“Nothing can make you happier than you are. All search for happiness is misery and leads to more misery. The only happiness worth the name is the natural happiness of conscious being.”
At its root, unhappiness is essentially the activity of contraction, based on a fixated sense of independent self – “me and mine”. Most take this “me story” seriously, having become convinced that it is real – that it is what they are. Identifying exclusively with this perception, rather than simply relaxing as that prior condition within which the transient sense “me” arises and dissolves, can turn millionaires into imaginary paupers. On that premise, let’s inspect this apparent case of mistaken identity, and see where it leads us.
For we humans in general, whether things are going smoothly or not, or whether we imagine that we’re doing well or maybe not, and regardless of whatever temporary circumstances and environments that may currently pertain, there is something that we can notice. It is always there, because it is something that we are always reinforcing in thought, word, and deed.
As verification, by carefully and honestly inspecting our own habitual activities, we can recognize for ourselves that there is something that we are compulsively doing in the midst of all conditions and relations: grasping and avoiding. This vicious cycle of grasping and avoiding characterizes and serves to define the life of the ego, creating an inner running narrative — the “me-story” — which requires constant care and feeding, and yet never yields true satisfaction or happiness at the heart.
On the other hand, how rare is it to ever actually pause in the midst of our compulsive pursuits in order to fully and completely inhabit this very body here, relaxing into the senses without trying to have life be other than it is – without grasping and avoiding, or fabricating an ongoing storyline? What we might find if we do so is that this body is a wonderfully revelatory portal, a transparent prism of reality itself.
The Buddha asked, “What is called true reality?”
Mañjuśrī replied, “The view that the body is self is true reality.”
The Buddha asked, “Why is the view that the body is self true reality?”
Mañjuśrī replied, “Viewing the body as the appearance of suchness, which is neither real nor unreal, neither coming nor going, neither body nor non-body, is called true reality.”
Just so, what can be observed here, when we stop for a moment and pay close attention to the way we typically “live the body”? Well, whether we are seemingly calm or tense, and essentially in any circumstance, there seems to be a kind of knot in the being, a persistent contraction. It takes the form of a dissatisfaction that is continuous and primal. It’s a stressful discomfort that, when really inspected, is found to be the root motivator for all of our seeking and searching — not just “spiritual” searching, but seeking itself.
It’s a search to change the state or condition of our being, so as to neutralize and relieve this primal sense of . . . unhappiness, dis-ease, dis-comfort, dis-satisfaction, dis-stress – felt acutely as the body itself. We try food. We try sex. We water our plants and are nice to animals and neighbors. We try to be “spiritual”. We think about sacred things. Perhaps we want to have a confirming relationship with something “beyond”, something “greater”, so as to “transcend” this root contraction that we are always feeling, as the body. Perhaps a little astral travel just might do the trick!
Long story short — we want out!
Consider the history of our species in this regard: one prolonged effort to escape this knot, felt in and as the body. What is the relentless propaganda programmed into and transmitted through our contemporary cultural media: “Consumers, by acquiring enough money, food, sex, recognition, longevity, or meditation, you can manipulate life to achieve release, and be rewarded with freedom from this nagging sense of embodiment. With the right strategy, earnestly applied, you’ll no longer have to deal with this clench around the heart.”
Yes, the HEART!
Tracing this felt contraction, we always are drawn right back to our own heartbeat. This beating heart! Right here! The conviction that we are exclusively the body, and that the body is us – could that be the root of this sense of contraction, of dis-satisfaction? Could this also be where the initial sense of separation/alienation is arising? Right here, at the heart?
Moreover, it’s not even really under our control, is it? We are not beating our heart. It just beats, beats, beats, and all the worlds of experience are born here. All the strategies are devised here. All remedies are imagined here. Here is where the search begins! This is the seed of all seeking – our REACTION at the heart to this oppressive sense of embodiment.
Spurred on by this beat, we track through a seemingly endless realm of experience, all simply modifications of the original sense of contraction. All in reaction to life itself. We are always clenching up at the core, and manufacturing the search as a reaction to this clench. Even the strategy to relax this clench is only another form of clenching, of reacting. All provisional remedies merely constitute more of the same chronic activity — the activity of the contraction — our present and continuous activity.
Furthermore, there is ultimately no way out. Even stopping the physical heart will only yield a temporary respite. Forget about stopping thought! Even yogis in exalted Samadhi must eventually come back down to normal consciousness and deal with unresolved emotional/sexual afflictions. Indeed, has any “grasping or avoiding” strategy we have ever devised led to true and enduring Happiness?
At a certain point in life, our personal investment in the possibilities of experience (based on belief, hope, and fear) can begin to lose appeal, and a consuming doubt about the whole story may arise. Some might say that this is a moment of Grace. We just can’t seem to generate the same old “juice” for that now broken-hearted pursuit which was scripted to make us happy in the ongoing narrative of “me”. The search itself finally becomes suspect, as well as our stake in it.
There’s an old poster slogan floating around in the sea of pithy maxims that states: “You cannot become happy, you can only be happy.” By observing the mechanics of the quest for happiness, we can notice how miserable we typically tend to become while pursuing it (even though we are guaranteed the right to such unhappiness by the U.S. Constitution itself).
That is, in trying to become happy, we necessarily consign ourselves to a de facto state of unhappiness, since the pay-off is projected out into some future time where the search ideally culminates in a choice job, a desirable mate, an ample bank balance, a slim and attractive body stylishly adorned with shiny bling, or even high “spiritual” states of absorption and ecstasy.
How many of us along the way have inadvertently tricked ourselves into the cognitive trap of submission to a fabricated belief system which posits that real happiness is something to be attained through various schemes of energetic manipulation — whether mental, emotional, physical, or some combination thereof?
When that whole desperate strategy is ultimately recognized as futile – a failure — true transformation can happen, but usually not until then, and certainly not through some intellectual effort to surrender. There must be a direct, visceral recognition of the futility of the search to become happy. Sri Nisargadatta put clearly: “Mere verbal conviction is not enough. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up.”
When we really see how the dog has been chasing the tail, a shift can occur, and in such a revolutionary shift in the angle of vision, a free transparent spaciousness opens within us, a vivid shine of genuine happiness that had been dormant at the heart.
As the American Adept Robert Adams noted: “When you give up all hope of ever getting anywhere, you’re really surrendering. And that’s a good sign. You’re surrendering your ego, your thoughts, your feelings, and then you become still. It is in the stillness that things begin to happen, in quietness, when things begin to happen.”
If the stress starts at the heart, doesn’t it make sense that the healing must begin there too? It’s here that the innocent radiance of Awareness wakes up to itself, and once awakened, embraces all the varied forms of itself, including this humble, magnificent body through which consciousness incarnates to express itself and, in the process, to become fully Self-aware.
What we discover, if we are faithful to our inquiry, is that our natural and native Happiness only truly and fully emerges when we have at last let go of even the motive to strive for happiness, when we are no longer picking and choosing, or hoping and fearing. Moreover, unlike the conventional ideal of happiness, which is free of anything that can cause pain and sorrow, true happiness is all-inclusive, embracing even sadness and suffering, while simultaneously transcending any quality or attribute.
Of course, this is the opposite of what we have been told by the propaganda of this world, imbued as it is with the memes of hope and fear, and the perpetual search for escape routes and strategies of grasping and avoidance. How liberating to recognize that our own primal happiness is always and already present as the feeling of being itself, prior to and beyond the necessity of pursuit and acquisition! And yet, should it really come as a surprise that it has been here all along, waiting for us to simply wake up and “smell the roses”?