How to End Suffering and Find Happiness: Spiritual Enlightenment is our Natural State
When I was about 12 years old, I really wanted a minibike for my birthday. It just had one gear and went about 15 to 20 miles per hour. But I knew that if I got this minibike I’d be the happiest boy around. When I finally got it, I rode it all over the place. I especially rode it in my backyard. Round and round I rode, and I was in heaven. I thought “Life is so wonderful.” For a little while, it was.
But this feeling didn’t last long. I then went onto my next desire. I just kept searching externally for things that would make me happy. But they didn’t. None of them could, because they were impermanent and transitory. They changed and anything that changes will come – but then it will also go away.
I was searching for happiness in what was impermanent, and this is what caused my suffering. But what causes happiness, then? Where do we find lasting, ultimate happiness? It has to be on that which is permanent and never changes; that which always is and always will be. Anything that is subject to change might cause happiness for a while, like my minibike, but later it can cause boredom and disinterest. We will move on to new things that will bring us happiness.
This external search for happiness involves the making of “I am” statements. For example, “I’m a rock star,” “I’m a wife,” “I’m a father,” “I’m a successful business person.” But whatever “I am” labels we take on will change. So then what is permanent? How do we find happiness and that which is impermanent?
It’s actually very simple. All that we need to do is identify with what is permanent. The way we get there is by negation. For instance, by saying “I’m not this” and “I’m not that.” For instance, “I’m not that 12 year old boy who was so excited about his minibike.” That moment passed and changed. As we go through the process of removal, what we’re ultimately left with is “I am.” When we reside in the “I am”, everything ultimately resides there, too. In the “I am-ness”, in the right here and right now, everything is.
My memories of being that young boy riding my minibike are right here and right now. They’re in the “I am-ness”, and all the memories of people we’ve known, events, history, and so on, are all occurring in the right here and right now. When we lose distinction between the inner (our feelings, experiences, desires and fears) and that which is outside (other people’s feelings, events, occurrences), everything is blended into just “I am.” We find harmony and happiness.
When we start applying labels to external or internal things, then suffering arises. When we identify with the “I am-ness’, however, there just exists peace, tranquility and love. If we don’t create distinctions and we see someone outside of us who is hurting, we realize that they are a part of who we are. We are then able to reach out and respond naturally in love. Why would we want anyone to suffer when they are a part of everything that is, a part of who we are? It is often much more difficult to reach out in love and kindness to others and ourselves when we identify with labels such as “I’m a hurtful person” or “I’m a failure.”
When we identify with such labels we cause suffering to ourselves, sooner or later. Even positive labels can cause suffering because they are impermanent. If we don’t identify, but rather quiet the mind and learn to just be, then we’ll discover that happiness occurs spontaneously.
Our natural state is happiness. Suffering comes when we falsely identify with the internal and external labels. These labels are impermanent, so they really don’t make sense. How can we be something that’s impermanent? We can notice and witness those things, but let’s not identify with them because they are going to change. Sooner or later, no matter how permanent they seem, when we die or we get some mental catastrophe, they are going to change. Nothing stays the same except our beingness. If we reside in who we are – pure beingness –then the mind becomes a servant instead of playing the role of our master.
We can use the mind to navigate life’s course, but it is a servant. Ultimately, we really do not need the mind so much. We actually use it far too often and our mental chatter can continue endlessly. For example, imagine we go to the store and we see a person who is larger in body proportion than we are. Why do our minds need to call that person fat or grotesque? Why does the mind need to create a story about what’s wrong with them? Why can’t we just see them as they are, without labels or criticisms? If our paths cross with this person, then we engage in them. Having mental chatter about their weight is irrelevant and causes us suffering because it keeps us from being in the present moment. In the here and now, all is well. Everything is just flowing and when we flow with life, we enable it to go well.
Mostly, our mental chatter is about ourselves. We are wanting things and not wanting other things. We’re critical of ourselves, or we’re praising ourselves. All day long this mental chatter goes on and on, and it causes us to suffer. Instead, if we just realize that we actually only need a small portion of mental chatter to navigate life’s course, we can witness our thoughts and just be present. What we’ll experience is that the mind chatter will become quieter because we are not engaging with it. We will then be in that state of happiness where there really aren’t any thoughts. Here, there aren’t any egoic commentaries occurring and we discover that our natural state is happiness. We can end the suffering by just being and identifying with who we are. Who we are, is. Nothing else, nothing more. All that we can say is “We are.”
Regarding my minibike story, it would go like this: we send out the information to our parents, to the people we love, that we want a minibike, and we then go on with living our lives. When it comes time for our birthday, we open our present and there is our minibike. We’re really excited about it! We get on it and we drive around and really enjoy it. Then, we put it away and over the next few weeks or months we might remember our minibike at times. So we get back on it and we enjoy riding it. When we put it away, we might outgrow it over time. We’ll move onto the next desire. As we’re not living in the future or stuck in the past, new adventures will be approaching us all the time. We’ll enjoy them when they’re there.
In a sense it’s like we become ‘super enjoyers’ because we’re not in our head and we’re just being with what is. When we’re done with the experience, we put it away and we move onto the next adventure. Life, living in the present moment, is a beautiful adventure. Through it, we discover that happiness is. It just is.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books, including Spiritual Enlightenment: Awakening to the Supreme Reality and creates a weekly podcasts and articles on enlightenment, spiritual enlightenment, nonduality, Advaita Vedanta at: http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com