The perception and the pursuit of happiness.

We don’t see what is real, we see what we think is real. And our thoughts are to a vast extent directly influenced by conditioning that happened on a sub-personal level outside of our awareness and almost always without our consent. Our brain produces its interpretations of reality without ever consulting us. We think in ways that are programmed, programmed mostly by distant evolution and only to a small degree by personal history. We think in habitual patterns, and little of it is truly free and creative. The only world that we know – as presented to us by the brain – is always a touched-up photo, a revised and edited version of the original. We don’t really see what is, we see a story about what is, a made-up story.

It seems that the mind’s most basic activity is to continuously scan the environment with our senses for change. It interprets changes, judges them according to these learned, conditioned habits. Any change could mean danger to the system, to our personal life. We typically interpret the unknown as intrinsically threatening – admittedly, potentially also advantageous, but first and foremost possibly dangerous and therefore unwelcome.

It can be a useful model to see the mind as an aspect of the whole system, maybe something like an organ that controls our behavior interacting with the environment, but something without physical attributes and somehow apparently non-local, not restricted only to the brain. The basic objective of the mind is to keep this living biophysical system unharmed, to keep this body alive, this temporary manifestation of life in general.

Maybe this survival instinct of the mind is nothing but a default setting, a mode designed to fall back to when things appear to be wrong or dubious or when no other, better-informed, overriding command is available. Default setting: a program designed in the past after reviewing and interpreting the past. A strategy constructed from patterns found in this past – and only there. A way to operate, designed from analysis of the past with the idea to repeat the past – only better

But to keep the system alive does not only mean to simply react, to react on threatening dangers, and to do it reliably and efficiently by continuously reviewing and learning and developing and improving strategies. The general task to stay alive also means to maximize the underlying motivation to actually do all this, to optimize the way the system experiences its aliveness, to enhance the awareness of being alive, or said another way: to find happiness.

When happiness is this profoundly non-personal experience, so fundamentally different from the definitely personal and – we all know it only too well – temporary experience of fulfilling desire, maybe the mind, in its default setting, is not suited, perhaps not even capable to experience happiness. Maybe it takes this mysteriously subtle but so crucial shift of awareness to even see happiness. Maybe, in survival mode, we have the best chances to physically, biologically live long and well in the sense of a high degree of desire-fulfillment. But maybe, in this default mode, happiness is simply not visible, and, in order to see (find) happiness, we need to shift to another perspective, to a vantage point where self and individual uniqueness is only a neutral phenomenon and not the center of the universe.

The essence of life lies beyond the short-term survival of the just temporary form of it as a biophysical unit called body. When happiness is a condition of profound awareness and deep experiential knowledge of Life as a universal phenomenon, not only the self-oriented survival driven by personal desire but all-pervasive and non-individual – then a “happy system” is better equipped to guarantee the continuation of life in this more general, much more important way.

So what can one do to become happy?

Nothing !

Happiness, in a conventional sense, seems to be intense comfort, a feeling of supreme well-being, something we feel, and which mysteriously never really stays and we therefore relentlessly search for all the time. Happiness is a concept – our culture is full of praising it. But on an absolute level, deep inside, in the core of our heart, we know only too well that there is something superior to this mere temporary fulfillment of desire, something lasting and beyond Self. The word happiness refers to the conventional meaning, but our wisdom mind knows about the wordless, meaningless happiness beyond that.

Happiness is not a result of doing, even though the mind finds that mostly so impossible to believe. Happiness does not come from doing something, it comes from being. Happiness doesn’t come from changing things. It happens sometimes when we wake up, suddenly agreeing with things as they already are, when we somehow manage then to overcome our disbelief and see things as they really are: not only perfect beyond comprehension, but of an extraordinary quality that completely eludes any rational understanding or judgment.

Happiness has no reason; happiness doesn’t depend on conditions. In fact happiness is always there; our problem is that, most of the time, we are unaware of it, unable to see it.

Happiness cannot be perceived with the brain, only sensed in the heart. Happiness is not a thought, happiness is seeing. Thinking about and searching for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.

Happiness is like the butterfly, which, if pursued, always eludes your grasp, but which, if you sit quietly, may just land on your hand.

You cannot become any happier than you already are! No amount of doing will ever increase your happiness.

In fact less doing can diminish the distractions and clear up the vision to see happiness. Don’t look for what you can do but rather look for what you can not do, what you can omit, what you can abstain from doing. Look for what you can do without.

Sometimes I feel I’m doing too much of the wrong thing. I’m blindly barreling the wrong way. And I’ve learned to stop ! Not only change direction – stop!

I try to do as little as I can and rest there. I take this as the foundation, the only place of reference that really matters.

I take this as the empty canvas that, although already absolutely complete and perfect in itself, can still be changed and painted on. I can leave it alone and rest in awe of its neither questioning nor forbidding perfect emptiness. Or I can choose to create something out of this nothing. The empty canvas is the essence of freedom – I can fill it, but I don’t have to. In an absolutely essential way it doesn’t matter, it’s up to ourselves, our choice – no consequences other than those caused by what we then choose to do.

And then, when I really choose to add something by doing something, I do it from that place of tranquility and without disturbing it. I act out of utter freedom without expecting anything in return; I do it because it’s possible not because it appears to be necessary. I act as a free spirit, not as a slave to desire or concepts.

 Do things with care, and do not care.

(For more click here.“Romantic places”)

 © Klaus Kommoss    Jan. 2003

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3 Responses to The perception and the pursuit of happiness.

  1. Kelly Martin says:

    I love your writing, I especially love this on happiness, it is great to find people who understand. I have been writing on similar topics, about my life unfolding naturally. I felt bombarded by people goal setting and so many people focusing on future goals, I found focusing on the future brought me pain so I am being encouraged and motivated from within to be present, fully present. I am allowing my life to naturally unfold, not always easy might I add yet I feel ultimately very important for me.

    Thanks again, great blog, will add it to my list of inspiring links.

    Blessings and love, Kelly x

    p.s: I saw you on my friends site Fear as a Compass and I glad I followed you here.

  2. hazel says:

    “So what can one do to become happy?”
    perhaps “nothing” might be correct however within Buddhism happiness is a direct correlation to eliminating self-grasping ignorance, which requires a whole lot of effort on changing self and our least for myself, i find this to be thee hardest exercise in/of this life to attain! letting go of all attachment (i’m not speaking about running away to a cave and selling all my possessions!) because as you stated nothing exists inherently from its own side. perhaps that is what you mean by doing nothing…i’m just not that evolved yet Klaus!

  3. I think the crucial point is: You cannot really change self, you only can detach from self, not identify with it anymore, fully understand its impersonal nature, its ultimately empty quality. In this way, yes, eliminating self-grasping ignorance is the key. However, it is a huge trap to try to fight self.
    Indeed, to unlearn things is more difficult than learning things, but it is pretty much the same process.
    It is ‘self‘ that judges your degree of evolution, don’t pay too much attention to it.

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