“It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls. This is not to suggest that poverty causes happiness…but while poverty does not cause happiness, there appears to be some evidence that wealth causes misery. Since 1950, 25-year-olds in Britain have become 10 times more likely to be affected by depression. And it is surely fair to say that most of us suffer from subclinical neuroses, anxiety or a profound discomfort with ourselves.”
George Monbiot, The Guardian, 27 August 2002
Since childhood, we are subtly yet continuously guided to look to the outside world and the material benefits it offers for contentment and happiness, such that for many of us, it is the only real way we know. Yet as we become repeatedly disappointed by outer events, we begin to lose faith in the possibility of there being any happiness at all. Instead of looking to outer events for inner happiness (living from the outside in), let us consider instead what happens when we instead look inwardly for happiness and then bring what receive from there to the outer world – living from the inside out. To those who have been embittered against the possibilities of happiness, the life changing effects this simple change in philosophy can bring may sound too good to be true, and yet millions of people from all over the world can attest to a happiness that comes not from chasing after the material things of the world, but from being grounded in the joy and inner peace of their own being.
A sense of purpose
When we start the day by going deep within through some practice of meditation (or prayer for those who are religiously inclined), slowly we begin to get in touch with the deepest parts of our being, and feel a connection to something vast and infinite, a greater sense of purpose than our own narrow desires and wants. In this space, – who you are, and what you are supposed to be doing with the short span of life you have on earth.
The funny thing is, each of us instinctively know this, and deep within we are always meaning to stop and catch some space to find out what we want – we always tell ourselves we will do it when we finish whatever it is we are caught up in at the moment! The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche called this ‘Western laziness’ – “cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.” The outside world is often guilty of driving this behavour along, as if it knows that if we ever slowed down, the whole thing would just fall apart.
In silence we learn that there are other ways of making decisions besides the mind, and that the mind isn’t even particularly good at making important life decisions. When the mind is silent, we can go beyond it and get in touch with our intuition, the inner feeling that comes from the depths of our being and which is an expression of our yearning . When we learn to listen to and trust this voice, we get a tremendous sense of peace and relief – we feel joy even before we embark on the course of action it suggests. “If the message comes from the soul, you will have tremendous conviction that you are doing the right thing.” writes meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy. “Also, both success and failure you will take with the same equanimity. While executing a message that you got from within, you will not expect anything in your own way. You will not expect any particular result. No, you will only follow the inner command. If you have this attitude, you will be able to know if a message has come from within.”
There are so many things we keep doing because in our minds we have imposed an obligation on ourselves, or because out of pride that ‘we have to finish it’, or some other reason completely unconnected with our own happiness. Many people report once they start spending some time with themselves on the journey of self discovery that this excess baggage begins to drop off, as the inner voice of intuition comes more to the fore and protests against these constraints on its inner freedom.
When we go beyond the mind, we begin to rediscover some of the most beautiful qualities we had before our mind became fully developed. As children, we ran around from one place to the next, invented games on the spot and lived truly from moment to moment. Rediscovering this spontaneity gives us a tremendous freedom, liberating us to a great extent from the dullness of routine. In other words, the inner approach turns life from a chore into an adventure.
A sense of wonder
The mind gets bored with everything constantly requires new stimuli to keep it occupied, something the material world gladly provides. However when we go beyond the mind and into the heart, we feel a constant sense of new discovery and new wonder at life. Nothing becomes old or stale; the whole world becomes a giant playground where we eagerly await the next discovery that comes our way
Giving joy to others
Through meditation, your heart expands and you feel an increased sense of goodwill towards your fellow man. Happiness no longer comes from accumulating, but by giving what you have and what you are to give others joy. There is no conflict between helping others and following your own purpose – such is the interconnectedness of mankind, that by following your inner purpose, you automatically make others happy and the world a better place.
Picture: Kedar Misani, Sri Chinmoy Centre Gallery