The season of celebration is upon us; lots of Happy Hanukkahs, Merry Christmases and Happy New Years flying about. It sets me to wondering about this happiness business, and it IS a business, as I am sure you very well know. Equally obvious is the fact that all the stuff being foisted upon us at every turn contributes not one iota to our happiness. In fact, because stuff never satisfies, it simply creates more hunger for more stuff; hunger that is, in and of itself, cause for deep unhappiness. Hungry ghosts, the Buddhists call this: ghosts with pinhole mouths and voracious appetites. Only in our case, the mouths are hanging wide open, the stuff is piled in, partially digested and then pooped out as an enormous, unsatisfying, unedifying pile of waste.
Happiness is not located in the material world: it is, rather, found in the realm of the unmanifest. Happiness is invisible, yet palpable. It lives alongside love and faith and hope. The more I ponder the genesis of happiness, the more it seems to me to come down to two essential components: knowing yourself and giving that self over to something or someone else.
“Know thyself:” the great exhortation, the ultimate and only reason for being. Spiritual growth and development is, in a very real sense, digging through the internal debris to find the gold, to find the eternal constant at the invisible core of being: call it Soul or Self, God or Consciousness or what you will. It can be helpful to think of Consciousness (or God) as the ocean, and our individual selves as waves. Appearing as a distinct wave we are still the ocean, rising from and falling back into the great sea of oneness. We are part of every one and everything else. This is the great teaching, found in every religion and every wisdom tradition. “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others” are not moral commandments (do this or you will be punished): they are instructions for connecting to the true self within. They remind us to remember who we are: we are the world.
Kindness and compassion are natural byproducts of knowing yourself. Shedding the layers of fear and resentment and anger, you reach the essence of being, which isn’t to say that you no longer feel unpleasant emotions, or are nice to everyone all the time. But you know something bigger, something more, and you can come back to center. Knowing yourself is knowing God, and once you know something, you cannot un-know it. When you know you are part of everyone and everything else, you no longer feel alone or isolated. You then recognize that your every thought and action has an impact on everything and everyone else. You recognize that you can create the life you desire, that the locus of power is within you. You are not a victim of circumstance or genetics, but a conscious participant and co-creator of life. You are energy and awareness, and from those two components flows all of existence.
Happy yet? Perhaps not quite yet, because now you need to take your wonderful self and share it. The key to true happiness is doing something fulfilling, something that contributes in a positive way to the greater whole. It matters not what this is, how big or how small. It is raising a child with love and attention; it is caring for animals, creating beautiful art, sharing food, teaching, building a house, being kind to all. Think back to your happiest moments and I am positive that without exception they relate to someone else, to an experience that was greater than yourself.
So here is my modest suggestion for having a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Take time to consider and remember who you are. You can do this through prayer, meditation, or contemplation. What could be a better way to celebrate the birth of Christ, or Christ consciousness, than to find that consciousness within yourself? Then, rather than buying things, consider giving of yourself–your time, love and attention. If it sounds easier to buy something from Target, go back to step one, and contemplate a bit more. And for a truly happy new year, rather than resolving to join the gym or some other self-imposed torture, try a simpler, more meaningful resolution. Resolve to do one nice thing for someone else every day for a month. Decide to volunteer somewhere once a week. Donate the four bucks spent on coffee every day to a favorite charity. Adopt a needy family and share some extra food and clothing with them. Give yourself to the world and happiness will be yours in abundance.
I wish you peace and joy and a truly Happy New Year.