Saturday, August 15, 2015

Happiness and DIstress - Again and Again and Again

As human beings, we are ever striving to be happy. We believe it our birthright. We structure our life in such a way that, at every moment, we can have the greatest happiness, and concomitantly, the least possible unhappiness or distress. 

And yet, we generally fail miserably!  We work desperately to make ourselves happy, and sometimes, it appears to work - while at other times, despite our best efforts, happiness completely eludes us.  Sometimes, happiness just hits us, out of the blue, regardless of other circumstances.  But mostly, we think we made it happen. 

And then there are the darker times. Not necessarily total desperation, but simply blasé, apathetic, lackluster - simply missing something.  And of course, there are those horrid times - the worst of times, everything is wrong, bad, dark, miserable.

Okay, so all I've done here is state the obvious. Happiness and distress come and go. But what most people don't generally believe, is that there is little that can be done about it. 

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that:

"O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." Gita 2.14

Unfortunately, that doesn't help us much, as here in Oregon, we even curse the weather. Like many other places, a typical saying is, "Don't like the weather?  Wait a minute!"  But wishing it was cooler when it's blazing hot, or wishing the sun to come out when it's raining, doesn't do anyone any good.  There is nothing you can do about it, and what makes it worse is wishing it was different - NOT accepting it as it is. 

So, just like the weather, happiness AND distress will come in due course. There is NO stopping them.  As hard as we may strive to have a perfect, happy life - THAT is the illusion.  I often have asked people "How many truly happy people do you know?"  The answer is inevitably none! Or in the rare case - One.  So how is it that everyone is striving for true happiness, but no one is getting it?  Because happiness and distress are two sides of the same coin! They arise from sense perception, and sense perception only!  In other words, we tell ourselves that THIS will make me happy and THAT will make me unhappy.  When I get THAT instead of THIS, poof, I'm unhappy.

I write this today, because I had the opportunity, yesterday, to speak with a remarkable man, who I'll call "John".  Now, John has an incredibly unique situation. For the last three years, essentially without fail, John wakes up every other day happy, the others distressed. So, Monday, he may wake up and be ready to be totally involved with the world, go to work, help people, enjoy life - everything great. Tuesday, however, he can barely drag himself out of bed, brush his teeth, could give a crap about anyone or anything! Wednesday - Happy, Thursday - morose, Friday - Happy, Saturday - morose.....back and forth, day after day, week after week, YEAR AFTER YEAR! 

John has been to numerous doctors and health practitioners. He has had batteries of tests. One physician even treated him for free, hoping he would make some leap in medical science. But all in vain, and John continues - happy, distressed, happy, distressed, happy, distressed - like winter and summer, but DAY after DAY after DAY! 

Now, I would certainly never wish this on anyone, but it is very interesting for a very important reason - It shatters the illusion that he has any control over his achieving of happiness. Try as he might, and he has, there appears to be no solution to the problem - he can't change a happy day to distressed or distressed to happy!  It just can't be done.  He just has to go to sleep, and the next day will be different. Yes, he COULD just NOT go to sleep on a happy day, and he has tried that. But eventually, he has to sleep, and when he wakes up - new day, different emotion.

"O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation." Gita 2.15

Recognizing that happiness and distress come and go, one can, (and in John's case, must) learn to accept them, to tolerate them, to embrace them, in every given moment. THIS is the way it is right now, and I can either accept that or I can RESIST it.  Resistance (think friction) causes suffering.  It doesn't necessarily mean you can't do ANYTHING to change it, but you also can't base your happiness on it being different. You HAVE to surrender OR you suffer. It's as simple as that. 

The situation for most of us is not so cut and dried as Johns. The happiness and distress in our lives is all mixed up, a few minutes here, a day or two there - all seemingly random and spontaneous.  But is it?  What if our lives are just as systematic as Johns but we just can't see it, as it's not so obvious - day 1, day 2, day 3?  Perhaps whatever bestows upon John his "Every Other Day Syndrome", bestows our own patterns of happiness and distress in much longer or shorter time periods - but still just as concrete and unbreakable?  What ARE your options? Same as his - surrender/accept or resist/suffer!

Again the Bhagavad Gita:
"For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same." Gita 6.7

As mentioned earlier, all of these things, are simply perceptions - objects of OUR awareness. We are aware OF being happy or sad, hot or cold, honored or blamed. By being aware OF them, and not identified WITH them, one can conquer the mind, and more importantly recognize WHO they truly are, as Soul/Consciousness/Awareness, and NOT as the body, the mind, or the variety of situations that arise, moment by moment, or DAY BY DAY.

हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे 
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे


  1. Thanks for bringing the lofty wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita down to the earth for us, Aja. It's a salve for the heart.

  2. "...and not identified WITH them," is, as I recall, what Patanjali means by nonattachment, which does not mean indifference, but, rather, minus the sense of "me" and "mine."