“Some regrets and some mistakes, we want happiness but we can’t hold her.”
All that matters – by Cliff Richard.
This week’s blog is the longest I’ve written. My inspiration in the writing of it, was unstoppable. I hope you’ll stay the course with me.
It can be very distressing, not being happy enough.
Most people want to be happy.
Some people are so unhappy that they have given up on happiness and just want to die.
Outside of this group you might say that the wanting to be happy is the strongest motivation on the planet.
Even the American Constitution talks about happiness. It says: “…that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.”
The question is, does this wanting to be happy work as well as we hope it would? Does it get us the happiness we want or does it stress us, immeasurably?
Adyashanti – ‘Wanting’ is the Problem.
Some years I listened to a talk by Adyashanti. From his name you might imagine that he is some old bearded man living on a mountaintop in the Himalayas.Nothing could be further from the truth. He was born Stephen Gray, in San Francisco in California and for me, he has been the greatest spiritual teacher I have encountered.
In this talk he described how the main reason why we feel so good after striving for a long time for a particular goal and achieving it, is that the ‘wanting’ to achieve the goal is dissolved.
He said that it is not so much the achievement that makes us feel good, it is simply the absence of wanting, the relief from the pain of the wanting that is responsible for our happiness. When I first read this I found it rather appealing and yet at the same time felt that he was talking nonsense.
And so I’ve explored this and thought about it and examined it for a long time and I think that he his right.
In the rest of this article I want to examine this a little more carefully.
Human beings are Wanting Machines. Have you noticed how much of the time, every day, just about every minute of every day, we are wanting something to happen or not happen? We are endlessly wanting our environment to suit our needs. It’s too hot, or cold, or too noisy, or messy or chaotic…Just spend a lot of time in silence and just notice how you now want sound!
We are constantly asking: is this person we are with exciting or irritating, boring or stimulating or threatening or superior or inferior? We want to finish a piece of work and want to avoid some other piece of work. We are endlessly wanting people to be something other than who they are, unless they are gratifying us completely and how long does that last!
Do you notice all of the polarities operating, endlessly. We are scoring and rating and wanting this to be different from that, unendingly.
We fall in love and get married, believing that this person will gratify us forever and then very soon thereafter we find something about them that we don’t like and we want them to change that and if they don’t we replace longing to be with them with wanting to push them away.
Divorce soon follows.
We get excited about some pursuit, maybe it’s cycling or dancing or some video game or a friendship or the latest app. We can’t get enough of it and very soon that excitement which is an exaggerated, manic state, turns to deflation and resistance and resentment. And nothing can keep us near this thing.
Two Problems in Life!
Oscar Wilde said there are two problems in life, not getting what you want and getting what you want, which means that wanting is the primary problem. My observation is that we are constantly scanning our environment to find the next thing that will make us happier and resisting the things that are making us unhappy.
Have you noticed how, in the moment that you are wanting something, it is both pleasurable and painful. It is my experience that overall, this incessant wanting to be happy leads to unhappiness. Such a beautiful, or depending on your point of view, painful paradox.
Have you noticed how wanting something really badly creates a contraction in the mind and emotions?
Addicted to Applause!
Most people have a fear of public speaking. Fritz pearls – a great psychologist – has the best definition of anxiety I’ve ever read. “Will I get applause or tomatoes?”
We are addicted to applause. The more you want applause and you don’t want tomatoes, the more you are going to fear public speaking.
If you no longer have any wanting around applause or tomatoes then there can’t be any fear.
To be disinterested in approval or rejection and deeply connected to the inspiration behind and within your talk is to be without any performance anxiety whatsoever. To put it another way, if you are wanting an outcome too badly you are creating pain as you sit with the wanting.
Being a wanting machine has great survival value. Wanting often drives action – of course it also immobilises us.
That’s functional and at times very pleasurable but overall deeply unsatisfying and very painful. Wanting can also have significant energy. It’s an incredible, if painful, motivator.
It’s been well documented how the Australian Olympic team did so badly in the recent Olympics and one of the main reasons was that many of their so-called stars were like rabbits in the headlights when it came to entering the Olympic stage. They just wanted it too badly.
Carl Lewis when asked how he managed to win four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, said: “I didn’t have to.”
That is the key. If you don’t have to have something happen, then your wanting has dissolved, which makes way for inspiration to emerge.
It is my observation that wanting is a contraction into the future and inspiration is an expansion into the future.
Lying to Ourselves.
What is also really interesting is that if wanting more and more doesn’t lead to more happiness, then we are lying to ourselves. We don’t like it when people promise us stuff and don’t deliver. Aren’t we doing the same thing internally?
More wanting just doesn’t deliver the goods. It is a Self-Esteem wrecker! When I discuss this wanting problem with clients, they say: “How do I stop myself from wanting?”
Can you see what happens when you say this? You are now wanting to stop wanting. It doesn’t work because the mind is just creating another part of itself, trying to stop the other part from functioning. It’s like a person trying to commit suicide by strangling themselves with their hands. They might go unconscious, but then the hands will relax and they will revive.
The mind can’t kill itself, because if it kills the one half, the other surviving half is still…the mind!
I have asked hundreds of people if they have ever meditated and the most common response is: “Yes, but I can’t stop my mind.”
That, right there is the mistake.
Trying to stop the mind, which is why Adyashanti’s meditation technique is so revolutionary. You just sit and do nothing and let go of the meditator, the part of you that is striving for peace and happiness. Out of this, a great Stillness arises.
In my Gateway to Peace workshop I spend a lot of time helping people to see that the grasping for peace and happiness causes it to recede. Let go of chasing happiness and it emerges spontaneously. It’s very unlikely that you can believe me when I say this. You have to have the experience of it.
Be a Scientist.
So what’s the solution?
I invite you not to spend too much time agreeing or disagreeing with me regarding being happier when you have achieved something because the wanting is dissolved. Test it for yourself.
Be a scientist.
Notice what happens to your level of happiness when you want something too badly. Notice how it often creates a deep sense of dissatisfaction with life, a subtle knawing depression and oh such stress!
It’s distressing because if we’re always wanting more and more and more and not getting it, it leaves us empty, perpetually in a state of longing for what isn’t present.
Let’s say your partner is depressed and you are desperately wanting them to be easier to live with. Notice how unhappy you get because of this wanting. You are wanting a meeting that you’re sitting in to be less boring.
Notice how this wanting makes you incrementally more and more unhappy and when you leave the meeting you think you’re happier because you’re no longer in the boring meeting, but perhaps it’s because you are now free of the pain of wanting something to stop happening.
There is a devastating Youtube video about this. How 70% of women start to feel depressed after reading fashion magazines. How many fashion models and movie stars have openly stated that they don’t look like the photo-shopped pics of themselves.
Do you know how many women I have met who have spent their entire lives wanting to lose just 2kg’s! All of that pain for 2kg!!! My mother, always very petite and slim by my standards, died at 87, bless her heart. Just months before she departed this planet she mentioned how overweight she was!
Wanting can be a torture chamber.
Most of us live in a prison of conditioned ‘wants’ created by our culture that is simply an internal torture chamber.
In essence, can you begin to notice how painful it is to want anything? This noticing can begin to soften the wanting, because the awareness helps you to see the delusion that wanting is such a good thing.
Just about every time I suggest to my clients that their wanting more goodness is producing the opposite, they respond with: “But then I’ll just sit around like a couch potato and do nothing!”
I call this a Binary Error, an ‘all or nothing problem.’ I say to someone: “You are very passive, it sounds like you need to be tougher and more powerful with others, yes?” And they go to its binary opposite: “But I can’t go around being aggressive!” They move from end of the polarity to the other and most crucially they think there are only two options. In between passive and aggressive is powerful assertion.
So it is with wanting. The opposite might be passivity but in the middle is spontaneous, spirited aliveness and inspiration. A movement toward things. This movement is natural, uncontrived and immensely vital.
I truly believe that love on the inside is like this. ‘Wanting’ is looking for love on the outside.
My observation is that most of us experience this at least occasionally but we don’t pay enough attention to it.
As you go about your day, getting the ‘to do list’ out of the way, can you notice the contraction, the driving, the striving the pushing, the clawing your way into the future…the wanting to get it all done faster and better and notice how much it stresses you?
Experience how wanting too much, is suffering.
One way to work with this is to dissolve or let go of the wanting and notice what happens. If you’ve never done any letting go then start noticing the moments when you are not wanting anything. Perhaps just sitting in a chair in your garden, not doing anything, without any goal or objective or solution focussed behaviour going on and see what that feels like in the body.
Notice the energy and sensations that this produces. Notice the looseness and expansion in just being, not wanting.
Label this as: “Not wanting.” Feel the peace that can begin to arise when you do this.
Then start to remember that energy, that sensation when you are driving and striving and pushing and contracting into stressed wanting. Just say to yourself: “Not wanting, not listening to the wanting mind.”
There is some incredible neurological research which shows that the simple labelling of an emotion reduces activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for our levels of anxiety.
First notice the ‘wanting’, then bring the ‘not wanting’ energy into the situation and notice what happens. You can learn to return more and more of the time to this beautiful, spacious, open, expanded, flowing, vital, aliveness that is your true nature emerging to meet life, uncontrived and deeply resonant.
I’m not saying that this is easy and don’t we so often want it to be easy (I’m smiling).
Nevertheless, the rewards in doing this are just immeasurable.
Have a love on the inside day,