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A Different Sort of Happiness

November 28, 2018

 

 

This blog is a follow-up to the last one, in which I suggested that our natural state is one of neutrality rather than this thing we call "happiness". The sort of "happiness" I meant there is simply the experience of getting what we want, to say it rather bluntly. Our system is designed such that we feel "happy" when we're near acquiring something we desire, and such that, once we get and consume the thing, "happiness" fades until another need arises that we must fulfill.

 

This is a very mechanistic way of looking at our human state, of course, and we are not in fact machines. We possess consciousness, at least in potential; we enjoy the power to choose (also in potential), and our experience is determined as much by inner processes as by outer circumstances. A creature such as a bird or a fish appears (at least to me) to be living in a neutral state such as I described in the last blog, without the potential for true happiness or misery. It is wonderfully alive, and it obviously experiences pain, but it is not conscious in a way a human is conscious. It does not appear to be aware of itself, in other words. We humans, however, do have the capacity to be aware of ourselves, and to imagine things--possibilities, outcomes, fantasies--that are not here. And so our default setting is not really the same sort of "neutral" that a bird rests in (it appears), because we are always in some sort of relationship with our experience.

 

As animals we are driven by hormones and other chemicals to perform our animal functions in the world, but as humans we may choose the experience we have in response to our circumstances (again, at least potentially): we may merely endure those circumstances, or we may thrive, even when our circumstances are difficult and painful. So what then does "neutrality" look like for a human? Well, it depends upon the level of consciousness of that human. If the human is identified with his/her animal nature, then s/he will feel happy when things are going well and unhappy when they are not. If the human is identified with conditioned mind in addition to his/her animal nature then "neutrality" will look more like dissatisfaction. Within conditioning everything means something to the detriment of our peace of mind, and so the biological state of neutrality that we share with other creatures will be made to mean that we don't have enough, or what we have is not what we want, or some such other thing--and we will suffer as a result. That's the fundamental trouble that comes with our consciousness: we can invent fictions to reside in that make us miserable.

 

At the same time, our consciousness is a tremendous gift, in that it opens a door to experience that transcends our purely animal nature. We can have more than neutrality: we can experience our own awareness; we can sense the vast compassionate intelligence we are a part of; we can love; we can perceive the miracle of our existence and receive it with gratitude. This world can be a heaven or a hell, and everything in between, and we may choose. We may choose to the extent that we are aware of that choice, and we are aware of that choice to the extent that we have paid attention to the workings of our hearts and minds and have determined the difference between who we authentically are and who we were programmed to be.

 

That's what I would suggest we attend to during this time of thanksgiving: that choice. We each have a body and an animal nature; we have a chemistry and a biology, and yet we can live in heaven if we choose, right here and right now. Here is a different sort of happiness than the animal/mechanistic sort, and one that truly deserves the name. There is a sort of happiness that only humans may experience, deep and authentic, which arises from awareness, and which we may choose if we have the power. May we all learn to exercise that choice, and soon.

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