Before I go into tools that may help one find happiness, you must first realize the limitation of human words and vocabulary. The purpose of this post is not to teach a complete or divine Truth, but instead to plant a seed of an idea. One can only learn from having an experience with a direct conscious level of awareness in that moment. For example, in the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wouldn’t have believed the power to go home was all within her control she had to experience it for herself. So at best, words are tools to help one remember. Don’t look for divine wisdom within the limitations of human words.
I’d also like to clear up any misunderstanding that may have arisen with the statement that “happiness is achieved by an internal process”. There are some external circumstances that need fixing such as abusive or negative relationships of a professional/personal nature or even self-destructive habits.
Certain relationships just need to be cut loose. Or at the very least, one needs to have a certain level of disentanglement. In abusive relationships of personal or professional nature, there is nothing you can do to make it better. Many get caught into staying way past the expiration date with rationalizations like, “If I just make myself this or that way, the relationship will be better and I will be happy.”
You cannot change yourself by adjusting your mannerisms, the way you look or by doing more in order please the relationship. The underlying problem will not disappear. No matter how you may try to make it work, the problem of the relationship isn’t solely in your control. You do, however, have control or Free Will over yourself and your choices.
Sometimes it is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils/negatives. So cutting the cord may be a temporary negative, but it’s better than the ongoing negative of the stress that arises each time you interact with that relationship (whether its personal, work related or behavioral).
There are some situations where people may feel that they cannot just cut the cords of the relationship completely. If this is the case, then adjust the level of entanglement or re-evaluate how much you can actually expect out of the person based on the true relationship (negative feelings stem from perceiving an event/interaction at a lower level than one had expected it to be). Please see the post, What Defines a Family?
As an example, if your “brother” by blood isn’t fulfilling the role the title brother is entrusted with, then stop expecting him to be a brother. If someone doesn’t earn your trust, then it isn’t all that surprising when they are untrustworthy… If you re-define the relationship (to match the reality of the relationship), when this person does or says something, it will not have the impact it would have had. (remember from the post, What Defines a Family? Though genetics open the door to a relationship, just because you are blood “related” doesn’t mean a relationship is automatic).
For those that may be asking, “what about unconditional love?” I agree, that is exactly the tool or the attribute needed in this case. One needs to love that person enough to realize when one needs to let go or change their expectation of the person by re-defining the relationship to match the reality of what the relationship is.
When a relationship is negative, it is negative for both (more on the bi-directional nature of kamma/karma in another post). In abusive relationships, there is no pleasing the other. Changing your “self” to please the other will not make you happy. So you have to decide to renounce the relationship completely or to choose a level of internal disentanglement. By doing that, you are demonstrating unconditional love and having compassion for who they are, with the empathy (understanding) that each person has their own life journey to fulfill and has their own limits (just as you do). By expecting what the person is actually capable of, you stop hurting yourself and stop hurting them through your unrealistic expectations.
A simple analogy that illustrates this point is when an animal runs out in the middle of the road. You don’t get angry at that animal for not knowing any better. When dogs bark, you don’t get angry because they bark… You can’t expect more out of someone than they are truly capable of giving. Instead, learn to develop and apply an all inclusive love, empathy and compassion…
Now, to truly offer tools/advise on maintaining happiness would require an in person discussion. One reason is to sort out any confusion stemmed from vocabulary barriers, but the other is that happiness depends on individual goals. So first one needs to establish a goal and to truly desire happiness or figure out what defines happiness for oneself. To make progress that is long lasting would require more than the one-directional nature that this post can offer…
However, as promised, in addition to the concepts/tools already mentioned, here are some simple tools that one may use as a starting point. Each tool requires a daily maintenance, sort-of way to check in and re-asses. Just like you check your car for flat tires. Don’t wait till the tires pop, look before you drive. To eliminate or decrease stress in ones life, one can start by checking in with Friendship, Insight and Forgiveness on a daily basis. This may sound like a lot, but you need to constantly evaluate as both the self and the world are constantly changing.
Friendship is a key tool or component in maintaining happiness. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy by no means made it back home alone… friends are the family you chose. In Buddhism this is called the sangha effect- a gathering of like-minded folks who share a similar goal or set of values that encourage and nourish each other’s soul/spirit or intellect. Or in a more Humanist philosophy, it’s the Socrates type sit-ins and study groups …
The benefit of the sangha effect is that others will help you to see past your self-delusional problems. No matter what you think, you will be delusional about yourself, hence why it is named self-delusion.
Another benefit to like-minded folks gathering around is that you will help each other in both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths will be positively reinforced. It is likely you will help to balance each other’s weak areas, as we all have different weaknesses and strengths. So instead of reacting with envy (traits that cause stress) when a friend has a particular skill that you may lack, try instead to learn from them. Most likely, you too have a strength that is one of their weaknesses.
On your own, you may be able to get started on your journey toward happiness. But having good friends will provide you with the stamina to keep with it. In the movie, many times there were moments of wanting to fold or give up (especially The Lion, with his innate reaction to flee from uncomfortable situations), and without the encouragement of friendship the Lion, the Tinman, the Scarecrow, Dorothy and toto wouldn’t have made it through. Another significant point is that they all had different goals or desires to achieve; but those differences didn’t matter because they were united in supporting each other in achieving their individual goals.
Get to know your self/ Insight. Notice what is happening in your life. Observe and notice when stress arises. Then start to examine why the stress aroused. Typically this has nothing to do with reality and more to do with one’s expectation falling short. When this happens, learn to find the silver lining (replace the negative with a positive). To do this requires confronting lots of mirrors. Looking within and reflecting on what is perception and what is reality. We can pray for peace, but if we have pre-conditioned ideas of how it should be delivered we miss out on learning how to attain peace, internally. You can’t change the nature of the world (obstacles will arise). If you desire peace, all your inner wars will be declared to provide you with the opportunity for you to learn to become peaceful.
Another aspect of Insight requires making friends with yourself (all facets of self). Start to encourage the qualities of one’s character that bring forth peace, and start to weed out the ones that cause stress. Give yourself pep talks when you start to stray from your goal to help get back on it. Again, it is important to establish your goal and define what happiness means for you to even know where to start. Tools like insight or jhana meditation, and yoga are amongst the many in helping one pay attention and witness the workings of one’s inner conscious. These tools allow us to expand one’s knowledge of self and also lay the groundwork to be in a position to have the direct conscious level of awareness of experiences as they come into being.
Practice Forgiveness. When the stress does arise, don’t beat yourself up. Self-loathing won’t solve the guilt. Fighting anger with anger doesn’t make you any more calm or bring you closer to peace. Don’t give in by giving up. Know that it is part of nature for things to unbalance. Remember the delta effect (from the first segment of this post). Learn to forgive and don’t waste energy by allowing negativity to rent space in your head. Let go, to give room for happiness to enter. Take comfort in knowing there is no unchanging self. Realizing this for yourself and for others helps you to forgive self & to empower the changes you do have control over. If you continue to hold onto the past, there is no room for the future. You can’t change the past, but you can change going forward.
There will always be problems at your doorstep to distract you from the hard choices in life – how to deal with self & how to actually commit to leading a life of peace or happiness. We are good at distracting ourselves. We wait to appreciate what we have until the moment it is gone. We put aside how to handle the workings of our own inner conscious and look to the easy routes of fixing problems outside of oneself (the grass is greener syndrome). Know that Freewill comes in a package. So if you desire happiness, you have to do the work to achieve it. AND most of all, you have to go out and experience it for yourself! When you do, have a little Faith that the universe will conspire to help.
In a conversation with Greg, he reminded me that all rainbows are circles, even when you only see a fraction of the rainbow. The reality is that all rainbows are complete in and of themselves, as circles are universally symbolic of this wholeness. Many analogies inspired by nature can be applied to your own journey. You may only perceive a fraction of yourself, but know somewhere inside, a complete you is waiting to be realized.
written by Jessica Howard, Abbess of the POTEGP Spiritual Guidance Center
edited by Emily Esten & Abbey Courchaine