“All living beings desire to be happy always, without any misery. In everyone there is observed supreme love for oneself. And happiness alone is the cause of love. In order therefore, to gain that happiness which is one’s nature and which is experienced in the state of deep sleep, where there is no mind, one should know oneself. To achieve this, the Path of Knowledge, the enquiry in the form of ‘Who am I?’, is the principal aim.”
– Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
On first blush, I don’t expect this quote to mean anything (or make sense). For now, let’s root this expression in the normal mode of happiness speak.
For most people happiness equates to getting or becoming something. It means changing you or your circumstance.
Perhaps it’s too simple to suggest that money doesn’t buy happiness, but for the vast majority of people they don’t buy that line. And the need to ‘have’ drives everyone on to pursue a job, career or vocation that will fuel their material wealth needs. Unfortunately, this sets up a vortex where people are forced to go to work without any or very little ambition to understand who they are, and why they do what they do. (You can see why Osho thought of people as somnambulists!)
You have to ask if all these jobs are real jobs or just assembled on top of our greed for more material wealth. How different the world would look if we didn’t make things with inbuilt obsolescence. And beyond that we adopted a usefulness creed.
The point that I’m getting at is that we don’t ever stop to consider who we are sufficient to identify what would make us happy. We think we have to create a life filled to the brim with things, experiences and relationships.
But it’s never enough.
The truth is that we are already whole without the accretion of more. (If we spent more time living fully in the present moment instead of craving for a better world (the future) or hoping to change or make sense of our autobiographical script (the past) then everything would take on a different reflection.)
For a while now, I’ve tried to make sense of my desire for success. For as long as I can recall, something has gnawed away at me to achieve. In the early days, I was driven on by showing my parents and the world that I could make something of my life, which meant building something and acquiring wealth and material possessions. To say I had a monkey on my back is an understatement. Whatever ‘it’ was, it wouldn’t let me rest. Work consumed me. It wasn’t until I was hospitalised in 2008 that I was able to stand back from the charade and question if all this effort was making me happy.
I don’t know why but during my period of convalescence I decided to read Hard Core Zen by Brad Warner. It was a melange of his experience of Japanese films and punk music and journey to become an ordained Buddhist monk. But it wasn’t just his story that fascinated me it was the few lines from the Heart Sutra that I read over and over that began my journey to a different place:
“Form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form…”.
Don’t ask me why, but it awakened in me a new form of questioning. So much so that within a few weeks I ended up attending my first Zen class where we meditated and talked about the Buddhist tradition. It blew my mind.
Since then I’ve never looked back.
As regards my professional role, I have spent time focused on developing a new persona, which involves embracing social media. I have consulted, spoken widely and helped companies understand the landscape. But I’ve always known that it was (merely) an opening to a world where I would have to go much deeper in understanding my true self.
And that is what I’ve done.
Since the beginning of the year I’ve gone a lot further with my self-enquiry. To begin with I thought I needed to understand everything about Buddhism and mindfulness. But I now recognise that that was merely my ego craving more. Indeed, I could carry on reading for a lifetime and still not get any closer to understanding ‘Who I am?’
Rather my life now is very much about living in the moment. In simple terms, allowing things to be. I’ve dropped any notion that I have to be this or that or gain a foothold in any market.
One of the biggest challenges in this process is to quiet my mind. I recognise that it’s unlikely that I will ever experience no mind, but if I can watch my thoughts and not judge then that, if nothing else, will open a gap in which my conscious self can pour through. If this sounds hopelessly metaphysical then I make no apology. I’m completely comfortable with the idea of living fully in the moment, and not waking up each day with an overwhelming desire to achieve.
I know that the idea of non-striving is antithetical the Western notion of success. But if you stand back from the daily grind, you will quickly realise that so much of what we do is done for no other reason than we think we have to.
But who says so?
Of course, most people default to the notion that absent drive, determination and the will to succeed then we are nothing.
But is that true?
I don’t know about you, but the happiest people in my life are not those consumed by an overwhelming need to prove their place in the world. They just are. They’ve dropped any sense of becoming this or that and live each day for what it is – a new day.
I’ve turned a corner in my life. This isn’t to say that I’m about to abrogate my role as husband, dad and friend but no longer will I be driven on to achieve.
I’m not scared or anxious because I know that something will emerge. It always has. I have no goals, but I’m convinced that what I do produce will be the closest representation of me.
In writing this post, I’m not asking you to do anything. However, if you have a few minutes you may want to watch the short video of Mooji taking more about the idea of ‘Who am I?’ I find his teachings the most relevant to my own journey and I’m indebted to Ando Perez for awakening me to his blessings.