Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beyond Happiness

Happiness is not a state of rich material possession, that's something we have more or less agreed.

If not a state of material possession, is it a state of mind?

Yes, it is.

Does it last? Sorry, it's not.

But something that doesn't last doesn't necessarily render it useless. It just means that those things are not the ultimate ends.

Happiness is by and large induced by circumstances: when we get what we want, we feel happy; when we don't, we just can't feel happy.

In fact, the definition of happy by Oxford Dictionary is:
feeling or showing pleasure; pleased
So when we are not pleased, we can't be happy, by definition. In that sense, it's like taking drugs. When you take them, it feels good and we are on heaven. But after a while, welcome back on earth.

Beyond Happiness

This kind of happiness can be termed "outer happiness", since or therefore, there exists another kind of happiness called "inner happiness".

"Inner happiness", what is that?
Beyond happiness, there is peace - Eckhart Tolle

Great, how do I get peace, please?

The fundamental weakness of outer happiness is that it fluctuates. So for peace to get beyond this, it must somehow escape the impermanent nature of things.

Can it?

If peace is determined by any single condition, it wouldn't last, for that thing would eventually change. It should then be evident that in our world, achieving this goal or forgetting that memory cannot bring us peace.

Between the mighty force of the past - whether burdening or glorious, and the attraction of future with its illusions of possibilities, there exists a point in time that opens the door to peace.

It's called NOW.

Peace is now. Living in the now is letting go of the past and therefore render the future unnecessary, because without a past to give it meaning, the notion of future is meaningless.

Now is hence the closest approximation to eternity.

It's now.
Wow, is now also now?

In each and every single moment, if we focus on just that instant, the past and the future cease to matter. That's why Thich Nhat Hanh titled his book: "Peace is every step".

Let us not think too much about that because thinking about it doesn't mean living that second. Let our mind be at rest, and let's try instead to experience the is-ness in each and every moment.

At each moment of now do we have any problems at all?

Not at all.

We had problems in the past and we would continue to have problems in the future. We just don't have problems right now, in this single second, because problems only exist in time. 

Why is it [Now] the most precious thing?

Firstly, because it is the only thing. It's all there is. The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.

Secondly, the Now is the only point that can take you beyond the limited confines of the mind. It is your only point of access into the timeless and formless realm of Being.

I have Questions!!!

Eckhart Tolle had known that you have questions. That's why he answered, literally.

The book was written in a Q&A format, allowing us to continously chase our doubts, making the subjects of discussion natural.

It's always easier said than done. But you should definitely read the book, because it may start a series of realizations for you that are well beyond my understanding of the book.

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle on Amazon.

No matter what you do and where you are, may you dwell always in the present moment.

1) If you would love to listen to Eckhart Tolle, I recommend this You Tube video by Eckhart Tolle. From there you can find out his many other talks.

2) Many ideas expressed in this post are vague, over-simplified,  and not well-elaborated. They should hence be taken as pointers only.

3) New year is coming. Is it?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2 Stoic Practices

You might have heard of Stoicism, or you might not. If you did, there is a good chance that what you perceive about Stoicism is not what you would learn if you read A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine.

But whether your knowledge of Stoicism is the same as the author's is also not that important to you. What you would be interested, however, are the principles, regardless of the -ism, that would help you live a better life, whatever you take better to mean.

And there are 2 Stoic foundational practices that I think you would be interested to learn about and to apply. I have been using them unaware they are also part of Stoicism.

Let's start with the first one.

Letting go of things we can't control

In life, there are things we have full control over, there are things we have some control over and there are things over which we can hardly produce any observable effect.

Members of the first group, those that we have full control over, are things internal to us: our personal desire, focus, emotion, direction, and so on. As animals we are, there are certain desires such as lust and greed that we aren't quite in full command all of the time. But since they are within us, we can grow to have more and more control over them. And by control I don't mean suppressing them, but to manage them, to guide them towards the destination we want to reach, such as a tranquil state of mind.

The second group comprises things we have some but not all control over, as they are also influenced by other people. You have tried your best to win the competition, but whether you would ultimately win or not depend a lot on you, and also on many other things, including your competitors. You always pay special attention to your health, but whether you'd be having a stomach ache or a broken leg once in a while aren't entirely within your control. You always try to be a nice guy/gal but what some people think of you may sometimes be surprising to you. We're simply living in a world of many mysteries yet to be understood, of many external forces yet to be reconciled. And while we should try to make a positive change to the things we believe need to be changed, the outcome is not something to fret over when it doesn't go our way. Our quality of life would be much improved if we choose to set the yardstick of success based on internal efforts, rather than external results. (An astute reader would then ask: how do I know I have made "enough" efforts?)

The third group is made up of things that are for the most part beyond our influence. Whether it will rain tomorrow or not is not going to be a lot affected by your interest, or my interest. Whether your neighbour 10 doors away would buy a new car or not is going to happen without your approval. Whether there would be enduring peace in the world is not going to depend, with a very high likelihood, on my wishes, or your wishes.
The world at the current stage is so closely connected that it would be a misjudgement to say that there is something that isn't affected by your decisions, by your actions. But to realize also that there are many things whose outcomes are beyond your influence at this very moment is going to help you keep your peace.

Before we move to the next Stoic practice, it'd be missing not to clear some of your doubts. It's not that we should not try to change the world, but rather would should first try to change ourselves, by re-setting our measurement of success, before we proceed to change the world. The bigger our ambitions, the more setbacks and obstacles we are going to face. And by focusing on the efforts, rather than the result, we can save ourselves from unnecessary disappointments; by focusing the energy to expand our control over our actions and reactions instead of worrying over what external events can happen to us, we can grow to be more relaxed and at peace while simultaneously poised and ambitious.

Let's move on to the next practice of the Stoics.

Negative Visualization

I see this as an application of imagination to the realm of happiness. Right now I'm sitting on my desk writing this essay but I could have instead been sick, homeless and wandering on the streets. Even worse things could have happened to me, because the many things that lie beyond my circle of influence could have gone wrong. The ability to imagine the possible worse outcomes help me appreciate whatever I'm having.

Stoicism considers this an essential technique to help one feel more grateful for everything one has already had. And being grateful for the present, for what's available here and now, is an essential quality for satisfaction in life.

It may appear contradictory, but it's possible to reconcile the desire for growth with a self-satisfaction in the present. We've just got to persist in asking why enough times until we discover what's really important for ourselves, and let go of the others. (Again, I would be getting ahead of myself trying to delve into it here. Some other time.)

From my experience, there is a similar kind of negative visualisation a lot people have found to be useful: to contemplate on the eventual end of our life: death. This is especially effective to help us overcome fears. And Steve Jobs said it so well:
.. almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

I hope you would gain new insights by practicsing the 2 Stoic techniques we've discussed. A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy with many valuable insights and illustrations is definitely a good read, especially if a high quality of life is top on your list of life goals.

And let me end this post by quoting the parting words of the author, words that I think we all should take some time to reflect on.

On Amazon
[...]This means that although it is true that I might be making a mistake by practising Stoicism, I might also be making a mistake if I reject Stoicism in favor of some other philosophy of life. And I think the biggest mistake, the one made by a huge number of people, is to have no philosophy of life at all. These people feel their way through life by following the promptings of their evolutionary programming, by assiduously seeking out what feels good and avoiding what feels bad. By doing this, they might have a comfortable life or even a life filled with pleasure. The question remains, however, on whether they could have a better life by turning their back on their evolutionary programming and instead devoting time and energy to acquiring a philosophy of life. 
 (Emphasis by me).
See you in the next post.