The Wandering Monk

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The Meaning of Happiness

What a broad title, huh?  You probably read this with some mixed emotions.  Is this going to be philosophy?  Is it an idealist’s take on it all? Is it sarcasm?

The answer is: Yes.  While I can’t honestly speak for everyone, I have recently reflected on myself and I’ve found some really amazing things.  Things that ultimately lead me to finding my own place in the world.  Let’s start from the beginning.

A few years ago I began to reinvent myself.  I went through some pretty bad times and had some emotional break downs and when I emerged on the other side, I came to the conclusion that I needed to know who I really was beyond that which was regularly beaten down by the world.  I’ve always been a spiritual person and I have been a Zen Buddhist for many years.  So, it’s no surprise that I found my biggest clue by looking inward and asking — and facing — the hard questions.

First, I needed to know what I wasn’t.  I scanned through my past, and I looked at who I saw.  Not just the parts that I was OK with, and not just the parts that I was ashamed of.  But all of it!  I saw myself as someone whose happiness was defined by external sources; by attachments that I talked myself into thinking I didn’t really need, but I might as well enjoy while I had them.  The truth was, I did need them and when they were taken from me, I felt a massive void in myself.  But was this who I was?

No, of course not.  My suffering came from being who I wasn’t.  My conclusion in my search to find what I was not lead me to learn some key things about myself:

  1. I am not weak.
  2. I am not helpless.
  3. I do not need someone else to define my happiness.
  4. I do not need to sacrifice all of myself for someone else’s happiness.

Armed with this knowledge, I had a foothold in my self reflection.  I probed further, needing answers.  I arrived at a series of true self assessments that ultimately surrounded some fundamental necessities.  Before I could ever understand who I was, I first needed to forgive myself. You probably read that and thought “What did you do that you need to forgive yourself?”  The answer isn’t as obvious as you think.  It’s not some crime, or secret thing I have been harboring, but it might as well have been.

All my life I have taken the blame for my own self-destruction.  I had internalized all the pain I had gone through and had made myself out to be a victim, while secretly and simultaneously feeling guilty for doing that, knowing deep down that it wasn’t the right path.  I compromised my values and I let people use me as a doormat.  I let fear, anger, depression rule my life instead of embracing happiness.

I forgave myself because I didn’t know how to be happy.  I had only ever known sadness and conflict in my life and so I thought it was all I could ever know.  I thought it was the only way I could feel.

Truth is, happiness is a choice.  Once I forgave myself and accepted that all my mistakes, flaws, problems, and issues were part of the whole.  I no longer tried to cut those pieces of myself out of my life, or pretend they didn’t exist.  I accepted myself fully.  And when I did, this really amazing thing happened: I felt complete.

So now that I’ve looked into myself and forgave myself for all of my flaws and mistakes, the next step was to bring myself some real love.  Not love from someone else, but love from myself, to myself.  To do this, I had to be my own friend.  I had to teach myself to treat myself like I would treat my best friend.  I began this radical movement of compassion towards myself.  I felt the things I felt, and I embraced them and comforted them as one might do a friend going through a hard time.  And guess what? I appreciated my own sense of compassion, which only furthered my happiness.

The next step was true independence.  I had met my true self; both emotionally, psychologically, and metaphysically, but how did I maintain that image in the presence of someone else whose energy would surely try to dissuade me from my own ideals?  I found the answer in understanding how to stand with myself.  To that end, I refused any relationships of any kind until I was happy, comfortable, and enjoyed being alone with myself first.

Fast forward the better part of a year, and I am blessed to know real happiness every day.  I wake up happy that I have something in my life worth living for and that I have an everlasting source of happiness that can never be taken from me.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
–Hellen Keller
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