Written by Courtney Fowles
Intern Counselling Psychologist, District Six Campus
‘It is one of the great lies propagated by our culture that getting more and more physical and material prosperity will lead to greater and greater happiness. This is simply not true. Genuine happiness lies in not wanting. Endless wanting is such a burden to the mind. If we really wish to be happy and create happiness for those around us, our task is to clean, aerate and order our minds’ – Tenzin Palmo
“If I just lost that weight I’d feel better about myself”
“If I just gained that weight I’d feel better about myself”
“Once I get that qualification, that degree, that job I’ll be able to find peace”
“Once I am married I will feel safe and happy”
“If I just manage to get that outfit, car, or house I’ll be happy”
“If only I had not done that one thing in the past I would feel happy right now”
“If that didn’t happen to me I would be able to experience joy”
“If I got more ‘likes’ or followers things would be better”
The list goes on and the search for happiness, peace, fulfilment and joy continues. Sound familiar?
Sometimes, actually most of the time we get caught in memories of the past and musings about the future – our brains default button if you will. And when we spend time occupied in these two spaces, which do not exist in this very moment, we deny ourselves the opportunity to embrace and rest in the joy or stillness of what is right now.
Maybe how we are ‘searching’ is part of the problem. Rushing, spending, and accumulating, more and more. We seem to have buried our joy under piles of stuff that bought us some temporary pleasure or fulfilment at the time. But never seems to tick the box of eternal joy, happiness, and peace. But why, we spent so much money on that outfit, the new trend ‘must have’, appliance, watch, gadget, car, or other material thing we deemed essential to our fulfilment. And in doing this we relegate happiness to the future and we prevent ourselves from feeling content right now at this very moment! It’s the same with all the other societal expectations based on how you should look, who you should be with, what you should believe, how qualified you should be or how big your salary is. All these things are external, they rely on doing or gaining things on a superficial level of reality. They are sold to use through society’s neoliberal and capitalistic pursuits under the guise that we can purchase happiness with the latest trend or attain it by fulfilling a socially constructed expectation of what it is to be normal and happy.
A lot of us seem to think that maybe we are not good enough and by doing or attaining certain things we will finally be good enough, worthy, fulfilled, acknowledged, loved and so on. And so we attach ourselves to people, situations, beliefs, or possessions in an effort to feel good enough. You get the gist, we are constantly reaching and grasping at dreams, things, and expectations that we forget to manifest instead of dream, to appreciate the things we have and not pen happiness on the next purchase, to embrace where we are, who we are, and how we look right now in our lives rather than comparing ourselves to friends or celebrities on social media. We need to loosen the hold our expectations and desires have on us and free ourselves from this illusion.
The wisdom of Tibetan psychology tells us that the essence of Buddhism involves the absence of grasping and desire which is known as Vajrayana. So ask yourself; are you happy, content, and joyful and at peace right now?
If yes, great! I could learn a thing or two from you!
If no, that’s okay maybe the trick is not looking at attaining more externally but emptying it out a bit, clearing the layers of dirt we bought and borrowed to gratify our ego’s and looking inwards. That’s a bit scary for some of us, it can make us feel vulnerable which society often tells us is ‘weakness’. This is why we penned our joy to things we got pleasure from almost instantly in the outside world or we chose ignorance as the path of least resistance. Because these paths did not involve sifting through layers of fears, uncertainties, and doubts or feeling vulnerable. But what if the payoff of turning our search for happiness, joy, and peace inwards resulted in eternal happiness, joy, and peace. For some this is known as enlightenment. And we can start our journey towards that today, by;
Learning to let go
Let’s take a moment to look at our attachment and grasping tendencies:
Step 1: Identify my grasping
Find a quiet place to sit comfortably with a pen and paper handy. Start reviewing all the possessions and attachments you have accumulated in your life. Now see where an intense sense of ownership or possession is focused. These are tangible things but it could also be an attachment to ideas, knowledge, people, and symbols. Maybe you’re attached to attachment! Just write down what comes to mind without analysing it, put it aside and don’t read through it. You can keep doing this for a couple of days to see what comes up and to identify any pattern in your grasping tendencies. Ask yourself; Do I see the consequences of my grasping? Can I see the difficulties, suffering or conflict it causes?
Step 2: Imagine losing or giving away
Again find a relaxing spot with pen and paper and mentally go through the list of attachments you created. Now imagine losing the important ones, as if they were taken away or you had to give them away. E.g. If it’s your knowledge you lose it, your good looks they are gone. You had to catch a plane suddenly and leave it all behind, see what happens in your mind.
Step 3: Now give it away
Okay go on and give away one of the possessions you are attached to. It’s gone, see how this affects you now by noticing what happens in your mind and body. Now give away another thing, actually give it away. Keep giving until it becomes easier. Can you feeling anything liberating in this generosity?
I am not telling you to get rid of all your things; rather it is the psychological detachment from them that can be of benefit. To enjoy fully but have insight into your relationship with attachment and grasping is what we are trying to do. To see where our freedom lies. Here are some ways we can learn more about our attachments and how we can create some healthy distance from those that do not serve us;
Ways to let go of the grasping mind:
Openly and radically accepting ourselves as we are can be transformational. So notice how you talk to yourself, the attitude you have towards yourself, the judgements and criticisms you easily dish out to yourself on a daily basis. We expect ourselves to perfect which we are not and cannot expect to be. If we allow our minds to reveal themselves and to accept this without judgement and criticism we can find a sense of peace and understanding, without slipping into bad habits of negative self-talk that push away peace and understanding. So why not try making friends with your mind?
Body and breath
We seem to have become quite disconnected from our bodies. So just take a moment to check how your body is feeling at the moment, are you holding in your breath or is there some tension somewhere? Or can you notice any free and empty spaces in the body? Really focus on the sensations your body is experiencing. Once you’ve done this little body scan and checked in with yourself. Notice how you are feeling, the body sometimes tells us things we have become accustomed to silencing. Are you tired? Are you anxious? Are you content?
“Some of us are war with ourselves without realising it: we repress feelings, deny the existence of unwelcome mind states and refuse to accept ourselves as we are. As a result we experience inner conflict, anxiety, depressive states and fear; we are unhappy in life and fearful of death” – Rob Nairn
We can make friends with our minds by learning to be a bit gentler with ourselves and letting go of thoughts and habits that do not serve us by allowing the mind to be still. Sounds a lot easier than it really is. Getting into it can be a slow and sometimes boring or very frustrating process because the mind is prone to constantly thinking, analysing and concentrating. Much like spotting an animal in the bush. If it is constantly moving you may struggle to see what it clearly is. But if it remains somewhat still you can observe it fully and with clarity. If we are able to get the mind to be fairly still we can experience clarity, wisdom, and compassion without having to look in all sorts of strange places.
Create awareness and focus
Develop bare-attention. This is the ability to notice the comings and goings of your mind without attaching thoughts and behaviours to it. As a movie camera would pan a scene without comment, evaluation, judgement, or interventions so can you with your mind – through observation. This also means don’t grasp or attach to mindfulness as it defeats the process.
Attitude of gratitude
Lastly, try cultivate this as a daily routine by just checking in with yourself, friend or loved one and listing just three things that you are grateful for on this day at this moment.
May you loosen the grip of the grasping mind and find peace, happiness, and joy in the art of acceptance.
Reference: Nairn, R. (2002). Living dreaming dying. Kairon Press: Kalk Bay.