Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Happiness as Freedom

Reading recently about the tormented life of T. S. Eliot, who was often paralyzed by fears of various kinds, has made me realize again the importance of living and trusting fully in the present moment.

And of being grateful, each day, for the good things around us as we try to free ourselves from self-preoccupation. For me, this is a daily struggle since my own physical problems send up alarm signals about my life in the future: how will I be six months from now, a year from now?  What will I do about X?

Realizing the good things that are around us seems to be part of statement I recently found by Seth Goldman, CEO of Beyond Meat, an ecologically friendly company:   "There's a easy formula for happiness. It's when what you have is greater than what you want.  Most people would say the way to be happy is to have more. I say the way to be happy is to want less."

It's interesting that a relatively young entrepreneur would take the "less is more" philosophy of Thoreau and E F. Schumacher, author of 'Small is Beautiful.'   Happiness is not all about acquiring more and more; it is, as Richard Rohr has said, realizing that life is not all about me. He would go beyond Goldman's notion, which seems limited to money and material things.

"You can have political and economic freedom, but if you are not free from your own ego, from your own centrality inside your own thinking, I don't think you are very free at all. In fact, your actions and behavior will be totally predictable. Everything will revolve around your security, survival, self-preservation. . . ."  In other words, around yourself (Rohr).

This self Rohr speaks of is what Thomas Merton called the false self: the public face we present to the world ("the face to meet the faces that you meet," as Eliot's Prufrock says).  The false self is mainly a creation of our own mind and so is an illusion; it is that part of us that feels offended, critical, agitated or worried about what others will think and how we will be judged. The false self needs approval.

Happiness, we might say, is the freedom from this false self, from self-preoccupation. It is by staying fully in the present moment that we can let go of the ego and prevent our emotions and obsessive thoughts from controlling us.

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