An Unchanging Happiness
Moods change us. This ‘I’ changes with the tides of mood. The word ‘emotion’ is from the Latin for ‘out’ and ‘move’. How we emote or feel about some event depends on our perception of the event, apparently without our rationality. You get sacked from your job, for instance, and you feel miserable, rejected and powerless. You get a pay rise and you feel elated, proud and vindicated. But our response isn’t entirely out of our hands: it depends upon how we go on to interpret our circumstances. Getting sacked need not be a life-threatening event; the pay rise might be far less than you feel you are worth.
We think we can’t control the scripts of the soap operas of our lives, or how we perceive them, and that the tone of the drama dictates how we feel. Our happiness seems therefore to depend on the vagaries of fate, on the weather of life. Depression descends upon us when we take what happens as ‘bad’, as confirmation of our helplessness. But it is we who make the interpretation. The event itself is neutral and has no feeling.
Sure, I can try to change how I see things, but that’s not so simple, and you can’t do it directly, you can’t sit there and decide that being sacked isn’t a disaster. It can only come from developing a different view of who and what you are.
Most of the energy that humans put out, day after week after month, is in the attempt to change circumstance: to become rich, loved, esteemed, powerful, a better person, or someone who changes the world. I say to myself that the story I find myself in is not going in the direction I want it to: I will only be happy when I have achieved this, that and the other, when my circumstances are to my liking. Whether we are motivated by selfish or unselfish ideals, we are still in the process of trying to become what we would like to be, the process of getting our reality right.
All human beings are looking for a happiness that is not changed by physical or mental circumstance. But everything changes – everything starts, is sustained for a while, and then decays. Everything from ideas to human beings, from unhappiness to happiness, from universes to drops of water has a limited life span.
Truths and facts are no more reliable. They change: what was true in one era is stupidity in the next. It was once self-evident that the world was flat – everybody knew it to be the case. It was once lunacy to imagine that man could fly, let alone go to the moon. The nature of our universe is change, and yet our happiness depends on some things staying the same, and it is this investment in the possibility that some things are unchanging, and therefore dependable, that leads to our misery. Even our families come and go, quarrel and love, are born and die. Money is made and lost, pined for and worried over. Possessions are coveted, fawned over and stolen, and none of these tokens bring the unchanging happiness we long for.
But there is an unchanging happiness, an unassailable fortress of contentment that we can have access to, whatever the weather. It is ours already. We can find it inside, within ourselves.
For a happiness to be unchanging it must somehow be outside space and time, beyond change. This would seem to mean that it is therefore ‘somewhere else’, whereas the opposite is true. The prize of unchanging happiness is more here than we are. Or, rather, it is here and now, while we, mostly, are not. We are not here, now, because some or all of our attention is elsewhere. Attention goes to what we are concerned about or attached to. Attention is the means of our attachment – it is the application of consciousness.
But what is consciousness? It’s one of those words that we all use, and yet haven’t a clue as to what it actually is. What matters here is to understand that our consciousness is us. We are unconscious to the degree that we are not present. The more my attention is riveted to my attachments, the more unconscious am I. Were I able to gather all my consciousness, my attention, together in one spot, I would truly exist, I would be superconscious. As long as my attention is drained by focusing on my multifarious thoughts, I cannot be conscious, I cannot know myself. But consciousness can be directed – mystics are gatherers of consciousness.
All my thoughts are, one way or another, in and of time and space. But my consciousness is not. It is my window on transcendence. When I withdraw all my attention from my time-bound thoughts, my consciousness can know itself. As long as it is stuck on, and involved with, those objects (people, ideas, lusts, longings, fears, fantasies) it can only be occupied with trying to understand those objects and how they can be best manipulated to make me happy. When it is free from that attempt, it can know itself. It can know unchanging happiness.
Consciousness is a life and death issue: it is the difference between the two. Thus true living is a life of conscious connectivity – an unstinting and unchanging happiness: it is Shabd.