have a real impact on the state of things.

We can experience true happiness.

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