Awareness — On Wanting Happiness

Mas DeMello

On Wanting Happiness

I was saying that we don’t want to be happy. We want other things. Or let’s put it more accurately: We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing. But this is really to say to our friend or to our God or to anyone, “You are my happiness. If I don’t get you, I refuse to be happy.”

It’s so important to understand that. We cannot imagine being happy without those conditions. That’s pretty accurate. We cannot conceive of being happy without them. We’ve been taught to place our happiness in them.

So that’s the first thing we need to do if we want to come awake, which is the same thing as saying: if we want to love, if we want freedom, if we want joy and peace and spirituality. In that sense, spirituality is the most practical thing in the whole wide world.

I challenge anyone to think of anything more practical than spirituality as I have defined it — not piety, not devotion, not religion, not worship, but spirituality — waking up, waking up! Look at the heartache everywhere, look at the loneliness, look at the fear, the confusion, the conflict in the hearts of people, inner conflict, outer conflict.

Suppose somebody gave you a way of getting rid of all of that? Suppose somebody gave you a way to stop that tremendous drainage of energy, of health, of emotion that comes from these conflicts and confusion. Would you want that? Suppose somebody showed us a way whereby we would truly love one another, and be at peace, be at love. Can you think of anything more practical than that?

But, instead, you have people thinking that big business is more practical, that politics is more practical, that science is more practical. What’s the earthly use of putting a man on the moon when we cannot live on the earth?

This is, I think, essentially what I am struggling with in relation to grad school.

To go back to the God discussion, the essential argument is for pretty much total selfishness. To not put anything else before what will make me happy.

I’m not meeting my parent’s expectations. I’m not working to stay with Jenni. I’m not being a reasonable adult. I’m not playing fair. The only thing that I am trying to do is what is right for me.

Now, that’s not to say that some of these other things might not happen as a consequence of my actions, but my point is that ultimately the repercussions of my actions have to be definitely be borne by only one person: me. I’m the one who has to go to sleep in this skin each night, so I am my first priority.

No other basis for making my decisions makes sense to me. It’s not that I want to make my decisions without considering the consequences to other people. I want the best for me, is the best for me for me to be callous and selfish? Is the best for me for me to have shallow and trivial relationships? No, that’s just silly.

Just because I’m doing stuff for myself doesn’t mean I somehow expect the world to make up special rules for me and me alone. In fact, I think I am more willing than most people to realize just how much the world has already given me beyond what I did anything to earn.

It sort of breaks much of my work ethic in general. I do things because I want to do them, because I choose to do them. What then do I deserve as payment? We sort of deal with payment as compensation for the inconvenience that we go to for someone else.

I guess graduate school is the exception to that though. I’m doing this because I want this piece of paper.

I have specific plans to ask people for money, and I think they are more likely to respect me if I have that bit of formal certification from the system. I can point to the stamp on me and say, “look, I am talking about changing the game because I understand it and it is broken, not because I’m unable to take part.”

That’s not the only reason I’m here though. I think if that were the only reason I could find the courage to drop out. I waver on the issue because I’m deeply unconvinced that leaving is the right decision.

I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Not that I think Vandy is in any way like a concentration camp. Rather, I am troubled by my lack of my ability to find my own way. I spend huge amounts time and energy fuming about being involved in something I consider a waste of my time and energy. I get pissed at least weekly and I can’t stop.

As Frankl says:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I haven’t found that space yet. If I could make the decision to leave here from a place of stillness and peace, I would do it. If I could walk into my adviser’s office and say, “I appreciate the opportunity that you have given me, but I do not think this is the right place for me to be. What can I do to leave as quickly as possible without inconveniencing you?” I think I would.

But I can’t do that. I could certainly do the action, but on the inside I’d want to rant for a bit and bitch about all the problems I have with how things are going and wrap it up by foretelling certain future failure and storming out. I can’t genuinely peaceably leave what I am doing.

This suggests that the problem is not solely with my circumstances. The problem also has to do with me, and to leave without having found out what is going on is to have pressed up against some broken part of my personality and, instead of doing the hard work to ferret it out, ignored it.

This is that hard part of doing what you want. You can’t really do it unless you are really honest with yourself, really really unpleasantly honest.

I mean, look at my life, I have a site with hundreds of unfinished projects. I’ve never left a job having finished what I set out to do. I don’t think I’m a huge professional failure, but I do have a really bad habit of getting enamored with new ideas and new projects and biting off way more than I can chew.

I have to deal with that. I have to deal with that or if I keep trying to do what I want, I’m just going to leave a string of grand failed ideas in my wake. It takes a level of honesty with oneself that I am only sort of starting to see the borders of, let alone actually live. An honesty borne of giving up on pretending that the drama of our lives is anywhere near as important as we make it out to be.

I think the next step for me here is to work at being more communicative and dedicated to trying to do something. If I am going to be here I need to find something meaningful to do. I have an idea for the distributed management of structured semantic data that aligns well with my future plans. I think that it is complex and innovative enough to qualify for a masters thesis, and I’m going to pitch it to my adviser.

It’s outside of her field of expertise and the domain of this lab. If it won’t fly then I’ll reevaluate. I figure all I really need to do is commit to being here for the next moment, and then the next, and if at some point I am no longer willing to commit, I’ll figure out what to do at that point.

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