A book arrived yesterday (on Sunday) that I ordered from Amazon.com. It’s called “The Buddha’s Way of Happiness – healing sorrow, transforming negative emotion and finding well-being in the present moment” by Thomas Bien, Ph.D. As touted on the back and inside front pages, it is a book that makes accessible concepts that appear to be double-speak from other writers. Mostly, Thomas Bien talks about happiness and why it is so elusive to many of us. It’s because we are used to thinking about it as our American forefathers have prescribed as an unalienable right: “the pursuit of happiness.”
The author points out that right from the get-go, we are inculcated with the idea that the PURSUIT of happiness is our cultural and Democratic right. The word “pursuit” puts this constant activity OUTSIDE ourselves, striving to achieve certain goals; to dedicate one’s life to achieving one’s profession, to maintain a certain standard of living; craving for material goods along the way: the perfect wedding; clothes, jewelry, the perfect house; certain friends, emulation and applause from those who mean the most to us. And if we are not close or getting closer to achieving that kind of success, we are unhappy. Right?
It turns out that the “American Dream” is ALL about the Pursuit of Happiness.
So here’s the Eastern flip side to achieving happiness. It’s so incredibly different in its perspective that it’s sometimes hard to begin wrapping our heads around this other point of view. I’ve made numerous tries to understand the importance of meditation, stillness and the benefits thereof. But up to now, I haven’t gotten much farther than looking through the window of this approach to happiness and spirituality.
Thomas Bien, the author of this eminently readable book, relates that he thinks that God has hidden the source of happiness in the hardest place in the world for us to find. He has placed this source of happiness INSIDE OURSELVES. Rather than looking EVERYWHERE OUTSIDE ourselves for happiness: tasty food and drink, witty company, social standing, beautiful clothes, a luxury car to drive home in– the reservoir of happiness lies WITHIN ourselves.
Okay, so what? Here’s so what: the only moment in which you (or I or anyone else) can feel happiness is in the present moment. I’ve heard and read this a thousand times but have actually begun to comprehend what this means with the example that Thomas Bien gave in this book: and that is that you can’t physically drink a glass of cool water yesterday. Just as you can’t drink a glass of refreshing cool water tomorrow. The ONLY time that you can drink a glass of cool water is RIGHT NOW.
We have all heard that we can’t live in the past, gnashing our teeth at regrets about how we were treated by people we cared about. We can’t tell what will happen in the future either no matter how much we plan, write in our calendars and project our feelings. The only thing we can do is to be present in the moment and the metaphor of drinking a glass of cool water today helps us understand it in a more concrete way than before. At least it has for me.
He also says that searching to attain enlightenment defeats the very idea of enlightenment. I was thinking that It is not a goal nor similar to the metaphor of those two guys who climbed the face of “El Capitain” 3000 feet of sheer rock in Yosemite Park, free-climbing all the way to the top. It’s not that. You don’t need ropes. You don’t even have to be athletic. You don’t have to prove yourself like that. So, spiritual enlightenment is not something attained in a linear fashion; nor does practicing more ensure that you’ll get there. Enlightenment occurs in an instant or it doesn’t at all.
Taking a few deep breaths, stilling your mind and letting yourself be in the moment is something we can all do. Perhaps happiness within ourselves can be acknowledged, maybe not the first time we try it, but understanding that it’s there within us.
I don’t purport to get this yet.
But I did get the metaphor about only being able to drink a glass of cool water in the present moment. And if that can heal one’s sorrows, transform negative emotion and helps one feel better in the present moment, I’m all for it.
When I read that passage last night, I took out a bottle of chilled water from the fridge and enjoyed drinking the cool water slowly. I’ve always felt that the Universe provides us with solutions that are easy for us and that we, as humans are the ones who make things so complicated for ourselves that we get caught up in our own machinations, making things that much harder for ourselves. If this isn’t a great example of that, I don’t know what is.