Monday, 28 February 2011

Happiness is…?

What makes some people happy and others not? It is the great conundrum. We are all faced with it every day. Should I do this or do that? What is going to bring me the greatest happiness and satisfaction? Is there a gap between what I ought to do because it is the right thing to do, and what I want to do – for me?
If we must grapple with definitions, what we are talking about here is contentment. That great peace that enables us to rest in what we are doing.
We struggle to see the wood for the trees. “I know I should go and visit my aged aunt, but I would prefer to stay at home and dig the garden.” “I know I should go and exercise, but can’t I just potter around the house?”
Our level of contentment is definitely down to the choices we make. The effects of those choices visit us in the future as the feelings we have about the circumstances we end up in.
“I have decided that the love of money is the root of all evil, therefore I am going to live an ecologically balanced lifestyle” often leads us into struggling on benefits, fighting for the next pound and being miserable because “life is all about the money I haven’t got”.
Similarly “ I am going to make sure the my family never wants for anything” can lead to a lifetime of commuting where one never sees one’s family.
We have to somehow make wise choices that leave us in a state of peace about where we are and what we have got.
The great cliché about this is “It is not about getting what you want, but wanting what you get”. And like all clichés it has a lot of truth in it, if you can deal with the triteness.
If we objectify our happiness – make it about some object or other - then we are distancing ourselves from our contentment and saying “ I am nearly happy now, because I know that when I get the thing I want, then I will be really happy”.
The trouble is that often, when we get what we think we want, we realise that we are still not happy. “I am chairman of the Board, my lifetime ambition, and I am miserable. My husband has left me, I am surrounded by sycophants – what has my life been about?”
The key is that we have to make peace with where we are now. To know that we are in the right place now, and that we have everything we could possibly need to make us happy, now and in the future. And if that means we are hungry for something, we have to be at peace with that hunger, not try to get rid of it.
This is not some passive surrender to all that life throws at us, it is an active acceptance that where we are is the perfect place to lead us to where we need to be next.
Albert Einstein was once asked what he thought was the most important question in life. His reply: “Is the universe a friendly place or not?”.
Your answer to that question will affect your whole attitude to life.
Can you be happy where you are right now, and with what you have right now?
Only you can say.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Power of Wow

Name the seven wonders of the world.
When asked that question, most of us probably start with the pyramids, move on to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and then start to scratch our heads for the others.
Legend has it that when a children’s class was asked the same question one came back with the answer: ‘Touch, taste, smell, sight, feeling, laughter, and love.’
We take life for granted.
We take the fact that we are alive for granted.
We take the miracle of our senses for granted.
And we miss the real wonder of being alive.
We struggle to be happy, to change our circumstances, to make things better; when all the time we have the miracle of consciousness right in front of us.
But it never quite feels like that. We have got used to it. Made it ordinary. Downgraded the wonder to a point below even awareness of it being special.
The nature of reality, what is really around us, has become dimmed.
We see reality as facing up to the problems that we encounter. As ‘water is wet and stones are hard’. As a gloomy, harsh and imposing structure that contains us, and upon which we are fated to dash ourselves in some Promethean horror (Prometheus was the God who was punished by having his liver torn out every day, by an eagle, only to have it grow again in the night so the eagle could do it again the next day).
OK, so life isn’t that bad, but we have made it pretty dreary. Our level of engagement with the world around us is at a pretty low level.
The ‘wow’ factor in our lives is not the most overused of our expressions, and we tend to endure more than we enjoy.
It is up to us.
We are the ones who are receiving the data about life around us through our senses.
We are the ones who decide what to focus on – the beautiful colour of the trees, or the fight to get into town.
The way we make sense of the information we receive governs the way we respond. And it is completely different for all of us.
Two people, standing side by side, can witness the same event. One will be cynical about it, another will be inspired.
And it is all down to the way that we have painted the picture of the reality that is in front of us.
One person will see the event, remember times in the past when similar things happened to her, remember that nothing good came of it, and will see the worst in what she has seen.
Another will see the same event, remember having had the same thing happen to him and the good that came out of it, and be inspired by what he saw.
Same event, different realities created for each person.
Which begs the question – What is reality?
Reality is that which continues to exist, after you have stopped believing in it.
Reality does not depend on our belief to make it so. We do not have to believe in gravity for it to be true.
Whether we believe it or not, we will still plummet to the bottom of the building if we jump off.
Reality is something that we discover by looking for it.
It is not enough to simply draw conclusions from our own life because we are all biased.
Each of us has built up a different picture of the way life is, and none are absolutely true.
When we look with only one eye we get an incomplete perspective. So when, similarly, we look at things from the perspective of our life alone, so we miss part of the picture.
Which is why the word CONSCIOUSNESS comes from two words – CON (together) and SCIOS (to know)- to know together.
It is by listening to others, getting their perspective on the way life is, that we begin to truly understand the nature of reality.
And that also means listening to all our senses.
Even the ones we have begun to take for granted.
Next time you are going to town, decide to fully engage your senses: The sights, the smells, the tastes, your feelings, your thoughts, the way you are touching the ground.
Become aware of all that is around you, and keep that awareness going for the length of your journey.
See how different you feel about life.
Consciousness is not just about what you think of life.
It is about synthesising all the information you receive, even that which you have learnt to take for granted.
When you do that, the power of WOW! begins to re-appear in your life.