I wake in the morning and look at the clock, most of the times unhappy about the number of hours I slept. I try to sleep eight hours every day, if I sleep less, I beat myself up for sleeping less, if I sleep more than eight hours, I again feel unhappy that I couldn’t reach my goal. I then open my phone and start surfing the internet, reminding myself I should actually start my morning walk or do some sort of meditation. This is just the morning, my day is filled with similar things that I am not happy about.
This seems to be the case with almost everyone in the world. We are unhappy about one thing or the other. There are two level of unhappiness, the extreme unhappiness which arises after a deep loss or something going really “wrong”. The second form of unhappiness; is the background dissatisfied state that we feel and take it to be normal, as in the case about my morning worries. Eckhart Tolle describes brilliantly about this in his book “A New Earth”. He mentions the below patterns on which the mind thrives for negativity.
“There is something that needs to happen in my life before I can be at peace (happy, fulfilled, etc.). And I resent that it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe my resentment will finally make it happen.”
“Something happened in the past that should not have happened, and I resent that. If that hadn’t happened, I would be at peace now.”
“Something is happening now that should not be happening, and it is preventing me from being at peace now.”
Whatever may be the case, our ego believes that we need to have something to be fully ourselves, it never feels at home. It is programmed to look for thoughts that sustain its unhappiness. To understand the ego and its needs, read the article on forgiveness<link to the article here>.
Say, you are given a drug that gives you a kick. You get high for a few minutes, and once the effect of the drug wanes out, you start craving for more of it. After a few weeks of taking it, you are an addict, mentally and physically dependent on it for your survival. You will not be able to imagine a life without that substance and some people even start stealing money to be able to buy it.
Are we not like an addict when we seek for approval, praise, money, status, possessions etc.? We have built our whole societal structures based on assumptions about what will make us happy. We are a bunch of addicts and then we wonder where we have gone wrong in building the world. We are not born an addict, we become one as we grow up but it is ultimately no one’s fault. We end up being programmed like a robot.
Attachment is the clinging to a false belief that our happiness lies in achieving or holding on to an object. But even when that object is achieved, there is only a short lived pleasure and then the mind starts seeking the next attachment. The pleasure turns into anxiety when we are afraid of losing the desired object. Let’s look at an example, a man finds a woman very attractive, and tries very hard to get her love, he doesn’t succeed in the beginning, he tries very hard, the woman finally falls for him. He has his moments of pleasure, the ones that come when something one strives hard for, is finally achieves. Now there are two possibilities, if the love is not deep enough, he may get bored of her and seeks new thrills and the other possibility that he is afraid that she may leave him, he tries to control her, keeps an eye on all her activities, become possessive. Imagine his thoughts and emotions in that state. Is this love? I am not inferring that all love relationships are like this but when there is any attachment there is fear and no joy. How about living every moment without any fear, wants and burden?
The reason we are drawn to infants and mystics is that they live in a state of joy without attachments. When we are in the grip of attachments we also miss the beauty in the world. My work involves me making calls to clients and I do this from an open balcony my office has. Most of the times I am attached to the outcome of the calls that I miss the beauty of the sky, the trees. The work environment gets very serious if the employees are very attached to the outcomes instead of enjoying their work.
How do we go beyond?
- Look through your programming
Whenever you feel unhappy or anxious, write down the reasons for your unhappiness and see the things that you are attached to. Do you really need those things to be happy? There are many people in the world who are happy without having the things you wrote down, that means there is programming in your mind which is convincing you that you cannot be happy. Spend time in studying your beliefs, fears and attachments and you will able to drop your unhappiness when it arises.
Dropping attachments gets easy when we are not forcing ourselves to give them up. Do you see that when you force something onto yourself you are actually making the outcome into an attachment? Even spiritual seekers fall prey to making attachments out of their spiritual journey. Once they read about enlightenment and joy, their mind makes an attachment out of it and they strive hard to reach that state. After years of struggle they wonder why they have not reached yet.
- Preferences and cravings
Eckhart Tolle in one of his talks gives an analogy, I am paraphrasing his words.
“If you are sitting in a dark room, then the light of the single candle lit in the room matters a lot. Now you open all the doors, windows, curtains and realize that it is actually day time and there is more than enough light. The candle light doesn’t really matter anymore. You are not really craving for that candle light anymore. It is okay if it is there, okay if it is not there. You may have a preference but the candle light doesn’t bother you.”
Same with the people and things in our life. As long as we have preferences as to what we want to do, whom we want to be with and what we want to buy, all is fine. When these preferences turn to cravings, is when we have attachments. As inferred from above analogy as long as we are looking for contentment outside, we are slaves to the world. How do we find the inner fulfillment which is not dependent on anything else? The happiness, peace is always there, we need to remove the obstacles to it. The essence of spirituality is how this can be done and moving beyond your attachments takes you there.
As an ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou said;
“When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous. If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets – He is out of his mind! His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting- And the need to win drains him of power.”
Be aware of an attachment, see how it drains the life out of you and then it will drop. The work we do then also has a different quality as there is no energy leakage through unnecessary thinking. Now here is a trap that you may fall into, now your mind starts reminding you about how to go to go beyond attachments to feel happy. That is not true. Don’t make new attachments out of being free. I highly recommend reading the book “Way to Love” by Anthony DeMello to learn more about attachments and how to go beyond them.