An Email on Happiness from Don Joseph Goewey

Don Joseph Goewey emailed me this yesterday, and I thought it was too important not to share with the world. I edited his thoughts a little, but hopefully not too much. If you appreciate his thoughts, you will also enjoy the book Awareness by Anthony Demello or his Happiness Podcast.

“Happiness is your natural state; no one gives it to you and no one takes it from you.  It’s a set of false belief that ruins happiness. When you drop those false beliefs, happiness arises all by itself. 

Your society and your culture taught you to believe that you would not be happy without certain persons and certain things. Just take a look around you. Everywhere you look, people have built their lives on the unquestioned belief that without money, power, success, approval, a good reputation, romance, friendship, spirituality, or God, they cannot be happy.

Once you swallowed this belief, you naturally developed an attachment to some person or thing you were convinced that, without, you could not be happy. Then followed your efforts to acquire your precious thing or person, to cling to it once it was acquired, and to fight off every possibility of losing it. This finally led you to abject emotional dependence so that the object of your attachment had the power to thrill you when you attained it, to make you anxious lest you be deprived of it, and make you miserable when you lost it. Once your attachment had you in its grip, you began to strive with every waking minute of your life to rearrange the world around you so that you could attain and maintain the objects of your attachment.

This is an exhausting task. It leaves you little energy for the business of living and enjoying life fully. It is also an impossible task in an ever-changing world that you simply are not able to control. So, instead of living a life of serenity and fulfillment, you are doomed to a life of frustration, anxiety, worry, insecurity, suspense, and tension. For a few fleeting moments, the world does indeed yield to your efforts and rearranges itself to suit your desires. Then you experience a flash of pleasure and become happy, briefly. But it isn’t happiness at all because it is accompanied by the underlying fear that at any moment this world of things and people that you have painstakingly put in place will slip out of your control and let you down. And sooner or later, it will.

Stop for a moment and contemplate in horror the endless list of attachments that you have become a prisoner to. Think of concrete things and persons, not abstractions. It is helpful for each of us to identify our particular combination.

An attachment is not a fact. It is a belief, a fantasy, in your head, acquired through programming. If that fantasy did not exist inside your head, you would not be attached. You would love things and people, and you would enjoy them thoroughly, but on a nonattachment basis. As a matter of fact, is there any other way to really enjoy something?

When you have made a list of all of your attachments, to each person or thing that comes to mind, say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I am merely deluding myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’ Do this honestly and see the change that comes about within you. Say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I have merely cheated myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’

When you’re ready to exchange your illusions for reality, when you’re ready to exchange your dreams for facts, that’s when life finally becomes meaningful. That’s where life becomes beautiful. Can you imagine how liberating it is to never be disillusioned again, to never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas.”

Feeling my Feelings

I have been spending some time lately working on fully experiencing my feelings, since I think that until recently, I spent more time in my head than really feeling things. Meaning that as soon as I felt a feeling, it acted as a trigger to figure out how to react, and took me into a planning place if it was a bad feeling I wanted to get rid of or to start thinking about how not to lose the feeling if it was good . It also meant that I outsourced feelings more to the people I surrounded myself with and lived vicariously through feeling their own strong feelings.

To better integrate and internalize my feelings, I took a few moments to learn where in my body different feelings resided.

Here is what I found:

Anxiety – Above heart.

Fear – Center of chest inline with heart.

Scared – Top of neck where it meets the jaw. (Not sure yet how this is different than fear. Also, need to pinpoint how it is different than Happiness.)

Anger – A little higher on the torso than fear.

Sadness – Below eyes towards nose.

Gratefulness – Lightness where torso meets neck.

Happiness – Lightness below eyes towards temple, Lower Jaw Area (Throat to Mouth).

Boredom – Flows left from left temple.

Confusion – Center of forehead.

What has been interesting, is that feeling my feelings certainly makes me feel more grounded in my own body, and more connected to myself, which in some ways is to be expected.

More interestingly, I have learned that using this method allows me to tap into feeling multiple things at one time. I always assumed that when I felt sad, that only sadness was there, but I have learned that usually, I can also sense some happiness. It’s just that the sadness seems to take over everything and become the focus. With this knowledge and skill, I can instead tune into the feelings of happiness that are faint, and really focus on moving my emotional space there.

Awareness and Feedback Loops

I was hiking earlier this week, when I slipped on a rock, and mentioned to my friend who was with me “I’m getting old.” To which she responded, maybe you are or maybe you aren’t, but either way it doesn’t matter unless you connect the action to some meaning.

And with this idea, and the idea of feedback loops, I think we can explain most of what makes each of us tick.

A Feedback Loop is a self-reinforced idea. So for example, if I already think I’m old, then every time I experience something that reinforces this idea, this thought of being old gets stronger. Not only that, I start to ignore all of those times when there is evidence in the other direction, that I am not old. Eventually, this becomes a foundational personal belief.

We have these beliefs from childhood rattling around our brains, and the first step to change is awareness to the meaning we are attaching. From there, we can question this meaning, and begin stopping the negative feedback loop we have created, replacing it with something more positive.

In fact, the goal is then to create a positive feedback loop, where you no longer even think to consider that the original belief is true.

So, for example, in my case, the fact that I slipped was not due to “getting older” rather just slipping. I’m sure I slipped when I was younger too. Correlation is not causation, so now instead of blaming things on my age, I know to instead not attach any particular meaning to it – and at the same time remind myself, I’m not so old. And with that small mental shift, I now feel more invigorated, and younger.

It all starts with the awareness of the meaning we are attributing to things in our life. So start paying attention to the little voice below the surface, and questioning what it is telling you.

Contextual Awareness

I am reading Dancing with Life for a book club I am in, and with a few short words, the author gave voice to something I have spent a lot of time trying to understand over the years.

“[Awareness provides] deeper context for interpreting your experiences”

I always wondered how it was that I could keep having deeper and deeper understanding of the same exact thing. How could it be that I kept having “aha moments” around similar realizations of self?

To provide a basic example, one thing that I have worked on continuously is my need for acceptance by others. As I did my work of internal inquiry over the years, I am sure that there have been more than 10 times when I came to the conclusion of “Oh, I get it now, I need to feel acceptance by others”.

How can it be that I keep coming around to the same exact lesson on a deep internal level so many times? This is a question I have asked myself so many times with so many different life realizations.

And with his few words, I now have clarity on how this works. You see, every time I gained awareness, the context of my experience changed. And with that change of context, I was now living life at at different internal level – which I had noticed. But this deeper level also provided opportunity to understand the issue at hand in an entirely different light, which the additional awareness months, or years later, provided.

It’s a simple idea, really, but one that eluded me for a long time, so I thought to share it. Perhaps, I will get to learn it again sometime in the future. Ha!

Being Scrupulous with my Words

I think there is an old Jewish saying that said “Be scrupulous with your word”, and throughout my life have used this phrase as a mantra to remind myself to always be honest with others, and not say anything I don’t mean. Of course, like all practices I don’t always do it perfectly, but it is a guiding principle that I try to hold myself to overall.

I thought I did a pretty good job of that until Stephanie pointed out that I sometimes project what I want on her, instead of owning it myself. An example (which I have taken from a reading she shared) is if we are eating lunch and I am ready to go, I ask her “Are you ready to go?” But this isn’t scrupulous. The full truth is that I should ask “I am ready to go, are you?” but instead I am taking a shortcut, leaving out the expression of my own feelings.

The difference is subtle, but I do think that it is very important, since in the former (“Are you ready to leave?”), at best I am not expressing my own wants and needs, and at worst I am negating my own wants and needs, by giving her full power to say she is happy to stay. And more so, if I am honest, I’m really not asking. I’m telling her that I am ready to go, but not really being clear with my words.

Contrast that with “I am ready to go, are you?” or perhaps even more clearly “I am ready to go, can we?” This is much more is expressive and owns my own desires.

One is meek, one is bold. While they are both true, one is certainly more true than the other.