Am I Happy?
It’s world mental health week, a great time to take a look at where we’re at. We can ask the question, “Am I happy?” Thich Nhat Hanh, in his “Transformation and Healing” provides a useful guideline for this question. He says that we are happy only if we know that we are happy right now. Of course, since this is a mindfulness master speaking, he is referring to the practice of mindfulness, of knowing what we are experiencing. Knowing how to know and to feel fully now is the recipe for happiness. If you had to think about the question, “Am I happy?” then it’s a good indicator of separation from your naturally happy state!
We Are Built for Happiness
Yes, we are by nature built for happiness, and we separate ourselves from it. We put the brakes on our happiness, and we suffer needlessly. We can find lots of reasons for unhappiness outside and inside. In our recent teaching residency at the Aman Hotel in Bhutan, the land of Gross National Happiness, I was told that every political decision is based on whether it will maintain or increase the happiness of the people of Bhutan. They love to promote this concept, which is based on a deep connection and appreciation of the extraordinarily beautiful land of mountains and valleys, rising from tropical jungles to the highest mountain peaks in the world. The highest mountain ranges are off limits to trekkers, being considered sacred and the home of local deities. The close connection and respect for nature is a natural cause of happiness everywhere.
Feeling the World in the Body
Now I want to take a leap here. It is the connection to the elements which is the basis for happiness. The quality of the communication with the elemental nature of ourselves and the environment is the ground and basis of happiness. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“Our body is a river in which each cell is a drop of water, and all of them are in constant transformation and movement. There is also a river of feelings in us, in which every feeling is a drop of water.”
Mindfulness Is Life Itself
He’s talking about mindfulness of feelings, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. That continual flow is our life, our life essence. Feelings are life and life is mindfulness, if we know that we are feeling fully. The practice is mindfulness of feeling, so that even in the midst of anger or anxiety, we make contact with the very substance of that unpleasant feeling. When we touch the feeling we are not separate from it. Duality is gone. And equally important, we let go of the feeling at the time we make contact with it. So our life then is touch and go.
Living a life of touch and go is the basis of happiness because we are appreciating fully what we have now, and letting go of it. It’s the raw elemental connection to the life force which is nature itself. We are so fortunate to be able to experience anger or anxiety in this way. Can you do it?
Getting Into Life
If fundamental well-being is just awareness of the energy fields of anger, or pleasant feelings, then we are all well equipped for happiness. Getting into meditation is getting into life, all of it. That includes, at the same time, gaining insight into the source of world problems as well. There are some mega rich entrepreneurs out there who think that the solution to the mega problem of environmental destruction is to move humans to space colonies. They think that getting away from nature is the future of happiness. I know that the approach of technological death through drying up the river of life is not the answer.
So let’s keep talking about feelings, all of them. That’s where basic mental health begins.