“Infinite happiness and peace are always at hand, just behind the screen of man’s ignorance.” – Paramahansa Yogananda
If there is one thing that eludes more people most often, it is the ability to be happy and remain happy. Unhappiness is so rampant in our country that it’s practically a disease. It plagues the lives of the affluent as easily as the poor, the employed and the unemployed, the young and the old. Our inability to live in happiness is evident in the skyrocketing abuse of drugs, the ubiquitous need to be high on pot, and the pharmaceutical boom of anti-depressives.
And let’s not ignore the socially condoned need to numb our brains with alcohol and tobacco. We do it all for the pleasure of it, and it’s sapping our happiness.
Some studies I’ve read attribute happiness to having close relationships and connections to the community. But having a good time with good company still leaves a void within. It wasn’t until I fully immersed myself in a spiritual quest that I discovered my inner happiness. As I practiced meditation and slowly changed the way I lived my life, I finally understood what the spiritual teachers meant by the soul being shrouded by ignorance.
So how can we really embody happiness? The spiritual Masters have been telling us for eons.
It comes from within
“Happiness does not come from wasting time and indulging in pleasure life. It comes from inner joy and inner satisfaction.” – Sri Chinmoy
And how do we feel inner joy and satisfaction? By identifying with the highest part of our nature: our heart and soul, where peace, gratitude, and love abound. We can begin this process of identification by simply putting our attention there. Start with five minutes a day and see what happens. During those five minutes allow yourself to feel your inner cry to grow into your best: the highest parts of your nature. This is beyond mindfulness. Sri Chinmoy and Sri Aurobindo call this ‘spiritual aspiration’. We can increase it each time we enter into a meditative consciousness.
It is here, inside the yearning to commune with our inner divinity that the play of joy, happiness, and satisfaction begins. Happiness doesn’t come from achieving a result. It exists in the process of spiritually aspiring. And furthermore, no religion is required.
“Nearly all mankind is more or less unhappy because nearly all do not know the true Self. Real happiness abides in Self-knowledge alone. All else is fleeting. To know one’s Self is to be blissful always.” – Ramana Maharshi
Knowing one’s Self can start with spiritual aspiration. It has the power to transform our lives. When my own teacher, Sri Chinmoy, would tell us to just cry inwardly for Light, like a child for its mother, and the veils of ignorance will slowly fall away, it seemed too simple. That was almost 40 years ago. I can now attest that it’s true.
Ignorance does fall away, beyond our imagination. It’s a slow process and there’s a lot more transformation yet to be done. But the progress that has been made is irrefutable. People often feel compelled to criticize my lifestyle, thinking that I’m depriving myself. They think its too difficult or even unnecessary to be vegetarian, not drink alcohol, or any other discipline. But in reality, your inner cry will compel you to pray and meditate. It will inspire you to do whatever it takes to raise your consciousness. Nothing will feel forced or deprived, because spiritual aspiration makes you want to stop limiting and hurtful thoughts and behaviors.
Check your thoughts
“Aspiration is our inner cry, the cry that climbs up high, higher, highest. While climbing, it illumines the unlit human in us, purifies the impure animal in us and serves the divine in us for God’s manifestation on earth.” – Sri Chinmoy
Included in the process of identifying with our highest parts is to notice what kind of thoughts we are focused on. As Sri Chinmoy put,
“When we cherish a divine thought, an expanding thought, a fulfilling thought, we create Heaven in us. When we cherish undivine, ugly, obscure, impure thoughts, we enter into our own inner hell.”
Thoughts don’t just stay in our minds. The energy from them affects our health and well-being as powerfully as they affect everyone around us and the world at large. One powerful technique is to imagine light pouring into your heart, filling you with peace. Do this each time a negative thought enters your mind.
“If you live in a cave, your thoughts will permeate even through the rock walls and will go vibrating all over the world. Such is the power of thought.” – Vivekananda
While meditation makes us more aware of the nature of our daily thoughts, it’s also important to realize that having no thought during meditation is a very advanced state.
“A quiet mind does not mean that there will be no thoughts or mental movements at all, but that these will be on the surface and you will feel your true being within separate from them, observing but not carried away.” – Sri Aurobindo
Pay attention to your inner life
The next step is to discard all the silly, useless things we do and pay more attention to the inner life. Gratitude is part of that inner life. It is a miracle action within us. It’s beyond any drug we can devise. Rather than dwell on what we lack, feel gratitude for what we have. You can even be grateful that you chose to read this story rather than fill your mind with political banter or celebrity gossip.
Go for a walk and breathe in the gratitude that you can walk. Replace the mind’s chatter with a focus on nature’s beauty, then feel grateful for that moment. Keep making the shift from mind to heart whenever possible. Eventually, it will become a habit. When we pay attention to the inner life we realize our connectedness to everything around us, and the need to be of service to others is born. Happiness is inside every selfless action – a truth I was reminded of just the other day.
A young woman was frantically running down the middle of the street as my husband and I drove up to her. As I rolled down the window she yelled, “My bag is on the bus!” I told her to get into the car and we proceeded to find the bus she had been on. About two miles up the road we found it at a bus stop about to merge back into the traffic. I motioned to the driver to stay, jumped out of the car, ran to the door and told him a purse was left on the bus at a previous stop.
Meanwhile, our young passenger had already jumped onto the bus and retrieved her bag. She was especially relieved and thankful because her passport was in that bag. While searching for the bus she mentioned to us, in her limited English, that she was from Italy, working as an au pair, and she only had 10 minutes before she was expected to be back with the family to work. I could see that there was no way she was going to be on time, so we drove her to the doorstep of her house.
Before we encountered the young lady, we were on our way to a Saturday afternoon hike. It was a beautiful and peaceful hike, but the joy I felt from helping that au pair outshined everything else on that day.
“You must never forget that greatness does not guarantee happiness, but goodness always does.” – Sri Chinmoy
Happiness doesn’t have to remain elusive. We just have to stop making ourselves victims of fear, doubt, and all other forms of ignorance. Then, little by little, as we slowly shift our attention and priority to the inner life rather than outer achievements and an obsession with the body’s sense pleasures, we will transform ourselves into the beautiful beings we were meant to be. For when the inner life comes first, the outer life is perfected. Just be patient and aspire.
“Resolve to develop your spiritual powers more earnestly from now on. Learn the art of right living. If you have joy you have everything.” – Paramahansa Yogananda
You can read more about the wisdom gleaned from years of first-hand guidance from my own spiritual teacher in my book, An Unconventional Pursuit: One Woman’s Spiritual Journey with the Eastern Master Sri Chinmoy. Amazon, Apple or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a hard copy.
“Just one smile immensely increases the beauty of the universe.” – Sri Chinmoy