“Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.” ~Paramahansa Yogananda
For over 200 years “the pursuit of happiness” has been thought of as a self-evident truth and human right. But what if happiness cannot be pursued? What if happiness is actually much easier to find once we stop chasing after it?
Buddhist psychology teaches that peace, love and happiness are mind states, that appear spontaneously when fears and desires dissolve, when we open our hearts (and minds) to the present moment- right here and now.
As the Dalai Lama put it, “happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.” All the healthiest mind states and emotions arise naturally when we live in harmony with life, when we let go of wanting things to be different and instead appreciate the Universe just as it is.
What Buddha realized, over 2,500 years ago, is that our psychological states are a result of our interpretations of reality. Believing we need to acquire possessions, achieve something or change things (the world, ourselves, others) in order to “attain” happiness is a false belief that actually creates anxiety, fear, worry, distress and suffering.
Unhappiness means our hearts and minds are not at ease. We are off balance, don’t feel safe, complete, worthy or whole. People with PTSD experience this to an extreme, but for millions (perhaps billions) of human beings modern life generates anxiety and fear as a norm. It’s what feeds the consumer culture of our present age, as well as wars, drug addiction, crime and most of the conditions of human suffering.
The truth which Buddha discovered (and modern psychology now provides support for) is that happiness, love and inner peace will arise naturally when we are generous, mindful, compassionate and appreciate the present moment.
Being grateful for (and mindful of) what we are doing and already have (rather than anticipating getting what we want in the future) is the doorway to peace, joy and satisfaction.
When we believe there is nowhere else to be (but here), nothing in the Universe that we need to change (right now), our minds stop racing and calmness begins to rise naturally, by itself.
As we stop spinning thoughts and cravings its like removing heavy curtains that had blocked our senses, our soul’s windows to the world. By letting go of desires, fears and expectations our hearts and senses are able to shift attention to the beauty of the present moment, the magic of this Universe we belong to.
Many people meditate to cultivate serenity and calmness, but healthy mind states can also arise naturally during creative and physical activities such as dancing, playing music, cooking, reading, drawing, gardening, yoga, sports and playing with children. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes these moments as flow, where mindful concentration and creative engagement help us feel connected to the world and happy to be alive.
When anchored in the present moment, we can more easily hear the sounds of birds, stop to smell the flowers, see leaves of trees waving with the wind, feel the life in the cells of our bodies, notice the smiles on children’s faces. As our senses open colors seem deeper, music sounds more clear and beautiful.
No longer pursuing some ideal future our hearts relax and we become aware of the sacred beauty of this moment, this place, this precious life we are living right NOW.
Experiencing the beauty and preciousness of life doesn’t mean we have to give up trying to change the world. War, poverty, racism, sexism, materialism all need to be dismantled, challenged and undone by the human family.
But if we don’t simultaneously understand how to be happy, peaceful and loving right now, we end up creating more suffering, fighting ignorance instead of transforming and healing the world with our wisdom, creativity, mindfulness and love.
The darkness won’t dissipate until we bring light to it. Realizing that happiness cannot be pursued provides the key to finding peace in our lives and sharing it. Understanding that life is about giving (not getting) we are better able to help others, setting a butterfly effect in motion, that can ripple out into the world.
This understanding, of the beauty of the Universe we live in, is what the Buddha tried to communicate, what Zen and Taoism are all about. It’s what Einstein realized, what Walt Whitman shared in his poetry, what Mozart celebrated with his music, what Van Gogh attempted to capture with his paintings.
The great thing about positive mind states is they’re contagious, growing in size and power when we offer them freely. Unfortunately, the same is true with negative mind states! Which is why it’s so important for us to choose our thoughts wisely. The more peace, love and happiness you are able to cultivate in your life the more you will have to share with others.
By being the change we wish to see in the world, as Gandhi put it, the world is changed, beginning with each of us, as we awaken to the simple everyday beauty of our lives.
“See simplicity in the complicated, Seek greatness in small things. In the Universe, the difficult things are done as if they were easy.” ~Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that.” ~Alan Watts
“People normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one’s perception of reality.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.” ~Eckhart Tolle
“Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.” –Lao Tsu
* Glimpses of a Creative Universe * Paradigms are Made for Shifting * Yūgen (幽玄) – Deep Awareness of the Universe * Poetry Surrounds Us – Vincent Van Gogh * Children of the Cosmic Dance * Awakening from a Case of Mistaken Identity * Zen & the Art of Living Deeply * How Einstein Saw the World * Shifting Paradigms: Aligning with the Wisdom of Nature * How We Participate in the Creative Life of the Universe * How Wisdom Grows – Educating Hearts & Minds * Surrendering to the Paradigm of Love * The Creative Matrix: Awakening to Find Ourselves Home *