“The key to staying happy is really very simple. Begin by understanding your inner energies. If you look inside, you will see that when you're happy, your heart feels open and the energy rushes up inside of you. When you aren't happy, your heart feels closed and no energy comes up inside. So to stay happy, just don't close your heart.”
Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul, p.144)
Most of you regular readers will probably be happy when my spirituality groups finally finishes The Untethered Soul. Just like the book, I keep harping on keeping an open heart in the face of adversity. I'll be honest with you; Singer makes it sound simple, but it's the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. We haven't made our way through this book quickly, because it is dense with opportunities for discussion and practice. There are only 179 pages, but every single one of them requires deep examination. If you are involved in a spirituality group, I highly recommend it, but be prepared to wrestle with the material.
“...life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...” Words written into America's Declaration of Independence, and cited millions of times as inalienable rights. We have assumed we understood their meaning for more than two-hundred years. We assumed that they referred to America's freedom to be an independent country, free of an overlord or king, who could dictate how life would be for us. We also saw them as individual freedoms—to live as we chose and not have governmental controls on our liberty. And these are the ideals, no doubt. However, we never understood that most of those “controls” on our pursuit of happiness come from within us. We almost always surmise that they come from without. As long as ISIS is attacking people, we can't be content; as long as we have demonstrators in our streets, we can't be content, as long as our neighbor has more material wealth than we do, we can't be content, if we lose our jobs we can't be content, if our children or our parents are difficult to handle, we can't be content, and so on. I don't deny that these are hardships, that they require us to struggle in ways we don't enjoy, but they do not control our level of contentment. Only we have that power.
We feel unhappy and discontent when life presents itself to us in ways we don't like. When our days don't go as we want and people don't act “right” according to our definition, we get upset. I'm every bit as guilty of this as anyone else on this planet. I whine and moan about everything from the weather, to presidential politics, to the fact that the lights don't always work in my basement. None of these are essentially horrible, and two of the three are not even within my control, but that doesn't keep me from being discontent over them. Having worked through Michael Singer's book, however, I know that I am choosing to let myself be troubled by these events. They are not intentionally sabotaging my happiness; it is I who have invited them to trouble me.
The first step toward sustained contentment is realizing that you don't have to let everything upset you. Life presents itself on its own terms. We have options as to how we will respond to any given event, any given person. We can respond with discontent, or we can keep an open heart and respond with contentment. Very simple to say, incredibly difficult to do. It requires work. That's why we call it spiritual practice.
In the Spirit,