The Mechanics of Unhappiness

cracking up

“Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hordes, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear, Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes, Fear attacks, love amends.”
~Neale Donald Walsch

The condition which we commonly call “unhappiness” is a psycho-physical state of negative reactivity originating from a complex contraction in the being itself. Moreover, this contractive activity spawns an ongoing internal conflict which we are habitually reinforcing, based on uninspected programs that we have incorporated in the course of our human experience. Although these afflictive programs are as diverse as there are humans, they all derive from a fear-based reaction to life and relations.

For that chronic fear reaction to maintain its prominent position in our mental and emotional life dramas, a level of identification with a solid and enduring self-sense is necessary. In other words, a “me-story” must be created and preserved, in the form of an ongoing narrative in which the survival and validation of the central character is always the prime concern. There’s an old Buddhist saying: “If you want to be unhappy, think only of yourself”. Is there any emotion more associated with such self-interest than fear?

Of course, there are many who claim that the fear-response is hard-wired into our very molecular structure — our DNA — for a very important and even critical purpose, directly related to the ancient challenge for physical survival. Although most of us do not currently live in an environment in which we need to be on the lookout for predatory animals, nevertheless there are still plenty of threats all around us. Because of that, a certain degree of prudent concern and attention is certainly necessary.

For one example, on a societal level, we employ a criminal justice system in order to protect the populace from those who would do us harm in one form or another. For another example, on a personal level, we have learned to avoid participating in unprotected sex, considering the looming dangers of sexually transmitted diseases that are potentially deadly, such as the virus associated with AIDS.

Therefore, given that some degree of fear may still be a necessary component of living in this human world, at what point does that energy become the basis for the persistent mood and assumption of unhappiness that seems endemic to our present civilization? When does appropriate caution transform into a neurotic prison, in which the future is dreaded and we are eaten alive by worries and cares? And perhaps most to the point: does the appearance of fear energy and the accompanying sensations confirm the reality of the solid, independent, and enduring person most of us imagine ourselves to be?

Upon investigation, we can notice that there is a specific mode of perceiving that makes it seem as if there is an actual person implicated by the arising of sensations such as fear. This same mode of perception creates the appearance of self and other, and when an “other” appears (a not-me), so too does the seed of fear take root. This mode of perception is called “dualism”, and it is the usual way we humans apprehend the world, based on a division between what we identify with as our “self”, and all that we take to be “not-self”.

The eminent Dzogchen teacher,  Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, delineated the effects of clinging to the dualistic perspective:

“If, through fundamental misperception of reality, the individual enters into the confusion of dualism, primordial consciousness, which is in fact the source of all manifestation (even of dualistic consciousness and, in fact, of all phenomena), itself becomes obscured. The individual’s deluded mind then mistakes the manifestations of its own pure, innate primordial awareness for an external reality existing separately from itself, which it endlessly, and ultimately unsuccessfully, attempts to manipulate, trying in vain to bring an end to the continual underlying sense of dissatisfaction and unease which is the inevitable experience of the obscuration of pure awareness. The experience of underlying dissatisfaction (or ‘dukha’ in Sanskrit) that unavoidably arises with a deluded mind, continues, no matter how ‘successful’ the individual becomes in dealing with his or her world in materialistic terms, until the individual regains the experience of the primordial state.

By carefully observing the actual nature of perception itself, we can eventually (or even immediately) come to realize that that there is no actual subject-object division in direct experience. Such a breakthrough recognition reveals that the dualistic model of processing experience consists of an essentially arbitrary and non-binding modification of consciousness, a mental fabrication or fantasy of interpretation on perception which is strictly dependent on the reality and belief that we happen to grant it. In other words, our sense of reality is based on our own limited conditioning and perceptual filters, which necessarily obscure “what is”.  On one hand, it may seem to be a convenient and even useful way of seeing things in the objective realm — inferring a subject apart from the object — but on the other hand, the ensuing sense of separation and apparent division in consciousness which accompanies such a view invariably leaves us with a chronic sense of dissatisfaction in life and relations.

Indeed, for most humans, life is one long experience of dissatisfaction, alienation, resistance, and suffering, only rarely punctuated by pleasure, relief from anxiety, and some measure of fleeting happiness. Hanging over our very heads, there seems to be an ever-present sword waiting to drop, and this sense of apprehension infects all of our relations. Poets may rage against the fact of impermanence, and yet is there anything in life that is not subject to change? Even so, the fear of change most of us share is one of the main obstacles to accepting life as it is, and that fear itself is rooted in a distrust of the unknown.

However, it is only in fully relaxing and coming to rest in the unknown that we are able to find the space for our natural happiness to emerge from the shadow of fear. In reality, we don’t know. In fact, by incarnating in the human realm, we have purposely set aside our universal knowledge in order to fully appreciate living in the unknown, with all the uncertainty that such an adventure implies. Not knowing is a fundamental human condition, but accepting that fact need not provoke some sense of dread and insecurity. Rather, we can shift from our typical fear-driven dualistic perception to one wherein experiencing the unknown is no longer fraught with inherent divisions in consciousness between a “me” that needs to be protected from whatever appears as “not-me”.

In order to make such a shift, however, we need to see through and discard all limiting conceptual and emotional overlays, as well as all dualistic superimpositions, that obscure reality as it is. Rather than fixating attention in some conflicted view of self and other, based on a felt contraction in the being, we can directly recognize ourselves as the source, or projector, of the indivisible flow of reality itself.

In this regard, Nisargadatta Maharaj suggested:  “Contemplate life as infinite, undivided, ever present, ever active, until you realise yourself as one with it. It is not even very difficult, for you will be returning only to your own natural condition. Once you realise that all comes from within, that the world in which you live has not been projected onto you but by you, your fear comes to an end. Without this realisation you identify yourself with the externals, like the body, mind, society, nation, humanity, even God or the Absolute. But these are all escapes from fear. It is only when you fully accept your responsibility for the little world in which you live and watch the process of its creation, preservation and destruction, that you may be free from your imaginary bondage.”

In practice terms, even when primal-type fear arises, we need not add our usual conditioned interpretations to it, and in turn confirm some distinctly separate and concrete self-sense as a result. Rather, we can simply allow it to arise in the light of naked awareness, and also let it dissolve accordingly, without trying to change, name, or claim it. In this way, the fear is not given a chance to gain a foothold – it has no place to land. Moreover, if we continue in this shifted mode of free-flowing non-dwelling perception (rather than falling back on the dualistic default of a subject-object illusion), we can notice that our prior nature of aware spaciousness moves correspondingly to the forefront, like the sun melting away the clouds of unhappiness.

In other words, what is not used becomes obsolete. Consequently, by not indulging the mechanics of unhappiness (which is after all a foreign installation), we have opened the space for our true happiness to shine through. Such genuine and heart-felt happiness naturally illuminates all that it comes in contact with, thus raising the frequency of vibration for the whole collective in the process.

Both happiness and unhappiness are infectious, just as are fear and love. Regardless of how things may appear in any situation, we always have a choice about which mode of perception we will feed, and therefore what kind of influence we will manifest in this realm. Since we live in a world of interdependence, the choice we make is for all. In choosing love over fear, we are also choosing freedom over bondage, and by remembering and embodying that liberating truth, we support the grounds for an increasingly sublime evolutionary advancement as a species.

To love or fear –
that’s the test.

At the core
the heart knows best.

Open your eyes and
you will see,

fear is
the malignancy.

The fearful mind is a
conflicted thing, obscuring
the songs that love would sing.

Let the healing begin within —
don’t prolong a war that
no one can win.

Give up the fight with yourself
before it begins, why struggle
in vain with your own
best friend?

Our nature is to be at peace,
to know ourselves,
to let fear cease.

Only love can liberate
entanglements that we create.

If you want to be happy
let go of yourself, and
offer your best to
somebody else.

There’s no heart math
more plain than this –

the more selfless the love,
the more lasting the bliss.

Relax your fears
and enjoy life’s play.

Above all, love,
and you won’t go astray.


See also:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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32 Responses to The Mechanics of Unhappiness

  1. marcelvuijst says:

    I know what fuels the dual series… but there are also the so-called “others” I wished all the humanoids would understand this, in every situation (when the shit hits the dual fan especially)

  2. marcelvuijst says:

    Yes, so all the “others” are just props, especially the one’s most close (the ones we would say “my wife, my mother, my mate etc”) although they might have a pre-human identity, it is just shares of the same light, which is part of the play.

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    Actors on a stage, playing our parts perfectly . . . 🙂

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    M: Pure experience does not bind; experience caught between desire and fear is impure and creates karma.

    Q: In all the universe is there one single thing of value?

    M: Yes, the power of love.

    ~from “I Am That”, Nisargadatta Maharaj

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”

    ~ H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Why are you unhappy?Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn’t one.”

    ~ Wei Wu Wei

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    Q: Why do we seek worldly happiness, even after having tasted one’s own natural spontaneous happiness?

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: When the mind is engaged in serving the body, happiness is lost. To regain it, it seeks pleasure. The urge to be happy is right, but the means of securing it are misleading, unreliable and destructive of true happiness.

    Q: Is pleasure always wrong?

    M: The right state and use of the body and the mind are intensely pleasant. It is the search for pleasure that is wrong. Do not try to make yourself happy, rather question your very search for happiness. It is because you are not happy that you want to be happy. Find out why you are unhappy. Because you are not happy you seek happiness in pleasure; pleasure brings in pain and therefore you call it worldly; you then long for some other pleasure, without pain, which you call divine. In reality, pleasure is but a respite from pain. Happiness is both worldly and unworldly, within and beyond all that happens. Make no distinction, don’t separate the inseparable and do not alienate yourself from life.

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    “In order to transcend fear we must transcend perspective.

    Fear is an emotional experience which exists within the bandwidth of the physical state where you are presently. It is a learned and adopted behaviour of species within this particular vibration of expression. This is to say the conditions found in this physical universe assign certain pressures and forces upon your consciousness which produce an emotion called fear. Your physical body has evolved genetically to communicate this emotion, this natural sense, through the activation of glands, secretion of chemicals and electrical stimulants throughout the body. It has evolved to produce this reaction within you in order to survive in its surrounding habitat and environment. Just in the same way as plants and insects develop their own unique characteristic responses to survive in their own harsh habitats. The point of explaining this is to inform you that fear is very much a natural aspect and process of the human animal species in the universe in which you exist. Within this understanding, know that you should never alienate or condemn fear as evil or something which is unnatural. The first step in transmuting fear is to accept it as part of your nature, and do so with the greatest compassion. For it is fear which was initially adopted as an emotional value as means of protecting you as an animal, and alerting you to harm, danger and disharmony. Just as you would place your hand upon a flame, your fear communicates to you to remove your hand from the flame in order to protect you from damage.

    Unfortunately, this instinct has been long exploited in people and used to control them.
    There is another instinct within the human animal which is responsible for your capacity for love. This is the instinct of nurture, which is found within all kingdoms. Nurture is a genetic instinct (originally from spirit nature) which instructs the human being how to behave in order to exist in harmony within its given environment. It communicates intuitive understanding how to form relationships in order to survive within mutual wellbeing with all that is. It is a learnt evolutionary behaviour which expresses the vibration understood as love.

    In any thriving successful harmonic civilisation nurture will always lead over fear. This can be observed in all other species on planet Earth who teach you this lesson within their humble simple lives. Though you may witness a lion hunt and kill a mother deer for food, you may then witness the same lion nurture its fawn and defend it from predators. Other animals behave in harmony with their environment and perceive equilibrium and balance. Because of this harmonic behaviour they are in harmonic resonance with the Earth and with one another. This harmony allows each of them to communicate with one another across the species barrier in such a way as they understand one another. If you study different animals in their interactivity with others you will observe this taking place. Human beings are the only animals who have lost their natural ability to communicate in this way with other species. This is because human beings no longer vibrate within the same intuitive connective frequencies that these other animals exist on.

    The reason for this explanation is to place your perspective in the right place where it needs to be in order to understand the behaviour of human beings. You must relinquish the pride and the ego attached to human superiority before you can resolve the afflictions of such attitudes. Human beings have become fearful creatures because they have adopted lifestyles that disconnect from all other animals and from their natural planet, which were always there to support and nourish them. They are alone in their own survival for supremacy with one another, within their relationships, within their careers and within their self centred aspirations. They fear because they have lost touch with their nurturing instincts often found within smaller family communities that once were commonplace upon the Earth. Because nurture has not been the founding value within technological and knowledge advancement, great cities have been constructed on the foundation of other values. These values have promoted adverse behaviours of disconnection, competitiveness and egocentricity. With so many animals (human beings) living so close together in such disharmonic environments that disconnect them from other species and from nature, of course chaos and fear will ensue.

    To overcome this fear the human being then has to first alter their current behaviour which attracts the experience of the emotion known as fear. They have to behave harmonically with their environment and embrace their nurture nature which produces the emotion called love. Only through love can fear be transmuted.

    Altering behaviour to one of nurturing nature changes the thoughts that you have, for it changes the values that you posses. Changing these values causes changes in attitude. Changes in attitude lead to changes in consciousness. Changes in consciousness lead to changes in cellular and consciousness memory. It is within memory where new patterns of programming are written for new generations of your children who come after you, who behave in response to that memory within their genetic blueprint. This is how you overcome fear. Not by alienating it as if it is some evil aspect of you, but by allowing natural nurture to lead the way to love. The wisdom of the heart leads the way to resolution, for it is within your heart where the voice of your nurturing nature is found. It is this voice of love which, in its own behaviour and natural function, works to connect you with everything you need to exist in harmony and balance as a sentient being.”


  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.

    When we think we have been hurt by someone in the past, we build up defenses to protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. So the fearful past causes a fearful future and the past and future become one. We cannot love when we feel fear..

    Peace of mind comes from not wanting to change others. Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions.

    Fear and love can never be experienced at the same time. It is always our choice as to which of these emotions we want. When we release the fearful past and forgive everyone, we will experience total love and oneness with all…”

    ~Gerald G. Jampolsky
    Love is Letting Go of Fear

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “The nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,
    Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
    Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.
    How pitiful they who cling strongly to concrete reality:
    Turn your attention within, my heart friends.”

    ~ Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.

    ~Rainer Maria Rilke

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “Once you know with absolute certainty that nothing can trouble you but your own imagination, you come to disregard your desires and fears, concepts and ideas, and live by truth alone.”

    ~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

  13. Bob OHearn says:

    Overcoming Self-Aggression

    “Imagine what could happen if we all began to feel that we are good, and that society is good — and to have confidence in ourselves that way. When I am teaching in the West, people talk about self-loathing and self-aggression. That is coming from a sense of unworthiness. There seems to be a lot of evil in the world, and many of us experience great skepticism about human nature. In addition, we may have been taught at home, school or church that simply by having been born, we are inherently faulty or incomplete. Without a feeling of worthiness, human society and communication naturally become vehicles of manipulation and deception, and we use every activity to shore ourselves up or to outdo someone else. Through this false sense of power, life becomes a perpetual unfolding of doubt, which only confirms the inadequacies we perceive and elicits a feeling of alienation. My father called it “the setting sun.” This term describes a time when humanity’s sense of dignity and purpose is diminishing, like sunlight at the end of the day. What is setting is our ability to recognize our goodness.

    If humanity is to survive — and not only that, to flourish — we must be brave enough to find our wisdom and let it shine. We uncover it by beginning to examine our assumptions. We may never before have considered human nature, but in order to move forward as a global community, it is vital that we do it now. Is it really our nature to be fearful and aggressive, or could it be that we are actually gentle and fearless at heart? Underneath the stress and anxiety, is it possible there is peace? If our self-reflection turns up an inkling of that, we can draw power from it, daring to shift our destiny. In this way, the Shambhala principle is a socially transformative process through which confusion about human nature becomes confidence in human worthiness.

    We are living in a world where global leadership in many fields is clearly necessary. To be in the vanguard, we need to understand that the purpose of being here is to engender true peace. It is not confusion that we need, but wisdom. The wisest thing to do is to realize and cultivate our nature. Let us make that primordial stroke, mixing courage with wisdom.”

    ~Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, ‘The Shambhala Principle’

  14. Bob OHearn says:

    “Notice when I stop talking, how quiet it becomes, in your mind. This is the state I’m referring to, that state in between thoughts, where there is nothing going on, in that second, in that moment, when the mind is total quiet, the thoughts are not moving any longer. This is your true Self, in that moment in between thoughts. Stay in that moment. Learn to put yourself in that state, whether you are in the market place or you are in a temple, wherever you are, learn to be still. It makes no difference what is going on around you. It makes no difference what other people are doing. You be still. When you are still, then there’s peace. When you are still, there’s happiness. Can you ever imagine a person who is being happy all the time, for no reason whatsoever. Most of us have been taught that to be happy we have to receive something good. We have to have something nice happen to us to be happy, otherwise we are miserable. Yet the truth is, happiness is your very nature, unalloyed happiness, eternal happiness, forever happiness.”

    ~ Robert Adams

  15. Bob OHearn says:

    But regardless of what it brings your way, your choice is simple: Love or Fear. And yes, I understand it’s hard to find happiness on those nights when you feel like you’re all alone in the world, when a loved one passes, when you fail that test or get fired from that job; But when these moments come, you do not have to live in regret of them, you don’t have to give them constant negative attention and allow them to reshape your brain to the point that you become a bitter, jaded, cynical old curmudgeon that no longer notices that the very fact that they’re alive means they get to play blissfully in this cosmic playground where you get the godlike power of choice.

    What you can do is say; “Yes, this sucks. But what’s the lesson? What can I take away from this to make me a better person? How can I take strength from this and use it to bring me closer to happiness in my next moment?” You see, a failed relationship or a bad day doesn’t have to be a pinion to your wings, it can be an updraft that showcases to you what things you like and don’t like, it can show you the red flags so that you can avoid them. If there was a personality your ex-partner had that drove you insane, then you now have the gift of knowing you don’t want to waste your time with another partner who acts the same way.

  16. Fareed says:

    In this phrase “Once you know with absolute certainty that nothing can trouble you but your own imagination, you come to disregard your desires and fears, concepts and ideas, and live by truth alone.”

    May I ask how does one see the truth? isnt truth is also just a projection of our mind and what we perceive to be true. How then does one know whats the absolute truth. Many thanks

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Hello Fareed!

      Of course, this is the age-old question, isn’t it? One way to clarify the matter is to discard what is not true. What you discover in the process is that nothing that you can see or know is true, the truth is not an object of the senses or intellect. It is what makes seeing and knowing possible. Hence, it is prior to the faculties that would attempt to grasp it. Just so, when you have let go of everything, what remains? You cannot even call it truth, that is just another conceptual designation. Really, it is the simplest, most obvious. It is you!
      Of course, just saying or reading that means little. One must go through the inquiry themselves. I discuss the process in many of my essays here. You might start with the first one: True Inquiry and the Conscious Process.


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