Notes on happiness
Mis à jour : août 19
These times of confinement remind me of the feeling I had working and learning in political unstable countries or different kind of work phases that demanded iron discipline. Certainly, these periods of my life haven’t been too long to break me, neither have they been too short to help my ignorance survive. Moreover, they lasted for the exact measure of what I needed to learn and to stay on track, to focus on my goals, to be aligned with my purpose. They tested my will and encouraged me to keep curiosity about the things around me.
Despite of or maybe because of this unease, the pain, the tears, the powerlessness and the storm in the face of other’s (collective) suffering I curiously started to believe in human beings. Faith entered my being and it felt like warm drops in the summer rain and the comforting rustling of thick, green leaves of an old tree. It was as if me, I didn’t believe, there weren’t enough people to believe in the good neither.
Of course did I still see the dark clouds in the hearts, but I caught also the silver line at the horizon, their warming sun and the mysteriously deep and wide ocean. With colorful experiences radiating in my body, I got an idea of the complexity of the human soul; asked myself if anyone was free from destiny and decided to follow Aldous Huxley’s words when he said ’Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.'
When Coronavirus happened to us, I told the kids: “Today we are here together, but tomorrow this time of the day is called confinement because of a villain virus terrorizing humanity!” I squinted my eyes, they giggled, smiled at me, unworried, excited, confident. ,Everybody stays home and safe’, I thought, but learned from the news that the rate of cases of domestic violence runs higher since confinement. Unfortunately, there is not enough capacity to help, to care, to love. Where can women seek support if they are not allowed to go out? How do dysfunctional families function in times of restriction? How do large and poor families in small apartments negotiate space when they simply have none? What about the loss of their financial income, maybe their job and economic existence, our real political helplessness, the lack of trust in our democratic institutions and the psychological stress of fulfilling multiple roles at the same time at the same place? It seems that the virus is not only threatening our health, but also our collective and very personal identity.
In India where I learned the spiritual practice of Yoga, I was given notions on happiness that stayed with me in the form of six phrases. When our body and our mind are threatened and we cry for love and mercy, cry for what is and become angry on what should be, the Yogic notion of happiness could give some kind of hope and guidance, like the wind that grows strong, gives fresh air to breath in deeply and can destroy what is with a breath taking strike.
1. I want to be happy with myself.
Children are confident creatures and they are eager to find their life’s purpose and to give to the world their awesome uniqueness. When they grow older, they are educated, socialized, trained for the world and for the time they live in by adults who want their (own) best. Suffering starts when projections of other people do not align with our inner voice, when we experience restrictions we don’t understand and don’t want to have in our lives.
Suffering also results from duties we don’t accept as necessary and useful or when we ignore them and sabotage the process of becoming. To be happy with oneself means to listen to us and to our environment and to conclude wisely in the process of adjustment. The spiritual Hindu practice of SRAVANAM means learning through sound in the form of a teaching dialogue, singing mantras or self-studies (Swadhyaya).
2. I want to be happy with my body.
We know very well that our body will get old and will loose the alluring sex appeal of youth; that we will become in the worst case insignificant for the ones we used to love and work for, but in the best case cherished and honored until death. The fact that we will some day end decomposed in Mother Earth’s ground makes us hysterically afraid of physically fading away.
That’s why the industry create images which hurt us so much that we buy nearly anything they sell us in order to stay young, dynamic and sexy. Of course, we should take care of our body and keep it healthy and beautiful: this is an act of self-love and appreciation for the gift of a well-functioning body. However, aging is an inevitable and a completely natural and logical process. The problem is that if we identify too much with our appearance, we will get depressed one random morning, looking into the mirror, perceiving the first wrinkles and hanging muscles: sticking to an image of youth means to get stuck in life with all relationships involved. In fact, in all age classes we have the right to do sports, arts, eating well, work and have a fabulous love life. We do not need to only live our life fully when we are young. We do not need to give up because we are aging; this is what the industry tells us; the hurting is how they make money with. We rather have to accept aging as a noble aspect of human life, full of wisdom, power and opportunities of growth.
The art of letting go of the illusion of eternal youth can be practiced with the method of the Sanskrit saying “neti, neti” (means “neither this, nor that”). This method teaches us how not to identify with body parts (and also other objects we identify with in our life) and consists in asking a question by pointing on different parts of our body: “If you would lose your hand, would you still be there?” Answer: Yes. - “If you lost your leg, would you still be there?” Yes. “If you lost your toe, would you still be here?” Yes. It goes like this for all body parts and you realize at a moment that you are much more than your physical body. It works also for objects or relationships: “If you lost your car, would you still be there?” Yes. “If your partner left you, would you still be there?” Yes. If your parent died, would you still be there?” Yes. If your children moved out, would you still be there? Yes. “If you left your work place, your marriage, your children, this earth, would the others still be there?” Yes.
In the Hindu philosophical writing, the Upanishads, human beings have multiple bodies, notably five layers and three bodies in which we are always present at the same time. Therefore, we are SAT (truth of multiple presence and not-empirical reality), CHIT (consciousness) and ANANDA (unlimited existence).
Annamaya kosha (Anna (nutrition), Maya (existent), Kosha (sheath)) means that our physical body needs to be fed with the right ingredients to function well. The physical body is our first and the most outer body that not only absorbs water and food, but also energy and words from our environment. That is why, Annamaya kosha stands for the five elements of ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. In fact, by developing healthy boundaries we can live anywhere in the world, knowing what kind of food and energy we need, but if we do not know yet who we are and what we need, it is better to seek out for good company.
The second body, the subtle body integrates three sheaths, which are Pranamaya kosha (vital layer), Manomaya kosha (mental layer), Vitnanamaya kosha (intellectual sheath). This second body comprises our perception, the use of our senses and our breath as the ultimate life force. It also contains mind and unconsciousness and the development of intellect and ego.
The third body is our casual body, Anandamaya kosha meaning bliss, silence and ignorance. We attain this state in deep sleep where we experience our self detached from the finite world and in absolute harmony and beauty. This last body is the innermost layer, hidden and nearly inaccessible, but yet always present.
Thus, our appearance is a manifestation of all of these three bodies and five layers and our bodies’ truth is that our nature is formless.
3. I want to be happy in my relationships.
The persons in my environment belong to nature and are in my life for a reason. They are my greatest teachers and I am theirs. As we experience projection throughout our lives, we are happy when we liberate ourselves from their vision of us. Also, we need to stop imposing our vision on other people because in doing so we just make them unhappy.
Loving my people means that I don’t judge, don’t expect, but accept them as they are. Loving my people also means to remain internally detached.
4. I want to be happy with what I think.
Let us see our mind like an instrument we use to understand the world around us: in order to perceive the world in a pleasant way, it has to be open, simple and pure. That means also that if we don’t like what we see, we need to adjust our belief system. It is indeed helpful to understand that our mind sees what it is: if we are flooded by love, we will see love; if we are invaded by hatred, we will see hatred. Hence, reflection and meditation help us to relax our mind and to be aware that we are not all life’s colors, but that we are able to see them.
5. I want to be happy with my feelings.
Happy feelings come and go like the waves of the ocean and like the seasons and the weather they are temporary. Sometimes they are strong, sometimes non-existent. ,Can we catch happiness ?' is like asking if we can catch a wave. Solely the ocean, the love stays permanently in our lives. But how keeping the love within? In the Buddhist perception love is nothing to acquire, but to discover with the help of experiences that evoke happiness or suffering; these experiences form us and build up a wise force that paves our way by accepting nature’s intelligence. So keeping the love means feeding the love with a Sattvic lifestyle and mindful practices.
6. I want to be happy with my life.
It seems clear that health, happiness and love are responsibilities we need to give ourselves first in order to spread them around us. It is also logical that we can only find our way with a clear mind, open heart and functioning body because then all aspects of our existence are nourished. Only then can we follow our calling. Only then can we cultivate happiness. Nevertheless, it is also true that our bodies and our life circumstances change permanently. Therefore, it is important to embrace change with accepting what is and to move on if necessary. In his book “Stress, Loss, and Grief. Understanding their origins and growth potential.”, John Schneider cites an anonymous source saying the following sentences with which I want to leave you and thank you for reading:
“The fully human person is in deep and meaningful contact with the world outside of him. He not only listens to himself but to the voices of his world. The breadth of his own individual experience is infinitely multiplied through a sensitive empathy with others. He suffers with the suffering, rejoices with the joyful. He is born again every springtime, feels the impact of the great mysteries of life: birth, growth, love, suffering, death. His heart skips along with the “young lovers”, and he knows the exhilaration that is in them. He also knows the ghetto’s philosophy of despair, the loneliness of suffering without relief, and that the bell never tolls without tolling in some strange way for him.”
Please find below all sources I used. A special and big "Thank you" to my teachers in Rishikesh, India. The links give also further information on expressions or terms I referred to. Have a nice read!
Anthrowiki (2007): Sat-Chit-Ananda. (Access: 19.03.2020). URL: https://anthrowiki.at/Sat-Chit-Ananda
Bihar School of Yoga (2008): Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Thomson Press (India) Limited: New Delhi.
Frantzis, Bruce (2009): Tao of Letting Go. Meditation for Modern Living. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, p.138.
HareKrsna.com: Sravanam – Hearing, (Access: 19.03.2020). URL: https://www.harekrsna.com/practice/process/sravanam/sravanam.htm
Pure Flow Yoga (ed.) The Gunas. 10 Tips for Living a more Sattvic Lifestyle. (19.03.2020) URL: https://pureflow.yoga/new-to-yoga-beginners/day-13-tips-living-sattvic-life/
Schneider, John (1984): Stress, Loss and Grief.Understanding their origins and growth potential. University Park Press : California.
Thich Nhat Hanh (2019): 5 Practices for Nurturing Happiness. In: Lion’s Roar (ed.)(19.03.2020). URL: https://www.lionsroar.com/5-practices-for-nurturing-happiness/
All pictures are mine except of one:
Kabel, Olga (2017). Five koshas: How to gain access to hidden inner layers. In: Yoga For Your Mind (ed.) (18.08.2020). URL: https://sequencewiz.org/2017/11/29/five-koshas/