Taking a chapter out of Osho and what the Dalai Lama says, ask yourself what is happiness? It is different for every person. We should break for a chapter to define this. For one person it may mean 3 houses and a million dollars in the bank. For another it may mean warm soft relationships with family. For another it may mean prostitutes and drugs. Yet another may define it as fame and accolades. Happiness is different for everybody. But what does it mean for you?
Despite the apparent distinctions, there is one common theme, happiness in “things” and “experiences” offer only TEMPORARY pleasure. Houses break down, passionate romance wilts, and even your memories of them disappear. Anytime you define and depend on your happiness being dependent on getting “something” or being in a certain “state of mind” is built on a weak foundation.
Equanimity and its resulting feelings of peace is a “higher state of happiness” that doesn’t change with time and is not dependent on the comings and goings of occurrences. Equanimity is a state of “non-attachment” that comes from the acceptance of the present moment. Equanimity doesn’t move with the dichotomies of pain/pleasure, excitement/boredom, rich/poor, young/old. Equanimity means you know that (your mind) is the agent of what you determine is good or bad in a given situation. Equanimity means that if you let go and allow, if you are not moved by the outcomes of a situation, you rise above, and your bliss will be undisturbed.
This solid yet flexible state of mind is what we discussed as the even-mindedness that allows people to escape our ego’s firm grip that makes us want this or that and get depressed when things don’t go our way.
To use an example from the stock, bond, currency, and futures markets (where I was involved in), you have to know for the most part that in all futures financial contracts, it is a zero sum game. In other words, for every winner there is a loser. One day the gold markets tumble lower and if you are “short” the market (betting that the prices will drop), you will be so happy. If you bet a significant portion of your wealth on this, then you may be REALLY happy, if you bet a small portion, then you will be slightly happy that particular day.
But what about the next day? The following day, the news may announce that nations are buying up gold and the gold market prices may soar higher. Then how will you feel? Once again, it is the size of your investment in it that determines how painful the rise in prices will be. If you “bet the farm” on gold prices dropping, you will feel immense suffering as you lose all your money.
But what if you have NO position in futures gold contracts? Then for you, you are unaffected by the outcome. Then whether the markets rise higher or fall lower makes no difference at all to you. In the previous example, while you sat sorrowful that prices dropped, there was a person on the other end of your contract that benefited while you suffered. In a Futures contract, for every winner there is also a loser. Any money lost is made by another. So according to the Universe, what can be said? To God and the Universe, it was a “neutral event”. Gold prices rising or falling is truly event neutral. It is the human assessment and involvement that made it a calamity or a celebration.
If you were out of the markets entirely, then nothing about gold prices would affect you…and that is equanimity. It is like waves on an ocean. The waves move powerfully in one direction or another, back and forth, up and down. If you are a boat on the surface, you are pushed around furiously. And if you are desperate to get to shore, and the waves are pushing you away from shore, that is intense suffering. But what if you were a fish swimming under the waves, or a bird flying high above the storm? It matters not what the storm is doing and where the wind is blowing.
Then, in the above example, you will be unaffected by the waves as a high flying bird or a deep sea fish. You can think of life’s events in the same way. The waves that move around furiously can be understood as “life events”. But they are always neutral to an impartial observer say who is standing on the surface of the planet Mars. Even a “calamity” of a meteor smashing into the Earth and destroying all mankind from the standpoint of someone who can “live” on Mars is a neutral event.
All events are “neutral” when you really think about it. It is always the observer who passes a judgment on it based on his/her investment in the outcome that makes an event a horror or a celebration. Move to a World Series Baseball game at the bottom of the ninth. If you are a devoted fan of either team, and pretend that you bet a lot of money on the outcome, you are going to be seriously affected in the outcome. If your team wins, you say “Yes! Hurray!, but if your team loses you say “No! No way!”
But say you are not a fan of baseball at all or like both teams equally. Then you have equanimity because you are “even-minded” whoever wins the game. The outcome makes no difference to you. You may enjoy watching the game, but whatever happens, you know you are going to be OK. You have no stake in whose team wins or loses. You simply do not care. You can enjoy watching the game from afar, appreciating the skills of the players, but unattached to whatever the outcome will be.
Starting from this example, use this notion to help stabilize your own life. Pretend you have a fancy expensive car you could barely afford. You are paying large monthly payments. Your insurance cost is very high. You enjoy it for a moment in time, but after driving it around for a month, the excitement wears off and it feels the same as your old car. And then how do you feel when someone scratches your car or dents it? You will suffer. This is because you put yourself and your ego into a “thing” and what it may represent, “status”.
But let’s say you just happened to get a job very close to home which made a car useless to you. You just had friends close by and the supermarket close by and needed only a ten dollar used bicycle to move around in. You are in a much better position for equanimity than in the first situation where you put so much value in a “thing”. There is no monthly payment, no insurance, no city sticker, no license plates. Simply, you have put yourself “out of the game” (in this case of owning a “luxury” car). The depreciating value, the expenses of maintaining the car, the chances of it being damaged or stolen…all those events are completely avoided. Putting your value and future happiness in things and outcomes is the trap you and your ego faces.
Take stock in everything you hold dear. You want your son/daughter to get straight As and go to Harvard or a top college. What have you just done to yourself? You are setting yourself up for a highly likely disappointment. Even if he/she does get into Harvard, you desire for him to “achieve at the highest level” won’t stop. That “mode of thinking” will get you upset sooner or later. You will be hoping he then goes to Harvard Medical School and then becomes Chief Resident in Surgery, then the Hospital Chairman, and so on. The disease of wanting “more”, staying so hungry…that is a perfect setup that YOU created that brought on the suffering to yourself.
Take yourself out of the game if you wish for Equanimity. You need not play the game that everyone else is playing. You can appreciate the skills and happenings of the baseball game in the first example, and in the second example just be happy with whatever college your son/daughter decide to go to. In the second example, it really matters not which college he/she goes to. He/she will still buy books, attend lectures, study for exams, learn everything he/she can. But if you had it in your mind he/she MUST go to a top college, you are setting yourself up for major disappointment. Your ego drops if the outcome is not to your favor.
Again, it is NOT the event that makes anything a tragedy or a celebration. It is our interpretation of the event. In our baseball example, one team will celebrate in the locker room after the game, and one team will mourn and be depressed in the locker room after the game. So does it MATTER who won the game? It was a neutral event, someone won, someone lost…but it is your own involvement and stake in the game that stirred the emotions in you. If you were so involved, you felt either pain or pleasure at the outcome.
Go beyond this seeking after pleasure and avoiding pain. They are dichotomies and dualities that will make you happy AND sad. They come in pairs. You cannot have all happiness and avoid all sadness. It is impossible. If you are in a position where your emotions can be stirred up by the outcome, you are riding (as I wrote) on a boat sailing in a violent rainstorm on the sea. But if you can fly higher as a bird, looking down at the waves, you are unaffected by what happens below.
You are free and at peace if you are unattached. Don’t put your emotions at stake where an outcome you cannot control break you down. Start taking an inventory of all that you “hold dear”, your attachments, and one by one cut them down or erase them so that the outcome will not affect you either way.
Are you attached to your fancy expensive luxury car you have trouble making payments on? Sell that car, break that attachment. Are you putting your hard earned dollars into the futures market in a contract on gold? Pull your money out and put it in a stable predictable interest bearing savings account. Or if you “must” invest, invest such a small portion of your money in the account so that you are unaffected by the prices of gold. Are you so involved in the World Series Baseball game that you bet money on the game. Stop and rethink how you are setting yourself up for a serious disappointment. Are you thinking of buying a house you can barely afford the mortgage payments on nevermind the costly insurance and repairs? Rethink your 30 year mistake.
Do you put high importance on your appearance? Do you realize that you WILL get older and (regarding “appearances”) Society deems YOUNG people to be beautiful? Do you realize that you are setting yourself for misery soon to come? Stop buying all those fashion magazines and make up and wishing you will stay looking young all your life, which is impossible. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. And Society, with its warped sense of values, places beauty on the young. By putting stock in your appearance, you are responsible for the future suffering that you have set the cards down.
When I was a child, I loved my grandmother so dearly. Her hair was white. She had wrinkly skin. But she was just as beautiful if not more so than any glamour model that I saw in the fashion magazines. In fact, as an Asian boy so young, I thought the Euro-American female models looked rather odd and unattractive with big noses. But as I grew up, and was programmed and exposed to what “sexy” is (moving to America at a young age), I was affected for a while on what Society sold as beautiful.
I can recall a funny story how I used to laugh as a kid when my friends said they liked girls with a nice “butt” and “big boobs”. I told them “Don’t you know they “poop” out of a butt?” And large breasts just reminded me of my mother, and did not stir any thought of sexual “attractiveness” in me.
I only cared about how some girls treated me. As an Asian American, I was a bit shy, so if a girl was nice to me and said hello, she WAS suddenly beautiful in my eyes. The same programming could be said for “tanning”. I remember clearly liking white milky skin on girls for so long. Then the programming of magazines and movies with girls having dark orange/gold tans seemed attractive to me. It was all what Society led me to think. That is why I think listening to Society is so dangerous to a person’s well being. Society doesn’t allow one to think for themselves, Society TELLS a person what to think and how to feel. Society leads a person AWAY from equanimity.