” What you are looking for is where you are looking from.”-St. Francis of Assisi
Before anything was, there was nothingness. Nothing with objective qualities, nothing noteworthy, nothing observable.
And then, behind a set of curtains as Janon Sykus and his girlfriend devoured each other, a whirlwind of passion; two humans indulging in a moment aflare with their carnal fantasies. A flick of a green light high above them, and Janon knew he was due on stage. Re-suiting up, a quick kiss on the lips, a promise to finish what he started, Janon darts through the curtains as he parted ways with his beloved, his legs taking him up a flight of stairs that seemed to keep going on forever. The next step repeats itself until the oak of the familiar wooden stage greeted him like an old friend. The round of applause from the crowd roared. He took a deep breath, and stepped into the light.
That was when I, Nigel, woke up. Janon’s lover, mannerisms, and pleasures now a but a distant memory as my fingers dance on the keyboard. I, Nigel, claim the identity of the presence that animates this body, a decaying biological vessel subject to the increasing entropy that all objects in this particular universe are subject to. And when this body returns to the universe, devoid of energy and incapable of life, then Nigel too, shall fade away, like Janon and countless others did, among the infinitude of dreams, (day dreams) and possible alternate realities that occurred in this ‘space’ of awareness.
Before anything was, there was nothingness. Nothing with objective qualities, nothing noteworthy, nothing observable. To call it space-like is but a concession, a limitation incapable of being truly comprehended, much less felt by the human mind and its limitations. Whether Janon did live, pass away only to reincarnate into Nigel is up for debate, or whether Janon was a character in Nigel’s dream is up for debate, but I cannot deny how real Janon felt, even though all that remains is but a faint impression.
The end was silent, peaceful, eternal, free. From nothingness ‘I’ emerged, to nothingness ‘I’ shall return to.
It is said that death is like sleep, except that the vital organs don’t function anymore and the organism doesn’t wake up. Knowing that, we still look forward to sleep every night, even with the very real possibility that some of us may not wake up the next day. And yet, we emerge from it feeling somewhat relaxed (with a mild headache) in the worst case, sometimes refreshed, feeling happy even, grateful for a good night’s sleep.
So how does this even relate to happiness?
We walk through life seeking all sorts of things, social goodies, objects, and experiences to “make ourselves complete”, only to be frustrated at every turn, no matter the outcome. The bliss of a +120 MMR won over a series of 1v1 Starcraft matches turns to discontent the very next day as I push on, never satisfied with where I am. The losses hurt even more , as I now have to make up for it with even more effort and wins. And when the end result of Platinum rank rolls around, it is not satisfaction, but relief that I am flooded with. Do I feel more complete? No. I must have MORE.
But then again, the same can be said for so many things in life. We go through life looking for things to make us complete, but none of them ever do, but we hope that one day there will be a special something that really makes a difference. And what of the outcomes that make us happy?
Think about it. The ‘yes’ that leads to many more dates afterwards, the rush of euphoria/relief that comes from achievement, the flash of serendipity on a relaxing afternoon spent without purpose, nor any focus on work or accomplishment. The realization that one’s bank account is so abundant that one never has to work again, the feeling of enjoying quality banter with friends, or the joy of spontaneity that comes from inspired action. It reflects a certain quality that philosophers and Law of Attraction readers are familiar with; that a strong desire indicates a strong absence of that which is desired, and the greater the gap and compulsion to attain that desire, the greater the suffering.
Thus, it can be said that desire ends where happiness begins.
What then is the secret to happiness? How does it relate to desire?
Our self, what we refer to as ‘I’. Or rather, the presence in which all thoughts, sensations, impressions, dreams, identity, and emotions appear in. The one thing that can be said about this presence of awareness is that it is always aware no matter what. The knowledge of itself can only be described as ‘I’.
How else are we aware that we exist?
Whenever we are happy, the ‘I’ that we are is aware of that pleasure, and the same can be said for all facets of experience. When ‘I’ am but a child, ‘I’ am aware of the headaches that language homework gave me. When ‘I’ am a teenager, ‘I’ am aware of the angst and the pressure from parents and peers alike. When ‘I’ am a postgraduate researcher, ‘I’ am aware of my elation as ‘I’ experienced my first eureka moment. When ‘I’ am at the altar, ‘I’ am overwhelmed with joy as ‘I’ seal our marriage vows. When ‘I’ am old, ‘I’ will learn to enjoy the weights what my younger self took for granted. And when ‘I’ pass away, ‘I’ will savor my last breath and whatever that comes after. If ‘I’ do reincarnate as Janon with no memory of who Nigel was, ‘I’ definitely would be looking forward to a great night after that performance.
In many indigenous spiritual traditions around the world, this ‘I’ is referred to as the spirit. Monotheistic traditions refer to this ‘I’ as God. Others refer to it as the source from which all things manifest in. It goes by many different names and signs, but all of them refer to the same indescribable truth. Whatever this ‘I’ is, it is the ONLY constant in all of experience, because we have never experienced a moment where ‘I’ was never present. No matter the experiences, the ‘I’ that we are is unaffected by it because we ARE. What we are is happiness because the awareness that we are unaffected by, and free of any desire, as all desires appear and disappear in ourselves. What we are is peace because it is undisturbed by all events that take place in awareness, no matter the thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We are is freedom itself because it knows no boundaries, with all forms, discriminations, and conditioning appearing and disappearing, yet our awareness is unaffected by it.
Rather than all our wildest desires being fulfilled or obliterated in the next moment, the realization ‘I am’ is one that gradually fills us with peace and contentment, like we are meant to be in this moment. It means that we realize that acceptance is what we are, not something that we do, though our conditioning and resistance to certain topics may take some time to wear away in light of this understanding. It starts out as a heightened sense of self-awareness, then followed by a wave of gradual peace until one is filled with a serene sense of perpetual joy.
How can we embody this ‘I’?
Short answer: you don’t. How would you take a step toward yourself? How would you ‘be’ yourself when you already ARE yourself? You already are. Be still and observe. Your thoughts may tell you to do this and that, to shut up and clear the mind, but ignore them, let the mind run wild. Your body may itch or feel restless, address them if need be, but otherwise observe and listen.
As abstract as it sounds, you are what you have been looking for your entire life, as so many sages from many different traditions around the world have preached. If nothing else, all you have to ‘do’ is be still and listen.