Happiness and the Self – October 4 2018

Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are not different.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi,
in What Am I? The Teachings 
of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
 
If happiness is the nature of the Self, how do I end up unhappy? To the extent that I know myself as something other than the Self, I will know myself as unhappiness.
 
What is it that I am that is other than the Self, and why do I find myself sometimes stuck there? We all have our own list of how we think of ourselves, how we define ourselves, a list that shifts and changes depending on the day. 
 
I define myself as:
  • my gender
  • history
  • family of origin
  • whether or not I am in a relationship
  • whether or not I think I am in a good relationship
  • my education
  • race
  • age
  • what I think of my looks
  • my sexuality
  • my sexual orientation
  • this body
  • my career
  • my bank account
  • my idea of personal success or lack of
  • how I compare myself to others of my age/socio-economic background/area of expertise
  • how I look in the eyes of those others whose opinions I have determined are valuable or true
  • how I look in the eyes of God
These are the thoughts and ideas, the qualities with which we tend to identify. Yet our identity stays within these un-Self qualities mainly by dint of never questioning the ideas by which we are living our life.
 
For example, the thought may arise, ‘I am too old to change careers.’
 
We may simply agree with the thought. ‘That’s right. I’m too old. It’s too late for me. How depressing. It’s depressing to be old.’
 
Or we may challenge the thought. ‘No I’m not. I’m not too old. Van Gogh didn’t even start painting until he was 26. And he never sold a painting. Danny Aiello didn’t start acting till he was in his 40’s. Norman McLean published A River Runs Through It in his 70s.’
 
We may talk to a friend, bemoaning the ageism of our culture that keeps us from pursuing our dreams now that finally we’re mature enough to know what those dreams are. We may visit our therapist to find our what’s holding us back. We may get hypnosis to believe in ourselves.
 
What we almost never do, though, is to ask, ‘Who is having this thought? Who is witness to this thought?’
 
This is the beginning of Self enquiry.
 
‘Who am I?’
 
If I am not this thought, this feeling, this opinion, this image, this body, then who am I? We live in the question. We ask it whenever it occurs to us – in the middle of an emotional reaction, the way someone is driving, eating, speaking, laughing; the way our lover is treating us. There is a witness behind the feelings, behind the thoughts that arise to explain or justify the feelings. There is a witness behind our reaction. Who is this witness? Who am I? We ask the question and let it go.
 
And as we notice more and more what we are not, that we are not these thoughts, these feelings, these reactions to life, we will begin naturally to get an experience of what we are; and what we are, it turns out, is the very thing we’ve been looking for:
 
Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are not different.
 
Today I will notice at least once the thoughts or feelings I am having. I will try to see them, to have a point of view on them, rather than to be defined by them. I will ask myself, ‘If I am not this thought or feeling, then what am I?’
Mermaid, Tribeca, NY
All original material copyright © 2018 Jeff Kober

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