Thursday, 17 March 2011

Is Happiness Nothingness?

I'm taking a stand against myself, against my past, my present and my future.
I found this article form the New York times that I obviously found incredibly interesting!

When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays:

I've said before that I think that depression can be an illness related to perception, but I think that it can also be an illness of misdirected hyper-focus. When unhappy I become the most important creature in the world, I cannot think of anything but who I am (or believe myself to be), who I have been (or believe myself to have been) and what I am to become (or what I speculate may happen sometime in the future). When I begin to drift out of my low state I know I am feeling better because I start to have minutes and hours where I am not obsessively looking inward and analysing my situation with pity. I have minutes, followed by hours followed eventually by days where I forget to remember I am ill.  I don't become "happy", I just stop being aware of myself obsessively thinking. This leads me to think that happiness, perhaps, isn't about gaining anything, it is the opposite, a lack of the presence of our internal voice.  A state where, briefly, conscious thought retreats and for a moment we have no-thing to grasp on to.

For me, the moments when happiness, or perhaps joy, invades are the moments in which everything else retreats. Moments of high concentration when you are not thinking about the past, or creating various scenarios about how your future will pan out. Moments that you forget the person that you think you are. Getting lost in music, reading, exercising. This can be a moment when a great rush of your present "aliveness" fills your mind.  I feel this sometimes when I am lost in music (caught in a trap!) or at the perilous apex of a roller coaster, just before the drop. Conversely it can arrive when you are concentrating hard on the thing that is there, in front of you. One aspect that I enjoy about meditation is the conscious attempt to remove all thoughts of the future and the past from my mind.

Perhaps happiness isn't a thing to be maintained, it is a mind state that we can only ever glimpse. In fact perhaps once you are aware of it, and begin to examine it, it disappears. Like, we are told, when a Buddhist briefly glimpses nirvana. We rarely say "I am happy now" but we often say "I was happiest when..." or "I was so happy then". Perhaps happiness is something that can only exist in the past, a state of mind relative to how we are feeling now?  Perhaps the best we can hope for is contentment, a state of mind achievable when we become aware that all worry is temporary, even illusory, and will pass this time as it has a million times before.

Drinking and narcotics are very good at replicating these feelings. For me they obliterate everything but that which is happening NOW. It's not that drugs and alcohol make nothing matter to us, I think that they bring the present into sharp focus and relegate the past and the future to their rightful places as speculative, ephemeral concepts that shackle us in our, very sober, everyday lives. No wonder they are so addictive.  Strangely, Perhaps, travelling also elicits in me similar feelings. When my starting point is in the past and my destination is some time away It is easier to for me to embrace the present. Time spent on the journey is enforced powerlessness, you can do nothing about your present reality but go with the flow. It often gives me a unique sense of pleasure.

Of course religion and faith also replicate these feelings.  As well as reinforcing certainty, and therefore lessening doubt, a Christian might be absolved of responsibility for his past deeds, and guaranteed a rapturous future beyond his imagining. A belief that heaven awaits will tend to make your present life on earth of very little consequence. Joy and happiness, even bliss in this regard, come from complete absolution. You no longer have to feel guilty about your past, or constantly pensive about your future, you have been given a get out of jail free card, nothing Earthly matters.

What happiness isn't for me is the model which is sold to us everyday. An obsession with achievement for achievements sake, mundane avarice, shallow pride, the constant approval of others and, above all else, the fetishising and accumulation of objects. Why do I crave new possessions when the thousand times I have wanted something, and got what I wanted, it has never once made me content beyond the fleeting feelings of reward achieved by my making the object that was once imaginary in my life become reality. The objects I crave promise everything but always deliver almost nothing. In fact the frustration that my desire for them caused, and the subsequent disappointment with them when they failed to give me what they promised, means they are actually a cause of net unhappiness. These objects become symbols of my pointless craving and my naive optimism in thinking "this time it will be different". They are reminders that I am constantly blinded by the false promise of advertising as they join the bag of "previously desired things" that I drag through my life.

But we all know that when the worries of the future fly past the present they always turn into the worries of the past but the void that is left is never filled with calm. It is always filled with something else to be concerned about, either regret or guilt at something we have or haven't done or fear and apprehension about some terrible thing that we predict is going to happen. Both sets of fears are our minds creating realities that we can often do nothing about.

 We can either seek to work hard to destroy all of our worries by dealing with them one by one, a herculean task that will never be complete, or we can attempt to become aware of the many ways in which our flawed perception differs from reality and to gain some clarifying perspective on our constant struggles.  Happiness and perspective.  Sometime I am filled with a terrible feeling of dread, or an impending sense of doom, apparently for no reason that I can bring to mind.  In these moments the world seems like a terribly worrying place.  But sometimes within moments this tangible, tasteable dread can vanish if I receive the smallest piece of good news.  On another day this dreadful thought would never occur to me and I would be content.  What has changed? The event that I have made large is entirely illusory; the attention and importance that I gave it at the moment of its appearance is what makes me unhappy.

I'm very interested in the Buddhist concept of being awake to the illusion (a difficult word) of individual conscious experience, and of the human perception of time, the future and the past. I am just beginning to understand the idea that these are concepts that we create and that, in turn, we use as the foundation stones of our identity; pillars on which we balance our subjective perceptions of who we are as we move through time. Maybe if we can try to grasp that these concepts are false structures that we torture ourselves with daily, then perhaps we can attempt to live more for the present, constantly mindful of our present actions and feelings and begin to grasp more often the contentment that comes simply with being alive and aware.

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