There was a long period when I was searching for the perfect schedule for my day, the perfect things to do, activities to follow, goals to set. I never found them, or rather I found too many of them. I would feel the need to improve in something, I would try for sometime to master it. Sometimes results were quick, sometimes it took years. I would do everything to be a particular way. When I succeeded, I would be ecstatic. But one happening was common every time, I would get used to the new ways, and then I will get bored and would feel the need to do something different. The period of ecstasy would end, just like the effort it required. There never was a perfect schedule, or activity, or goal, not for long.
With jobs too, I got bored with the same kind of things. I felt like doing something new every once in a while. Even blogging, most probably, won’t last for me as a primary activity for ever.
This held true even more for possessions I gathered. The ecstasy surrounding a new, prized possession lasted even shorter. In no time, I would start feeling the need for a new thing. When this continued for long, it led to frustration. I have always believed that there has to be a state where I will feel ecstatic for ever, without needing anything else. But the things I had, even though I put a lot of effort in them, were not providing me that state.
Do you feel the same way? Do you hate not being able to enjoy something for long? You buy a new car, and then you get used to it. Or you have a girlfriend/boyfriend or a spouse but don’t feel the same way about them. Or maybe you aspire to attain a certain state in life and, after achieving it, don’t enjoy it for long?
Nothing is constant in the form world
My continuous frustrations got me thinking. I started observing my feelings and consulted some literature on happiness and self satisfaction, achieving goals etc. and came to some conclusions.
I started seeing some truth in the old saying, ‘The only constant in this world is change’. I concluded that no matter how much I focus on achieving a goal, whether its a job, a soul mate, or money, or self development, I will never find a state where I can be absolutely and totally happy for the rest of my life, without setting new goals and aspiring for them. I realized that the idea that one should work hard to achieve enough so that he can retire early and live a life of peace and fun, is one of the biggest myths in this world. You can never retire per se, you can never just sit down and do nothing, that is death. And you absolutely don’t need to wait for certain conditions before doing what you want to do.
About possessions, I realized something else too. When you feel a constant urge to buy something new or get something new, it is an indicator of a larger lack in your life, maybe you are not properly aligned with your life’s purpose. The life force, when suppressed, becomes toxic and finds other ways of release, this may include tendency to gather stuff and look for security and possession, be obsessed with and associating self with job titles, money and looking impressive to others. You may impulsively spend a large amount of money and feel guilty later.
Stages of personal growth
In my life, I have seen myself and those around me going through certain stages.
The first stage is when people find it difficult to work in a disciplined way to achieve their goals. For me and some others, it was in my formative years. For some, it continues into their adulthood. Very few discipline and focus themselves enough to achieve their goals.
Once people discipline themselves and achieved their goal, comes the second stage when they get used to what they have, even bored with it. They will be frustrated and confused. After having worked and tried so hard for something that they thought would be the end of all their troubles, that will make them happy forever, they find they enjoy it less and less each passing day. This is frustrating, and a lot of people will feel bitter and angry, and will give in to the way life is. They won’t make any further efforts to find something that makes them happy forever.
Then would come the third stage. There will be still very few who would keep on looking further, keep on seeking that which gives ultimate, everlasting happiness. The same cycle of happiness and boredom will repeat itself a few times and only the most determined will continue on.
They are faced with some very difficult questions that they would initially feel like avoiding. When these questions come up again and again, they have no choice but to face them.
First they might think that they understood their requirements wrong, they judged wrong and that, with the new insights, they will be able to aim for the right things. They already know by now that they can achieve whatever they want, they have done it already, they have faith in themselves, their discipline and focus. They think all they needed was a better understanding of things to aim for the right stuff, and they have that now… Or do they? Do they really have the ultimate understanding of things? Do we ever become so mature that we can discern, with absolute accuracy, what is good for us from what is bad? Are we ever all-knowing? You will have to agree that life is a learning process. We are continuously learning and improving. So it follows that we can never know for sure that what we are aiming for is absolutely the best for us.
Another thing to ask is, do these things, job, mate, possessions really make us happy? The same thing that made you happy a while ago, is not making you happy now, maybe even causing you trouble now. The thing, or person, itself may not have changed. So is the happiness, and the trouble, function of that thing or person, or is it something else?
If it is something else, what is it? If you think about it, it was your ideas or feelings about it that changed. I think I am not saying anything new here. All this is evident to everyone. What causes our happiness or sadness is not the things we have or bring in our lives, it is our feelings associated with them. And if this is so, do we really need these things at all? If all we need to be happy is the right feelings, why can’t we just have the right feelings and be happy with them, without having to need any possessions or people?
Understanding that our thoughts are the culprit. We can be happy without things! Try it. It will just take a few minutes. Focus on this very moment, the present moment. Notice what is troubling you the most right now. Are you worried about you academics, or getting a job, do you need money, do you want to possess something badly, do you feel bad about you health or fitness, having trouble with your relationships, or the lack of them? How much can your trouble hurt you in this moment? Let’s say you want to own a house, you badly want it. You have always dreamt of it, you feel it will make you secure but you don’t have enough to own one. Is the lack of it hurting you in this moment or is it your thought that you need it, hurting you? You will realize its your thought of lack that is hurting you. Please note the distinction. The source of your trouble, in this moment, is not the lack of a house but the thought that you lack it. This thought is causing you trouble. What do you do when a thorn gets into your foot? Do you pull it out or do you just take pain killers and let it be there. You pull the thorn out first. What do you do when a thought is causing you trouble? You weed the thought out first. Stop feeling that you lack that house. It is as simple as that. Banish that thought. It might come back but with practice, you can learn to control what thoughts reside for the majority of the time in your mind. Replace it with a positive affirmation that you will get what you want in due course. Once you consciously remove a troubling thought, you start feeling good right away.
Does this mean we should not aspire for anything in life? Should we just sit and have good feelings and be happy? No. Play with this world of forms. But play with curiosity, adventure and enthusiasm. Enjoy it. Don’t play with scarcity, lack and fear, you don’t need anything from this world of form. I think this is the reason that a lot of people going to the gym don’t get results. They act with scarcity and fear. They don’t enjoy it. There are also some who just go there or play sport because they love it. They may be as out of shape as the other person but they don’t feel bad about it. They don’t allow the wrong thought into their mind. And so the same condition of being out of shape doesn’t cause them any trouble. A lot of out-of-shape people lead very healthy, happy lives.
Awareness. This is probably the fourth stage. About 2 years ago, I got my hand on an audio book by Eckhart Tolle called, ‘Living a life of Inner Peace’. At that time, I was high into possessions and achievements. I wanted the best paying job, more money and a good job title. Eckhart discussed the ideas of mindfulness, awareness, living in the Now and the nature of ego. I was hooked. Nothing that he said sounded like new or complex knowledge, and yet I could not understand how I and others have forgotten all this. Since then, I have been practicing and researching awareness.
In this stage, the person starts turning inwards. He becomes more aware of himself and things around him. He is totally present in the present moment. A realization starts setting in that happiness is a personal choice and we don’t need anything from outside to be happy.
As I am becoming more aware, more conscious, I don’t feel that constant urge for something new. It seems more and more that everything is pointing to the same things, it seems more and more like all answers are within me, I don’t need anything from outside, from anyone, from anywhere. The teacher is me myself. The answer also is me, myself. I just need to acknowledge the true state of everlasting bliss by removing doubts and fears. By having faith. There is nothing to learn, nothing to seek, only to be aware, to be conscious. To accept, to let be, to be at ease will lead me to still greater happiness, permanent and without beginning or end, never fading, never requiring any change. It seems the only constant of the internal world is awareness of self.
Right now, I am able to hold awareness only when I am alone and consciously try for it. It has improved a lot since I first started trying it 2 years ago. I am working on being able to hold self awareness under all sorts of conditions – when I am with friends, when I am in the market, when I am under duress. That would be real fun! Being able to observe and play with this game of the form world, without the fears that come with losing self awareness and making the game into a burden, creating unnecessary limitations and trying to win all the time.
My current conclusions
From what I have understood so far, here is what I think about the different things I have aspired for at different stages of my life.
Things lie at the lowest level. They loose their attraction pretty quickly.
Personal development for getting things and achieving goals in the physical world is somewhat better, it lasts longer and it gives a deeper sense of accomplishment and peace. But this too doesn’t satisfy you for ever. You feel empowered and your confidence levels rise, you are more sure of yourself.
Awareness is at a higher level than both of the above. It is different, in that it does not require you to make an effort to change yourself. It requires the exact opposite. It requires you to stop trying for this or that. It requires you to just let yourself and the world, be. Just be. Don’t try to change anything, just observe. Be aware of yourself, your inner self. Rather than trying too much, you are required to try little and just gently bring your attention back, every time it wanders away. Awareness, I feel, provides that ultimate, everlasting bliss that I had always imagined and that everyone seeks.