(The following is a manuscript of my talk on March 1, 2015 at the Hamburg UU Church. The folks there are very welcoming to us as I always enjoy either visiting or speaking there. Of course, when I speak, I mostly just “wing it!”)
When I shared with a friend of mine near Pittsburgh the picture of your front sign and the name of today’s talk he said, “Lucky you are not giving it down here because people would probably snowball you to death!” So after the past months we have lived, how are you? Can many still say, “I am still happy?” How many are thinking about moving someplace else?
Past Hamburg Highway Superintendent and later our State Assemblyman, Dick Smith, used to say there is a tendency for people in our area to awaken each morning, especially in these months, slap themselves in the forehead and ask, “Why do I still live here?”
Would moving make us happier? Happy is a word which means, “Good things seem to always happen!” “Hap” means “good luck” and “y” means “constantly.” Is that how you tend to see yourself now, or most the time?
How can we find and be happy? Doesn’t it need to come from within? If we depend on other people or the world around us to make us happy, it can be quite risky. Many people don’t meet our ideals and leave us, or love us for a while and stop. Our children? Does having children make us happier? They can, if we learn to let them go. If you’ve ever had teen agers, you know what I mean! They have their own lives to live, their own friends, interests and talents, many different from ours as parents.
It seems unless we find happiness within ourselves, we will always be disappointed or unhappy, looking elsewhere. So we then ask, “Who am I? Who is my own self?” Is it the body, mind, race, hometown, or our genes? No, these reason teachers are all transitory. In time, they hardly last the blink of an eye.
The light we receive from the sun takes about 8 and ½ minutes to reach us traveling by speed of light. We exist on a planet located at the tail end of the “Milky Way” galaxy, one of the millions, the billions known galaxies existing in the universe. Astronomers say our planet and solar system is so small it could easily fit into one of the many larger stars of the universe! Some of the light we see from distant stars has taken thousands of years to even reach us traveling the speed of light.
Yet what if we were something else other than our bodies or brains that think? What if we were part of a transcendental, or spiritual entity beyond what we can see as our body or the bodies of others? What if in this other entity we could find our happiness, our source of unlimited potential and being? What if we were actually eternal Spirit in a temporary body?
Former atheists such as Dr. Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who recently wrote two popular books called, “Proof of Heaven” and his more recent, “The Map of Heaven”, lived most of his life as a scientist who could no longer relate to organized religions or believe in God. In 2008 he went into a coma for seven days wherein his brain completely shut down. But then he woke up and later described in vivid detail an existence and consciousness much beyond his body and supposedly dead brain!
Another former atheist, whose writings have helped me understand happiness, was a woman named Helen Schucman. A research scientist of Psychology in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Scientists, she became weary of the constant stress, jealousies and unhappiness which permeated the staff. She suddenly found herself hearing a voice around 2:00 a.m. each night, and feared she was having a nervous breakdown. However, it became a voice which gave her seven years of dictation on how to experience happiness. Taking notes in shorthand, it later was published in the book called “A Course in Miracles.” The Voice told her she was not her body but Spirit, in Oneness connect with all the God Head.
Both of these authors wrote about what mystics and many shamans have taught for centuries; there is another powerful dimension of the universe which is beyond time and space. It’s everywhere yet always around and within us if we can understand or awaken to its presence and begin to live as if it were our True Timeless Selves.
Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. Arjuna, you must learn to endure fleeting things—they come and go!
For what it’s worth, this is how I have sought for years to live and experience daily happiness and peace, even in cold winters, and in an aging body which obviously has passed it peak! What can this identity teach us, and how can we live with it experiencing happiness?
First I understand happiness must come from within myself, not from any other outside relationship, or in a new place to live, with more money, more kids, or more of anything. I’ll give you a little test to see if you might be living with this attitude and thus are happy.
Think of someone you live with as wife, husband, lover, child, father, mother, or whoever. Now say to yourself, perhaps better not directly to any of them: “If I had to choose between happiness and you, I would always choose happiness!” Could you do that? If not, you probably are in more of a prison relationship than a happy love one.
Most religions teach the opposite of this. They say, “The only way you can know love and happiness is by practicing sacrifice. God loves you because he made sacrifices for you!” This is the common teaching of most Western religions, especially traditional Christianity. What happens then is you likely have two people living with each other sacrificing their true happiness wishing and hoping to make the other one happy! You only end up with two unhappy and miserable people, right?
To love as Spirit, or to see yourself as primarily a non-space entity, we learn to accept everything we see around us just as it is. And actually, it’s all quite crazy. We all are! It’s the mortal and ephemeral aspect of life. Further, in 200 or 300 years, no one will even understand the language we are speaking today or who we were! No wonder people grow anxious and refuse to think about their very limited, whisk of a life!
To be happy as Spirit we realize we cannot know anything in this mortal sphere except in little bits and pieces. No one’s judgment is perfect. Note political differences, teaching differences, and diet differences; no one really knows anything for sure. On this level it’s all a guess, by-gosh and hope; some work out and some don’t. So what? What is black today will be white tomorrow, and vice versa, right? That’s why I said the last time I spoke here, there is a great liberation and joy in “Nothingness!”
“But when a man finds delight within himself and feels inner joy and pure contentment in himself, there is nothing more to be done.”
I confess many organized religions miss this point. Organized religions easily become mostly about changing people from the outside in to perpetuate their existence as form. It says, “Give them clothing, education, better sanitation and they will be happy.” Well, it may help for a while, but then what?
I lived two summers in Marin County, California while doing some graduate studies. Marin County was then rated, and maybe even now, as the richest county in the country. But you know what else I discovered? They had the largest percentage of psychotherapists per population to help people discover how to be happy! One day I was riding my bicycle down the street and saw a brand new Porsche sport car parked with the top down. On the dash I noticed a sign which said, “Are we having fun yet?” I thought, “God, I hope so!” but probably not.
So where might be the happiest people in the world today and in past years and centuries? A January 2015 National Geographic special found Africa the happiest place on earth, rated 75%! Only the island of Fiji rated higher. The lowest area was Western Europe at 25%. I suppose our country was similar to Europe.
Studies show the happiest people are those who lived the simplest and close to nature with a balance and perspective on life as it is. A few days ago I read about a man’s discovery of what he believes to be the happiest people on earth. There are only 400 of them left after being first discovered in 1784 by missionaries in the jungles of the Amazon. Called the Pirahas, missionary Daniel Everett was sent to help convert them to Christianity in 1980, something they had successfully resisted since the first attempts. After learning their language in eight years, Daniel decided to stay another 30 years to learn why they had so much happiness in living. He eventually led him to leave the church. The Pirahas still live there today along the Maici River in the region of Brazil, about 4 hours and 400 km by boat up river from the closest town, Porto Velho. Of course, their existence is threatened by the continual cutting of forests to make more fields to produce more meat and crops for us “happier” people. This happy people, writes Daniel in his book, “Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes!” have a language of happiness, mostly speaking and chatting in smiles, laughter and song notes. They use no definite numbers but use subjective words describing “little, much or more.” (http://www.thewisemag.com/life/the-happiest-people-on-earth)
I saw some of this when I was in India during 1987. Once I climbed high up a hill in Puna where a beautiful temple sat in majesty. I looked down over a wall upon hundreds of small one room dirt-floored homes with hundreds of children and adults singing, chatting and playing along the river. I made the comment to my Buddhist friend, “I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor people.” He quickly snapped back at me, “Don’t feel sorry for those people; feel sorry for yourself! I guarantee they are much happier than you!” I think he was right.
When Columbus sailed west to find China, he landed in what today is the Dominican Republic, named after St. Dominic. We visited there for a few days in January. It is such a beautiful but poor country. When Columbus landed, he claimed it as property of Spain and wrote how the native people were extremely kind, gentle and loving. The laughed much. He also wrote, “They would so easy to conquer,” which he and the Spanish army soon did. The slaughter reminded me of terrorist actions today being done in the name of a Divine Creator. Then Columbus built large church cathedrals and schools to help the church teach the surviving natives how to live and be happy! Crazy. Of course, most of them refused and were slaughtered, so Christian settlers brought in thousands of African slaves to work for them and breed children which later they sold to America, another “Christian” nation.
So what is happiness? It is letting go the identification of ourselves as just our bodies and seeing Higher Selves connected to an eternal dimension of which we can remain conscious or aware. We can learn to remember and live it as we practice coming closer to nature with respect and reverence. We can experience it during periods of silence and meditation. In time we will begin to see ourselves as more lucky and blessed. We will look at a world which is without meaning, insane, and violent, with forgiveness and kindness. Yes, we will trip and fall frequently when we forget. Yet remembering our short mortality, we rise again, forgive ourselves new, and walk on forward remembering again.
“Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, the disciplined man who knows reality should think, “I do nothing at all.””
Talk summary offer March 1, 2015, Hamburg Unitarian Universalist Church. Quotations taken from The Bhagavad-Gita by Barbara Miller. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
As always Dave, thanks so much for this thoughtful reminder.