This post is dedicated to the memory of the loved ones we have lost in recent times.
Happiness is what calls us from the depths of our being, and all activities a manner of pursuit towards the goal. It takes the form of many causes and activities, a myriad of form and expression, and though they appear to differ on the surface, the underlying instinct is ultimately a primordial pull toward happiness. While the adult world seems content with the process of seeking happiness, children (especially babies) on the other hand are happy no matter what they do. It is almost as if the process of growing up takes a toll on the human spirit, so much that it is compelled to seek what it had seemingly lost in childhood through the form of social status, financial security, and fancy life experiences.
Contemporary common sense agrees with the Bible on the matter. That in the process growing up, the innocence that a child once possessed was washed away, replaced with knowledge (and the responsibilities that came with it), resulting in a world weary adult that looks upon life as a burden. The rare few souls that retain their childlike innocence, yet possess the knowledge of the world are the ones that we look up to, the ones to whom life is a carousel of fun. The ones who, no matter what happens, are always at peace. In lieu of the roller coaster ride that is the year 2020, it is naught but a perfect time for self-reflection, a journey inward for everyone.
There will never be a better time to rediscover that childlike innocence than now.
Part One: Fruit of Knowledge
In his books, Yuval Noah Harari illustrates how humans have managed to ascend to the top of the food chain through a combination of ambition and cooperation. These two qualities are derived from the power of mind that man has managed to use repeatedly; the ability to give meaning to things that were never present otherwise. In doing so, man has managed to create many wonderful things using their minds, such as mathematics,, money, economics, morality, art, theatre, philosophy, religion, ethics, and many more. Today, these weaved (albeit tweaked, re-told, and reinforced) fictions form the foundation on which modern civilization is built upon.
Therein begins the cycle.
From a young age, children are taught the knowledge/wisdom of the world so that they may fit into society when they grow up. Children often question the knowledge that they are fed, for they may not understand the fictions that govern human civilization, but not all adults that they meet are able to answer them succinctly (or even have the patience to do so for that matter). The questioning process has two inevitable outcomes. The more obscure first outcome is one in which the child (in a supportive, nurturing environment) accepts the knowledge passed down as a fiction useful for functioning in society and nothing more, yet still retain their innocence and question as much as they can. These children accept that some questions will not have answers, but in their innocence they never stop questioning everything. They are the ones who see the fictions scattered in the things that humans have given meaning to, essentially the ones who in adulthood still question question: “why does 1+1=2?”
The second, and the most common is that the environment (in the form of parenting, education, and peers) literally pressures the child into accepting these fictions as absolute truth, which is a prevalent practice in Asian countries. In the process, they trade wonder for answers, replace curiosity with certainty, and innocence with responsibility. The result is an adult that fits in perfectly with society (which can be a good thing), but the tragedy is that they assume limitations of their environment in which they were brought up as their own.
The irony in all this is that the very meaning that humans have given things in order to create a better world for themselves, these fictions that gave birth to contemporary civilization with amazing living standards, unfortunately have ended up being the very things that have the potential to imprison their creators in a hell of their own making.
Part Two: Fall from Grace
The greatest misconception that the world preaches is the idea that humans are inherently separate from the happiness that they seek.
That misconception is the single greatest drive that motivates adults in their external search for happiness, be it through social status, affluent wealth, everlasting beauty, or an exotic state of mind. More often than not, these pursuits often take the form of doing something for the sake of an end result that puts an end to a desire. Consequently, life becomes a process where all at hand is a constant need to fulfill to all desires, where anything else is irrelevant, or at worst a hinderance. Through this misperception, effort is required for happiness at all.
The belief in separation is a misperception because it denies that activities can be done for their own sake. It denies the unconditional kindness shown to strangers, the unconditional love that parents have for their children, the simple pleasures in cups of tea on a rainy day. What it affirms however, is the fact that life is a calculated gambit in search for this elusive thing called happiness, where everyone is ultimately responsible for every decision that they make lest they become failures or rejects. It preaches that humans can never be happy just by being, that they must without fail, constantly fulfill their desires unto death, to live a life consumed by effort for glimmers of fleeting satisfaction, never to truly make a mark on a cold, indifferent universe.
This misperception is ultimately the fall from grace because it forces humans to seek lasting happiness in an ephemeral universe. It denies the changeful, impermanent nature of the universe in favor of security, trading the possibility of creative wonders for the certainty of pleasures that only a civilization founded upon such a belief can offer.
It morphs life into tedious journey, for the end must nourish the weary soul, justifying the means.
Part Three: Hide and Seek
If one were to seek ever-lasting happiness, it would make sense to base that ideal of happiness upon an unchanging, eternally true foundation.
The question of what that foundation is or can be is one that must be congruent with reality as is. The beginning of the pursuit of an idealized happiness would then have to be based upon a concept beyond all questioning, beyond doubt, known intimately and accepted by all things. Given that the universe is in ever-constant flux, where form is impermanent, and no two moments are the same, there seems to be no easy answer at all. What could possibly happen a person brought up with beliefs/meaning/fictions passed down to them from their environment, seeks their idealized version of lasting happiness (albeit conditioned from their childhood) in an ephemeral universe?
What could the outcome possibly be when the happiness that man loves and cherishes is conditional, and yet exist in a universe that is always in flux?
It must certainly mean that happiness is fleeting, conditional, temporary, and therefore constant effort must be made to ensure that happiness does not slip out of grasp. When the inevitable comes to pass, people must either make the effort to reestablish that lost happiness and contentment, else they face their fears or suffer. Consequently, the predominant state of life that man lives is one of frustration. It is frustration born from the (imagined) separation between their happiness and life itself/reality at the present moment. It is a quiet despair is one born from a discrepancy between what man believes to be true and what life (at present) is, for to be away from happiness that one seeks is to be suffering.
What happens if life changes in a way beyond all comprehension, where everything once held to be true is thrown down the trash? What happens when sickness cometh and all means fall away into nothingness, and man is unable to pursue happiness anymore? Is he then consigned to fall away too, filled with regret knowing that his life could have been so much more?
To have that call to find happiness in the heart yet never quite able to obtain it, tis the eternal game of hide and seek that happiness plays with man.
Part Four: Return to Eden
There comes a point where one recognizes the proverbial insanity that Einstein points to.
Whether it takes the form of illness, old age, or any kind of limiting condition as a forced change, or internally through exhaustion, depression, anxiety, quiet desperation, or frustration encountered through constant futility, it is inevitable that one must come to a reckoning with oneself. When faced with the futility of the situation, does one try harder to find that happiness believing that effort will win the day yet again? Or does one look at life in retrospect and realize that some changes need to be made?
Therein begins the end of the cycle, the return unto innocence.
It begins with disillusionment with all that one cherished in relation to happiness itself. The need to constantly acquire happiness through pursuits and activities gradually becomes exhausting, and through inquiry and recognition, on reduces their engagement with said activities. In contrast to the former, one slowly gains appreciation for the smaller things already present in life, wherein a reversal of of the strangest sort occurs. Through the appreciation of what IS, and having given up the pursuit of happiness, happiness itself ceases to be a distant goal that must be strived for, and turns into a simple constant in life. Where the need to effort disappears, and the appreciation of what IS grows, one slowly becomes accustomed to a gentle, ever-present feeling of contentment that blossoms in the most joyful of events, and recedes as a calm acceptance in the darkest of nights.
The knowledge/wisdom of the world is seen for what it is; a tool, and nothing more, that life is ephemeral, a fleeting breath where the universe takes form to experience itself. Where skepticism and criticism once was; now washed away by appreciation and gratitude. Where blood, sweat and tears were; replaced by peace and calm. Where hustling and hard labor was, now lies effortless work in the flow state. Where demands and conditions were, now lie unconditional acceptance of what IS. Where decisions were once calculative and laced with anxiety, now become an act of grace where the priority lie on win-wins. Where goals and activities once represented the path to happiness, now become the means in which happiness is expressed. Where wonder replaces certainty and weariness replaced with innocence once again.
The most beautiful part of this return unto innocence is the shift of one’s perspective, where life itself becomes better day by day, that the happiness that was once sought after was never in the distant future, but always within oneself.
Time here does not matter, for all humans are capable of making the shift no matter the age or circumstance. For those who keep striving unto old age, it represents a late homecoming (in the words of Eckhart Tolle), where the end result is the same. No matter who, or how, it represents an atonement, an inevitable return unto innocence, peace and joy, though circumstances and mindset may delay it.
The saints throughout history have always pointed to this message, a reminder that existence is far from the meaningless pursuit of dame and glory in the face of an indifferent universe, but rather the universe playing with the guise of form through us. But in that recognition, the process of breaking free of suffering becomes a fall; into the arms of grace, that life was meant to turn out like this so that one might awaken to appreciate the beauty of what IS.
Where one once strove mightily on the path to happiness, happiness now becomes the path. To paraphrase what Jesus said in Luke 17:20: the Kingdom of Heaven does not come with signs to behold, for it is within you.