I believe it is useful to understand that happiness and love are relative concepts and real happiness is not something that grows from a cold heart. But to have a warm caring heart does not imply never ending suffering either. Many people actually ‘believe’ that it is callous and inhuman to not be unhappy in certain situations. Sure when someone dies or we lose something of vast importance we are not ‘supposed’ to be happy about it. The secret here is to feel but not be unhappy about our feelings! This though is not easy for its not as if we can always choose our feelings. But we can choose our emotional reactions meaning get a handle on what our mind does to the feelings that naturally occur in our consciousness. When we said early on that we have feelings, and feelings about our feelings, it is these secondary feelings or emotional reactions that we hold the power of choice over.
Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway. It is the act of facing feelings but not identifying with them. It is the will brought forth and the ultimate in emotional management, to feel and not fear the feelings.
Some people legislate into existence permanent feelings based on beliefs such as "I will never stop suffering or there is nothing I can do about my suffering." Or worse "My suffering shows me that I care." After losing a child, most parents have a really difficult time of course. But some believe that happiness will ‘never’ shine again nor ‘should’ it after the loss of a child. The whole point is that when our feelings arise because of our beliefs we have one thing and when they arise from our feelings of pure hurt and loss its another. In the chapter on feelings Vs emotions we saw that pure feelings will pass but emotions, with their inherent mental component, can linger on forever, depending on our attitudes and beliefs.
Barry Kaufman said that "I never knew I could just claim happiness, at any time, as my birthright and not be limited by the condemning evidence of my own personal history and the past. That awareness, which I previously resisted as preposterous, has been a blessing and changed my life profoundly, allowing me in my own imperfect way to be so much more loving, peaceful and useful to myself and all those I touch." He is talking about escaping history, memory, and beliefs built up through past experience and conditioning. This means standing in the present moment and choosing the heart which is one with whatever it experiences as opposed to the head whose favorite activity is to separate from experience and think about it. Happiness and inspiration both come when we put aside all thoughts and memories and just be. In our being we are more into feeling then separating from our feelings through the process of constant thought formation. Barry Kaufman said, "My unhappiness as well as the unhappiness of others was a very expensive commodity. It soured the wine. Fear, tension, discomfort and anxiety take their toll, literally short-circuiting our systems. The result is self-defeating consequences: loss of loved ones, unachieved goals, pain, ulcers, high blood pressure, violence, suicide and wars, among others. These by-products far exceed the effectiveness of the mechanism of unhappiness … and the underlying beliefs of unhappiness."
He who binds himself to joy does the winged life destroy. But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Attachments to happiness and joy can lead us to some dangerous shoals. Like all attachments they can and do get us into some trouble. There are spiritual concepts of happiness which are really just more attempts to avoid feelings conceived of as negative. Often this is a peace at any price type of attitude that tries to avoid conflict instead of dealing with them with honesty and integrity. Childhood experiences, such as trying to keep peace in a chaotic family, often start people down a path where they learn to suppress their own feelings. It is important that our verbal self learns to trust and act on the important feedback from the feeling and emotional centers of consciousness.
What appears, as happiness is all too often nothing more than the superficiality of social grace and good manners. The saying "I am fine" no matter how we feel. There is also what we might call steady state philosophies that hold out as a goal the Buddha middle way or controlled pathway. In this bliss is seen not so much as emotional happiness but emotional control. The idea is not to be a response to anything in the external world, to remain indifferent, controlled or serene. It sounds nice until it is tested. It secretly reflects the minds deepest wish to never be overcome by the heart.
Do not let a desire for wealth cause you to become so consumed by
your work that you prevent happiness for yourself and your family. Happiness is foremost. A look filled with understanding, and accepting smile, a loving word, a meal shared in warmth and awareness are the things which create happiness in the present moment. By nourishing awareness in the present moment, you can avoid causing suffering to yourself and those around you.
– Thich Nhat Hahn
HeartHealth is into the philosophy of being real with our feelings and emotions and whatever it is that is going on inside of us. HeartHealth is not into any ideal state of emotional perfection that is held out as a carrot. Happiness and tranquility and serenity are all highly desirable. Blake warns us how attachments to these states are dangerous and can lead people into ‘false’ states of being. But as Hahn says above, happiness is foremost, choose it, embrace it, look for it in life.
The decision to move toward the light of happiness is a great one. But listening to some we could almost think that the moment we decided to do that we would be happy. Perhaps happier, meaning such a decision would yield a relative movement in our being. But HeartHealth understands and has compassion for the masses of people whose first movement toward happiness is to get in touch with their uncomfortable feelings first. And it has compassion for those who are walking the dark corridors of deep suffering and anguish. To these people we would extend all the empathy possible knowing that many people have deep holes to dig themselves out of and one decision or smile does not quite do it.
Happiness and love are beacons to center our life path on. Movements in these directions enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. But no one is expecting us to be perfectly happy all the time. Though we crave perfect images of heaven, and of happy and blissful prophets and gurus who demonstrate it is all possible, life and reality offer struggles and difficulties that sometimes take away our smile.