By M.K. Styllinski
Logan Zillmer | www.loganzillmerphoto.com
“What a curious phenomenon it is that you can get men to die for the liberty of the world who will not make the little sacrifice that is needed to free themselves from their own individual bondage.”
— Bruce Barton
Reading time: 8-10 mins
The idea that we can be happy in a world that seems to veer from one chaotic clusterfuck to the next appears to be a tall order. How on earth can we be happy when there is so much suffering out there? Easy. Just pretend it isn’t there – something the majority of us do most of the time. Hence the reason we are where we are – in the proverbial pig sty. Seeing things realistically and refusing to bounce through life in a “happy” bubble has consequences, but they are far less damaging spiritually than if we deny, deny deny. The latter effectively accepts the lies we are fed on a daily basis and covets willful blindess and its sham of normalcy.
Conversely, we’d short circuit if we took the pain of the world onto our shoulders. Feeling guilt and pushing the altruistic envelope in a bid to save the planet isn’t the answer either. This is most disasterous when thwarted desires are funnelled through ideology and a slave to group consciousness as we are seeing. It’s always about finding the fulcrum, mediating between the extremes and digging for the gold of one’s true individuality.
The truth is, if we want to see reality and ourselves as objectively as possible, warts and all, the inner tension and friction created from such a choice may offer an opportunity to embody an entirely different order of happiness, borne of honouring reality as it is. This is transcending the happiness seesaw and building a strong centre within, capable of withstanding any storm at any port. In effect, rather than seeking to increase our happiness quota by insulating ourselves from reality and blocking attempts to go deeper into our own programming, we can attempt the high road to a happiness that’s a byproduct of what is essentially, a spiritual practice.
Of course, if you think there is nothing more to life other than what you can see in front of your own nose, then that’s fine. You can still obtain stability and some contentment, though the dimensions of inspiration and support may be more limited. Nonetheless, to achieve a different order of happiness and peace is to live in truth – despite and due to the darkness, that is also part of light. And to live in truth means to live as you really are.
What else is there?
Things may get even more existential here, so bear with me…
We are changing all the time, from moment to moment. Our bodies grow and reflect those biological changes and mind fluctuations sometimes leading to health sometimes to dis-ease. Our personalities are quite different to when we were teenagers or when we started our first job. We are always in a state of flux. As a result, we are anchored to a mirage of “self” and a chaotic mass of thoughts, feelings and sensations jostling for supremacy, usually based on how we can keep that anchor firmly fixed to the beliefs that offer most security. But the very ground upon which we have located that anchor is shifting sands. And the ship of soul wishes to break free and explore.
Our personalities are reflections of the plasticity of the brain which, instead of offering flexibility of thought can be habituated to crystallisation which makes our nervous system “brittle” and our minds prone to reptilian fear. Given too much change or too little, a coherent order remains absent and the underlying chaos of biochemical desires crush the seeds of soul growth so that this mirage is taken for the real – a caricature of potential.
If we are really connected to all living things and there is no real separation from any object or atmosphere, we are intimately part of the immense cycles of Life and perhaps just extensions of an overarching Mind. If so, then what we consider to be our enculturated identity is merely a temporary spacesuit for navigation; an assigned name, place and trajectory in deference to the Order of Time and associated weight of matter. Hence we are embodiments of a momumental illusion that nevertheless, gives us what we need to eventually transcend it.
“The human spirit will not invest itself in a compromise.”
― Robert Fritz
Although wishing to be a better person, a happier person will not make it so, persistance and sufficient irritation at your lot will eventually give you the momentum you need. More importantly, if you are making others suffer as result of your laziness to address your issues (should you even be aware of them) means that the race is on to salvage something from your risible life of robotic reactions. We will still be shaken by the cruelties and insanities of life and how easily we can fall prey to endless distractions. However, the new strength acquired will allow us to economise energy away from things we cannot change and apply the knowledge and skills we have developed to those things we can. With some deliberate practice the centre of the seesaw between the two extremes becomes a space upon which we build strength and will, thus resiliance. Then we can continue to strengthen that position by positive habituation; finding and sharing the recipricol flow in others and maybe even building community in practical ways. This is when solutions are found, precisely because we are familiar with the creative tension that comes with maintaining that balance. That’s when you permit exchange and flow instead of resistance and stress.
There are schools of thought with a distinctly eastern/buddhist bent that counsel all one has to do is detach, let go and dissolve into the fact all is unknowable and all is perfect now. There is only now and there is only the Self and any effort to change what is – will merely create chaos. Just BE.
But what does that even mean?
As far as I can tell at this stage of my awareness, I think such a philosophy is half correct. The qualities of detachment are crucial and surrendering our will to that which is unknowable is also important. But elevating the fact that we are largely living in an illusion or simulation can easily drift into a peacable nihilism taken as a form of awakening. To be awake surely implies choices? And choices are borne from new awareness, in turn, drawn from new thoughts derived from new knowledge – knowing. Knowledge must be released and acted upon if it is to be useful. Otherwise, we become hoarders of gold like the Dragon Smaug in The Hobbit. And if we know, we may change things in small ways that share the harmony of Being we may have established, to whatever degree. Obviously, we can’t know all there is to know in the same way we cannot know God. It would be like an amoeba trying to decipher calculus. All we can do is strive to re-discover our natural state, our essence. That requires an accumulation of self-knowledge whereby the causes and effects become self-evident.
Some say we have no real free-will and that our choices are pretty much automated and instinctive. There is an awful lot of evidence to suggest that this is the case. Without any conscious awareness, our thoughts are often pre-empted by the brain which, for example, sends signals to our arm to lift the coffee cup well before we actually do it. So too our more complex choices. Where and when exactly can we perceive free-will when we live in a sensate prison of forced choices – sometimes subtle other times crude? If I don’t have real choices and I am effectively a machine prey to autonomous psychic forces, numerous cognitive slights of hand matched to the signals of social engineering, enculturation and evolutionary impulses, is there a way to bypass that?
We won’t know if we don’t try. To reach such a stage of “awakening” it’s necessary to get to a tangible starting line, otherwise it’s all just abstraction. The “trying” may be paradoxical, since we must become attentive but detached while preparing for the future through the medium of the present. We are more likely to become the process if we understand that the unfolding of the present in every second, is really all there is. But there is no reason why that continuum cannot be consciously directed over and above negation and ultra-skepticism. Effort, correctly applied means we are climbing a mountain of aspiration and aims, but that does not mean that the climb itself isn’t the destination.
Another way to look at it: we live in a material world predicated on evolution and learning. That may be the most fundamental reason we are here. What good is it to learn, if we claim that the only thing we know is we don’t know, can never know and that none of our choices mean a hill of beans? That is both healthy and dangerous. The former because it allows an open mind, humilty and the reduction of chaos. The latter because we can fall into an equal illusion through a kind of self-satisfaction that empties our minds of all knowledge (in its widest sense) and thus its potential applications to extend greater awareness for ourselves and others. Again, it isn’t just about us.
Perhaps this is too much a case of sitting on the fence and enjoying the bliss of awakening or giving in to the world of matter as an end in itself. Such a stance is divorced from committment and the assumption that such “enlightenment” is the highest point of the mountain, when it may just be mastering the mental plane and accessing channels of hightened-intelligence/intuition. Such a worship of self-abstraction veers too far to its post-modern equivalent and their worship of subjectivity without natural limits or thresholds. Sure, there are no such limits when people claim to be dissolved in the Divine or Oversoul. But we are also here, perhaps for a reason: to touch the hem of divinity and to merge with it through a metaphorical (or literal) death or to make a choice to return and show the way. That is perhaps the only choice that is ultimately real, should we ever get to that state of realisation. For most of us, such a level of connection IS unknowable and out of reach. Hence we must establish a path of access that offers incremental progress to that end while still being immersed in the material world.
We may be very far from establishing a definitive truth in our lives but such a goal is far healthier and productive in my view, than merely latching on to the unknown as forever unknowable, and thus disengaging from further discovery and knowledge. Using our mental, emotional and physical tools is surely the point of the journey? Rejecting societal engagement under the rubrique of deep acceptance is close to rejecting the lighter side of the human condition: to strive to BE. Acceptance, after all, is action as well as non-action.
The fakirs of the Near and Middle East have immense enlightment focused on the body and biofeedback; the Yogis, taoist sages and other variations on the eastern mystic have mastered their mental faculties. Christian monks, nuns and hermits have obtained mastery over the path of devotion or love and compassion with a view to mastering their emotional centre. The net result of this in any one life, isn’t necessarily enlightenment, only one form of awakening which is equally prone to self-deception as any other exclusive focus. It seems to me that such an approach, though entirely worthy, lacks holism and an integral psycho-spiritual platform. We need a practice to incorporate all three centres of gravity within our Being in order to offer true synergy of the soul and with the promise of connecting to a Higher Self, if such an ideal exists. That means surely placing ourselves in the centre of the action, namely society and learning to BE from a full spectrum of possibilities. That is the art of the challenge that produces an integration, synthesis and consolidation within our psyche/personality without atrophying any one quality or faculty.
Which means we are back to the sheer enormity of what it may mean to grow the soul. In other words, it’s a lifetime’s work. And in all likelihood, many lifetimes. And again, the paradox: to get the stage where we let go of trying, of striving is in fact part of the process of striving and trying! If that seems like a interminable loop, it’s merely an adjustment of focus, repeated and habituated so that we establish a true seat of conscious-ness. It is being conscious of that process without identifying with it that determines the results.
And those “results” were always there, we just have to remember them. So, let’s start the ball rolling towards that rememberence.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
– James Baldwin
Meantime, I think we’d all put out the welcome mat for reaching a state of moderate stability and a useful contentment with our lot, if at all possible. It won’t happen overnight or even after several years but if we stick to the program we can at least make solid preparations. By acting as if that change is already present – even though we’ll constantly fail – it makes the probability more likely that one day we’ll wake up in the morning to find its our default position and we have brought forth a new personal world.
The following offers a way to put one foot in front of the other, or at minimum, promote the regulation of negative states so that they are not normalised. Author and TED speaker Nic Parks’ The Happiness Manifesto How Nations and People Can Nurture Well-Being provides some obvious but valuable actions to get us started:
1. Connect … With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
2. Be active … Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
3. Take notice … Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savor the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
4. Keep learning … Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favorite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.
5. Give … Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you. 
Though the above may appear simplistic even trite in this jaded, cynical world, choosing even one of these suggestions may go a long way to foster a semblance of harmony over the long term and take us to the starting line.
Yet, depending on who you are, and how important truth, knowledge and growth is to you, an existential thorn will still remain lodged in your mind. Until our conscience/soul has been grown a little more, that’s as it should be. Until we have re-orientated our focus to that which builds strength in the face of chaos then we can’t expect to rid ourselves of the constant presence of material opposition as illustrated in the last post. What’s more, we need that crisis. No amount of “positive thinking”, addictive shopping, angstivism or sex-fests are going to change that. It’ll just come back bigger and stronger until you implode (which is one way of getting you back on track should you be lucky enough to come back from that particular abyss in all its different forms). Which means the process of transformation tends to be like a spiral that twists upwards taking you around some extremely tight and painfully slow bends. Which is also why the above simple actions are easy to put into practice and offer immediate results proven to work, empirically and conclusively. Persistance is the key, which is less easy to apply. Approach it from a military general commanding his inner army; prepare the ground and create some stability and space and you’ll be well-placed to use deeper applications of development when and if you find yourself in circumstances which are less than stable.
The tight-rope of balance that maintains compassion, a lightness of heart and an absolute impenetrable defence against the encroaches of evil and toxic thoughts is every normal person’s opportunity. If we are able to alter our perspective even slightly, we’ll see how much happiness we have lost through anticipating a future which we believe are entitled, or the desire to seek short-term gain at the cost of long-term benefit. Never give up on your dreams, but don’t get lost in the imagination either. Creative imagination is something different to self-indulgent fantasy. If we become addicts to the latter we not only miss chances to be happy – even for a fleeing moment – but we lose those precious insights that could help build our futures in a more pragmatic and useful way. We do that by paying attention to what is here and now, in ordinary life, while learning to be receptive to the unexpected.
Unconscious and subconscious energy adapts itself to where our focus lies. If we become aware of our lives as a developing narrative that can be changed with the right kinds of knowledge then opportunities and new possibilities can emerge from that sacred space we have created. Such markers and signposts of a new reality making contact can take a long time. But it tends to happen during our most mundane routines such as peeling the potatoes or waiting at the bus stop etc. precisely because we are seeking growth but no longer over-identified with it. Again, set the focus, watch your thoughts and nature will do the rest.
That takes faith and trust in cooperative forces outside your awareness – of the suspension of belief that they do not exist. Maybe you can give birth to the moment, and in doing so define your future. As the eminent psychologist Eric Fromm “The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born when we die – although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born.”
You are your own midwife. Wait for the contractions and see what pops out. You might be surprised.
 Marks, Nic. The Happiness Manifesto (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Kindle Locations 2-4). TED Books. Kindle Edition.