In the Age of the Worldly Mystic
Happiness, the suffering of others, and the relationship between the two
Sometimes people ask, “Do we need to work on the inner world or the outer world?” and obviously the answer is “Both.”
Thought is the level of cause while material reality is the level of effect, but material effects are so dysfunctional at this point that we have to work on both levels simultaneously. I once heard Deepak Chopra tell a story about a patient who was extremely ill and Deepak prescribed massive doses of antibiotics. When someone remarked how wonderful it was that the antibiotics healed the patient, Chopra pointed out that it was actually the body’s immune system that healed the patient but that the antibiotics had given the immune system the time it needed to do that.
So it is that both spiritual work and political/social activism are needed now. It’s why these posts are a mix of both, as the inhale/exhale, yin and yang of our inner and outer lives are equally important. Mysticism is the path of the heart, and the path of the heart applies to everything. We’re living in the Age of the Worldly Mystic.
If all our attention is focused on creating external change, we are bound to burn out. And with that burnout can come all manner of serious problems, from mental and emotional to the physical. Meditation, prayer, inspiration, yoga, exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice - such things are the ultimate in self-care. It’s not enough to have a car, after all; you have to take care of the car or it stops running.
So we talk about both. I’m posting about happiness now, and in a few hours I will post about Afghanistan. I hope you won’t say “Yeah, I want this but I don’t want that.” It’s in forging the connection between two seemingly separate parts of our existence that we will close the gap between a world of suffering and a world of peace.
So. About happiness…
I have learned something important, something I’d certainly read about but never totally appreciated until the last few years. It involves the thoughts we think when we first wake up in the morning.
I already knew how important it is to meditate in the morning, before allowing the chaotic and pain-filled thoughts of the world to impinge upon my consciousness. But I realize now something even more specific; the importance of the very first thoughts I think when I wake up.
There is a truth that changes your life if you allow yourself to consider its implications: according to A Course in Miracles, “all thought creates form on some level.” Every thought we think has power beyond anything we can rationally understand. A thought like “Oh God, another awful day” is not the way you want to begin your morning.
So try this: as soon as you wake up and have a conscious thought, pray that all beings be happy today.
The issue of happiness is one of those areas - and there are many - where the material of A Course in Miracles is very similar to the teachings of Buddhism. The idea that enlightenment involves the wish for all beings to be happy, as well as the concept stated in the Course that “the purpose of our lives is to be happy;” both took me a few years to fully grasp. In fact, when I first read in the Course that the purpose of our lives is to be happy, I remember thinking “Really….?” I thought it should be something more important than that. I hadn’t yet realized that the only way to be truly happy is to achieve a state of consciousness that hovers above the suffering of the world, not in denial of that suffering but as a method of transforming it. I hadn’t realized yet that my seeing past the suffering of the world is the miracle that dissolves it. To realize only love is real is to cast lovelessness out of the field of consciousness, and ultimately out of world.
There was a time in my life when I thought I had no right to be happy, given how so many others suffer. But this line in the Course really changed that for me: “True empathy does not mean to join in suffering.” My personal suffering diminishes my capacity to help those whose suffering is greater than mine. My ego would have me either ignore the suffering of the world, or be taken down by the suffering of the world. Spirit would have me do neither.
The question that arises then, of course, is the issue of denial. It’s an important question and should be taken head on.
There are two kinds of denial: negative denial and positive denial.
The thought “Yes, there are children starving and people suffering in war zones but only love is real so I don’t have to think about that” is negative denial. It is not transcendence. In fact, it’s the ego slyly using spiritual principle as an excuse for turning away from the suffering of others. Sorry; there’s nothing spiritual about that.
Positive denial is the thought “Yes, I am fully aware that children are starving and people are suffering in war zones but I deny the power of lovelessness to remain in effect on my watch.” I know that lovelessness is not real, but that as a being of love I am, and therefore I have the power to cast out that illusion. What is real is love; what is unreal is lovelessness, or fear. In the presence of light, darkness cannot stand. In the presence of love, fear cannot stand.
A Course in Miracles says “miracles arise from conviction.” When we are convicted that only love is real, we gain the miraculous authority of love to cast lovelessness from the world. We become people capable of moving the needle within the realm of lovelessness and illusion. We become miracle-workers. We become transformers. In the presence of human beings awakened to the power of love, and committed to being used on its behalf, fear will be erased. And ultimately tears shall be no more.
So yes, it is possible to remain very much awake to the suffering of the world and to seek happiness at the same time. But it’s not not a cheap and easy happiness; it’s a mature and sober happiness. It’s a happiness based not on emotional adrenaline but on inner peace. You’re peaceful not because you’re denying the suffering of the world; you’re peaceful because your mind is changed. You’ve been lifted to a state of consciousness far enough above the suffering to be useful in transforming it. You know you’re being led to every circumstance, every relationship, every thought and every action that makes you part of a matrix of miracles, the immune system of our civilization, that is working even now to change the world before it is too late.
May I be an instrument of Your peace
in the lives of others.
May all beings be happy
and may I help to make it so.
May every thought I think
and every action I take
be a conduit for the love
that transforms all things.
Make of my mind be blessed
and become a blessing.
Use me to hasten
the healing of the world.