Am I happier since I gave up the fantasy of religion? Probably.
It's a big relief to not have a cosmic weight on my back -- the expectation that I need to do this and that, plus that and this, in order to be worthy of being admitted to God's heavenly realm.
That's a lot of pressure, believing that the fate of my supposedly immortal soul rests on whether I've been fortunate enough to find a path that leads to God-realization, and, having hopefully found the right path, on whether my efforts to follow it will meet with success.
In my current atheist days I'm much more satisfied with finding happiness in small things, ordinary things.
Before, I had my sights set on a Very Big Thing: ultimate reality. Now, scratching our dog's stomach when she rolls on her back in newly-mown grass makes me feel like life is good. As does a cup of coffee, which I'm enjoying right now.
A TIME special edition, "The Science of Emotions," contained a short essay by Meg Wolitzer that resonated with me. Here's an excerpt from her The Psychology of Happiness that I like a lot.
Everyone talks incessantly about stress now, and how it has changed our lives and made us so unhappy. Less obviously, I think stress has also changed the quest for happiness itself, making it more aggressive and occupying more of our time.
Ever since antidepressants and sexual-enhancement drugs hit the airwaves and ever since we were told that we had a right to our happiness, damn it, and that we could ask for it -- no, demand it -- from our doctors, spouses, friends, or employers, it seems that the desire for happiness has increasingly become a source of anxiety.
Which is why I have taken a few steps back. At this point, being happy is about having the space to appreciate the ordinary things that do in fact make me "happy," though at first glance they might not be seen that way.
An absence of chaos; an absence of phone calls with disturbing news; an absence of business emails that up-end your day and demand attention right then and there; no acutely ill parents; no fragile children calling shakily from college.
Being able to sit down with a glass of wine and some really good, tiny little olives with your husband; having a nice meal with your kids that's not rushed or fraught.
These seem like small things, perhaps pedestrian things, but I protect them fiercely, knowing that on the other side of an imaginary wall waits the possibility that all of them will soon be gone and that something terrible will replace them.
But I no longer quake in fear.
I used to think that happiness was something a person was so lucky to find that, like Lord Voldemort (a.k.a. He Who Must Not Be Named), it should never actually be mentioned. Now, with happiness taking on a new, modest cast, the fear of losing it is smaller too.
You might think: Good god, woman! This isn't happiness. Happiness has wild colors and flavors; it involves bodies draped across a bed, or things that come in gift wrap. Or even, once in a while, Carvel. Don't you want any of that?
Of course I do.
But being allowed to enjoy some of the more modest pieces of my life happens right now to be my own personal Carvel; my own dachshund, gift-wrapped present, snow day and secret lover. Perhaps for most of us -- or anyway, for me -- happiness has gotten smaller over time, becoming endlessly and exquisitely refined, though somehow never diminished.
Sign on church in Missouri farmlands seen driving by
"If you want instant riches
Count your blessings"
Posted by: Spencer G Tepper | June 10, 2018 at 01:42 AM
Samadhi / Trance and Living on sunlight without food is not ordinary thing, it is extraordinary thing. It comes by following extraordinary path of Yogic wisdom not carnal wisdom.
Posted by: vinny | June 10, 2018 at 05:52 AM
I was out walking today in the hills. A sunny day with clear blue skies peppered by five hawks wheeling on the thermals above a green valley. Before me was a sea of green and blue with a splash of purple from thistles and foxgloves. A dead blackbird was not wasted.
There is an interesting koan about the way:-
Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?"
"Ordinary mind is the Way," Nansen replied.
"Shall I try to seek after it?" Joshu asked.
"If you try for it, you will become separated from it," responded Nansen.
How can I know the Way unless I try for it?" persisted Joshu.
Nansen said, "The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?"
With those words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.The wonder of life being in the everyday.
Ordinary mind being the mind free of grasping - free of beliefs, judgments and opinions.
Posted by: Turan | June 11, 2018 at 10:07 AM
I don't think knowing is delusion.
Or that we can't improve on what is.
We can definitely make personal progress and should. And having done that, we should help each other. We should teach a little harder, further, beyond what's convenient or easy. We are capable of more
Because as wonderful as everything is where we live, there is also a lot of harm being done in other places. And our being here might actually be at the cost of others we have never met who live and work under much worse conditions.
And we ourselves carry the weight of most of that. To look at the harm others are doing isn't enough. We have to see what we are doing, in ignorance, or with some lame excuses, ourselves.
So striving to understand ourselves, our place here and how to be better human beings is the only thing that carries lasting value for me.
Any teacher who claims there is nothing to strive for is a waste of time, a stagnant being justifying stagnation and accepting the wrongs around us with no personal responsibility to see harm, to understand it, and to do our part to eradicate it, first and foremost within ourselves.
Then we can truly enjoy the piece and beauty around us, knowing we honor that luxury by helping those who can't be here with us.
Posted by: Spencer G Tepper | June 11, 2018 at 12:55 PM
Ah! perhaps I shouldn't have muddied the waters with a koan. As a Zen teaching device they are not to be taken literally and really only have relevance as this one did for me when I came across it. Briefly, it was to do with identity – how the mind creates a separative self structure.
Here, this blog being about ordinary things highlights how our particular mind-sets craves the extraordinary and in so doing overlooks the everyday sublime (as Stephen Batchelor ably describes it in his book 'After Buddhism') Here he talks about how “ - - - we human animals who delight and revel in our *place, who crave security, certainty and consolation, the sublime is banished and forgotten. As a result, life is rendered opaque and flat”.
*'Place' is that which we are attached to, our conditioning, our identity
Posted by: Turan | June 12, 2018 at 03:08 AM
Ah! - again. Just read this in Brian's latest post on mindfulness - another take on knowing as being delusional perhaps.
"But if you can remember from time to time that each moment is fresh and new, maybe, just maybe, what you know will not get in the way of being open to what you don't know, which is always a larger field. Then a beginner's mind will be available at any moment you are open to it."
Posted by: Turan | June 12, 2018 at 03:16 AM
"Here, this blog being about ordinary things highlights how our particular mind-sets craves the extraordinary and in so doing overlooks the everyday sublime."
We can find the extraordinary in ordinary things, and more. It just happens. And if we are open to it, we follow that humbly, we serve it.
In the repulsive rantings of a mentally ill and unwashed, smelly, homeless wanderer on the sidewalk, who had urinated on themselves, too imprisoned by their own mental torture even to ask for help, in them we can fall in love. And everything we can do to get them back to safety, back to their shelter, back to their group home, back to their own peers, that becomes our noble journey. In that moment we are defined by it. The others who walk away have already placed a value of zero upon themselves. Or so it appears to us. And we realize our own psychology is forcing us to see ourselves in that person, to realize the hard reality that whatever they are, at best, that is what we are and doing this for them is simply not neglecting our own care.
In the mundane is not only the entire creation and ourselves, but our noble purpose.
Posted by: Spencer G Tepper | June 12, 2018 at 06:19 AM
Doing 'good works' is to be commended and what one believes (or feel) is good rests with the provider's mind. If he/she feels they have done good then great but many who 'walk away' from a certain situation may be 'doing good' in other more less obvious ways. Either way, neither is a 'zero'.
But back to the post on ordinary things. Everyday life is such a ordinary, simple thing – only confused by 'extraordinary' minds full of information (knowledge) of how things should or ought to be. Our habit is often when seeing a person – perhaps even a creature or plant – is to see only the concept planted in our heads. Seeing the ordinary is to see what is and to act from that if appropriate. Living from the concept may result in (re)actions that reflect our conditioning – and may be quite inappropriate to the situation.
Posted by: Turan | June 14, 2018 at 01:57 AM