Someone asked me: does the happiness in your life depend on the quality of your thoughts?
My answer: no, it’s rather the other way around.
You see, we’re all educated to be attached to our thoughts - to identify with them. We believe we are our thoughts, and as a consequence we believe that whatever comes out of our thoughts is a textual definition our self. But things are not so.
The Nature of Thoughts
Thoughts happen. They just happen. We actually have very little control over what thoughts exactly show up in the mind.
Thoughts are as the heart beat, the immune or the endocrine systems: just another system evolved by our body to perform a specific task. As our body comports such a myriad of systems, most of these work of themselves - connected yet independent. There is no hierarchy in the body: consciousness is itself just another one of those systems, and as such it’s not really in charge of anything. It merely feeds its share of information to a vast network of interdependent systems - and that system then acts in symbiosis with all the rest.
Thoughts, then, are not under the control of our conscious attention. This can be observed through meditation.
Popular belief would have it that meditation is all about stopping the thoughts, but anyone having approached meditation with such a mindset will quickly reach a level of either boredom or frustration. Thoughts cannot be stopped through meditation, or any other means whatsoever. Don’t just believe me though, try for yourself.
Thoughts have a mind of their own, so to say. They happen of themselves. No amount of effort or concentration can arrest their manifestation. All one can do is watch, witness. The real heart of meditation is this watching and witnessing. The meditator is the witness who simply watches as the many systems of their being unfold of themselves: thoughts, emotions, heart beat, physical sensations, etc. This brings about understanding of just how automatic we are.
Thoughts, Happiness, Control
One might argue that happiness is but a higher harmony of the being as a whole - where the thoughts, emotions, physical and mental health are all in satisfactory balance. Thoughts, then, are not a cause of happiness but a manifestation of it - just like everything else in the body, physical or otherwise. It’s rather common for people who suffer psychologically to see physical symptoms appear. Make no mistake, the psychological suffering isn’t the cause of the physical symptoms, nor is it the other way around. Rather, all are interconnected consequence of a deeper imbalance in the foundation of the being.
Should one connect things the wrong way around and start believing that the control of one’s thoughts is necessary to reach happiness, then one reaches a bind: happiness being dependent on thoughts being dependent on happiness being dependent on thoughts… And all dependent on the failed premise that thoughts can be controlled in some sort of way.
Conditioned this way, we end up spending our whole lives trying and failing at controlling the uncontrollable. This is my own way of interpreting the Buddhist concept of grasping - the ultimate source of suffering. A synonymous for this type of suffering is anxiety: an interminable loop of questioning, the pursuit of a ping-pong ball that will never end its bouncing back and forth. It’s doubt feeding doubt, hesitation feeding hesitation.
Failing to see this pattern in us, for cause of being so ill-educated in the spiritual realm of thoughts and emotions, the only sensical thing to do in quelling the anxiety comes to the adoption of a habit of avoidance: divertissement, hobby, or drugs that will take our mind off of this bind for a little while. As a consequence to this, the whole world is currently addicted to one thing or another: cigarettes, video games, movies, and whatever hedonistic pursuits of pleasure of any kind.
If it’s a pursuit, if there’s attachment - if there’s suffering or boredom in the absence of it, then it’s an addiction.
What Do You Long For?
Thoughts, then, are something that happens as a result of everything else. They’re an output to what one might call the self as a whole, a window into our being below the superficially observable. Which thoughts come to be manifested in the mind (either consciously or subconsciously, through waking hours or within dreams) say a lot as to one’s overall health and state of mind. They’re also a direct connection to our deeper inner desires.
Theses deeper inner desires, which I like to call longings, are the deeper inner self looking for its share of satisfaction, peace, and clarity. They’re an expression of that which we need resolve if we’re to find meaningful and profound happiness. This has nothing to do with pleasure or superficial material desires like buying a television. Heck, it doesn’t even ultimately have to do with physical security - because your deeper self knows very well that even physical security is a temporary illusion.
These inner longings are crucial in understanding if one is to come into contact with the profound inner peace and clarity which I will now dub meaningful happiness. Fulfilling these isn’t going to create a temporary patch on top of our pains and sorrows (as do the traditional means of pursuing happiness). Rather, coming to contact and true understanding with these inner missing parts of our essence brings about the realization that whatever we truly and genuinely long for, deep within ourselves, isn’t something that the outside world could ever provide.
Whatever the soul truly and genuinely longs for is something we already and always had. It’s not just in us, it is us - the very nature of our being.
Happiness, in this sense, is born from the realization that I am what I long for - that everything else is just an illusion, an empty pursuit, a carrot on a stick.
Mindfulness and meditation are the essential tools in coming to see the truth in all of of this. These practices help us deconstruct those parts of us which we’ve come to identify with: by witnessing our thoughts in a detached manner, we come to understanding we are not our thoughts. By stepping out of our emotions when they are their most intense, and again standing there watching, we come to see that we are not our emotions. All of these things which we’ve come to believe so adamantly we are - in the end are really just manifestations of our being.
Who we are, who we truly are, is undefinable and way beyond the bounds of the understandings of the mind. Because we are not our minds. The mind lives inside us, and whatever we are is simply inconceivable to it.
Who we are is the abstract experience that encompasses it all.
This post was inspired by a question on Quora.