Dangerous Notions of Happiness

Cades Cove

“Please remember that your notions of  happiness may be very dangerous. The Buddha said happiness can only be possible in the here and now. So go back and examine deeply your notions and ideas of happiness. You may recognize that the conditions of happiness that are already there in your life are enough. Then happiness can be instantly yours.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

*Photo by Nicholas Bell

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The Life Balance of Happiness

We are well on our way into 2015, and well…interestingly enough life keeps slowing me down…causing me to pause, breathe, and smile. Here is something about happiness I’ve been reading lately that has poured a lot of insight into my day to day routine.

“Our minds, hearts and souls have been fully coded for happiness; all the wiring is built-in. Everyone is capable of finding happiness. all he or she has to to is look for it in the right places. While happiness is our natural state, we’ve been trained to feel more comfortable with unhappiness. In a strange way we are not used to happiness: at times it feels not only unnatural but undeserved. That’s why we often find ourselves thinking the worst about someone or some situation. It’s why we must work to feel good about being happy and why we must commit ourselves to happiness.

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Part of the work is accepting the belief that finding happiness is essentially our purpose of life. Many people recoil at such a thought, saying such an approach is self-centered and uncaring. Why do we resist the idea that the purpose of life is being happy? We feel guilty being happy, and we wonder how we can strive to be happy when so many people are less fortunate than we are.

You were meant to enjoy all the wonders around you. And remember that you have more to give to others, to the suffering, when you are happy. When you have enough and are content, you will not act from a place of need or lack. You will feel that have a little extra to give to those around you, that you can afford to share more of your time, yourself, your money, and your happiness. Happiness expands our capacity to give. True happiness is not the result of an event, it does not depend on circumstance. You, not what’s going on around you, determine your happiness.

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Happiness depends not on what happens, but on how we handle what happens. Our happiness is determined by how we interpret, perceive and integrate what happens into our state of mind. How we perceive things is determined by our commitment. This is where the balance comes in, learning our lessons and remembering the truth about each other. Are we committed to seeing the worst in people and situations or the best? What we commit to, what we turn our attention to, grows. So the best or worst grows within our interpretations, and within ourselves. If we see the past in a bad light, as lacking purpose or meaning, we plant seeds that will grow into similar futures. This is why we refer to the past as our baggage–it’s something heavy to carry around. It is the part of ourselves that continues to weigh us down and slows our progress toward happiness.

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Happiness is our natural state, but we’ve forgotten how to be happy because we’ve gotten lost in our notions of what things should look like. Making comparisons is probably the shortest route to unhappiness. With little effort, we can quickly compare ourselves into downright misery. We don’t even need others for these self-destructive comparisons; comparing ourselves to our past or future can do the same thing. Happiness comes from seeing ourselves as being okay, just as we are, today. without comparison to others, without reference to the way we were or the way we fear we will be.

Happiness is just as possible with this set of circumstances as it is with the next. Often, we don’t see a situation as it truly is. Instead, we focus on our image of what the situation ‘should’ look like, or how it should be. By projecting our ‘should’ onto circumstances, we deny the truth. We see illusions. To see truth is to know that no matter what may be happening, the universe is moving in the direction it is supposed to. The world is set up to work in a way that brings us to our lessons. It is designed to move us to joy, not away from it, even when we think things are going in the wrong direction.

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We want to live our lives in balance, but what we think of as balance is not balance at all. In fact, it’s very much out of balance. We are a mass of contradictions. Always trying to be more, yet trying to accept and love ourselves just as we are. Trying to accept the reality of the human experience while knowing that we are also spiritual beings. We suffer, yet we can rise above our suffering. We experience loss, yet we feel love forever. We take life for granted, yet we know it does not last. We live in a world filled with less and more, with cycles of scarcity and abundance, big and small. If we can recognize these oppositions, we will be happier. Our part of this universe is always in balance, it just may not seem so to us.

Part of dealing with this balance means understanding that life does not revolve around our big moments: the promotion, the wedding, the retirement, and the cure. Life also occurs between the big moments. Much of what we need to learn is found in the small moments of life.”

-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Vulnerability

raw

Dense circumstances 

Stockpile around a soul

Raw, Naked and Bare

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2014

*photo by Dilayla Romeo David

http://artistaday.com/?p=22987#

Arbitrary in Meaning

dreamtravel

Meaning in life is arbitrary

Why ruin the universe with rigidity?

Why do we make the choices we do? After all, we do not have unlimited freedom to do things. We find ourselves constrained by our gender, our race, our economic circumstances, our personalities that were shaped both by genetics and the random processes of life. Furthermore, we find that other people have their own ideas of what we should be doing, and they constrain us still further.

A person born into one culture will have entirely different options than one born into another. They may both lead valuable lives, but they will most certainly differ in many respects. The meaning that they find will come from different palettes. We cannot say that one person’s life is more valuable than another’s.

Of all the people who have lived, have any of them been truly “better” than another? We see in their lives only the exercise of preferences, not differences of inherent meaning.

All meaning in life is arbitrary. It is not tied to god, family, or self unless we define it as such. Nothing in life gives us meaning in and of itself. It is we who assign meaning to objects and relationships. We all try to make the structure of our meaning pretty, but in the end, there is no escape from the feeling that it is all arbitrary.

It might be better not to ruin the universe with our own patterns.

-Deng Ming-Dao-

*art from http://sayoneword.tumblr.com/post/34311554603

Being Human

standing peopleart by Tetsuo Aoki

“Most of us play many roles throughout our lifetimes. We have learned how to shift roles, but we don’t often know how to look behind them. The roles we assume—spouse, parent, boss, nice guy, rebel, etc.—are not necessarily bad and can provide useful models to follow in unfamiliar situations. Our task is to find those parts that work for us, and those that don’t. It is like peeling the layers of an onion, and just like peeling an onion, it’s a task that can bring on a few tears.

It may be painful, for example, to acknowledge the negative in ourselves and find ways to externalize it. We all have a negative side, or potential for negativity: denying it is the most dangerous thing we can do. It’s cause for concern when some people completely deny the potentially dark side of themselves, insisting that they are not capable of strongly negative thoughts or actions. To admit we have the capacity for negativity is essential. After admitting it, we can work on and release it. And as we learn our lessons, we often strip away layers of roles to find things we’re not happy about. It doesn’t mean that who we are, our essence, is bad. It means we had a facade we didn’t recognize. If you discover you’re not a super nice person, it’s time to shed that image and be who you are, because being an extraordinarily nice person every moment of your life is being a phony-baloney. Many times the pendulum has to swing all the way to the other side (you become a grump) before it can come back to the middle point where you discover who you really are—someone who is nice out of compassion rather than someone who is giving to get.

expressionism of roles http://www.inspirefirst.com/2012/07/26/expressionism-photography-collection/

Even more challenging is to let go of defense mechanisms that helped us survive in childhood, because once these tools are no longer needed they can turn against us. A woman learned when she was a child to isolate herself from her alcoholic father: she knew that it was the best to leave the situation and leave the room when it became overwhelming. This was the only tool a six-year-old girl could come up with when her father was drunk and yelling. It helped her survive a difficult childhood, but now that she herself is a mother, such withdrawal is harmful to her children. Tools that no longer work must be released. We must thank them and let them go. An sometimes people have to grieve for that part of them that will never be. This mother had to grieve for the normal childhood she was never granted.

Sometimes we get a lot out of these roles, but we often realize with maturity that they have a cost. At a certain point the cost becomes too much to bear. Many people are well into middle age before realizing that they have been the “forever caretaker and peacemaker” in their family. When they understand this, they’ll say that they certainly are nice, but it got pushed way out of proportion in their family. Without seeing what was happening, they took on the responsibility of making sure their parents and siblings were always happy, they solved all the fights, loaned everyone money, helped them get jobs. At some point, you may realize that the burdensome role is not you so you drop it. You’re still a nice person, but you no longer feel obligated to make sure everyone else is happy.

realityhttp://giokernelpanic.tumblr.com/post/67479939259

The reality of the world is that some relationships don’t work out; there are supposed to be disagreements and disappointments. If you feel responsible for fixing every problem, you will pay a high price because that’s an impossible task.

How will you respond to the new you?

Most of us have not committed criminal acts, but we do have to work through the darker parts of our personalities. Black and white are apparent; it’s those gray parts that we often hide and deny: the “nice” guy, the isolator, the victim, and the martyr. These are the gray parts of our shadow self. We can’t work on the deep negativity if we can’t admit that we have negative sides. If we acknowledge all of our feelings, we can become our whole selves.

You might mourn for the loss of these roles, but you’ll know you’re better off because you’re more genuinely you. Who you are is eternal; it never has and never will change.

vidaphoto by Brian Brake

Who we are is much more than our circumstances, whether they be great or small, though we tend to define ourselves by our circumstances. If it is a great day—if the weather’s good, the stock market is up, the car is clean and shiny, the kids get good report cards, the dinner-and-show goes well—we feel as if we are great people. If not, we feel as if we’re worthless. We move with the tide of events, some controllable, others not. But who we are is much more unchanging than that. It is not defined by this world or our roles. These are all illusions, myths that do not serve us well. Underneath all our circumstances, all our situations, is a great person. We discover our true identities and greatness by letting go of all the illusions of identity to discover our true selves.

We often look to others to define us. If others are in a bad mood, we are brought down. If others see us as being wrong, we become defensive. But who we are is beyond attack and defense. We are whole, complete, and of worth just as we are, whether we are rich or poor, old or young, receiving an Olympic gold medal, or beginning or ending a relationship. Whether at the beginning or end of life, at the height of fame or in the depths of despair, we are always the people behind our circumstances. You are what you are, not your disease, not what you do. Life is about being, not doing.”

—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross—