“Our quest for peace of mind is the same as having a disturbed mind” ~ Alan Watts
The reason most of us do anything in life is to be happy.
We work to make enough money so that we can buy the things we think we need to be happy. We love our spouse so that we can be in a relationship that makes us happy. We take care of our children so that we can feel happy as a parent. We try to find our passion so that we can feel happy doing what we love.
This need for a feeling of happiness can be both a blessing and a curse in our human existence.
The blessing is that our need to be happy is what makes some of us great partners, parents, artists, employees, entrepreneurs, and even philanthropists.
The curse is that when we realize the feeling of happiness is fleeting, we begin to crave it. We become so attached to this feeling that we spend every day looking for ways to feel happy. This unconscious craving leads us to believe that something in our lives needs to be fixed to feel happy again.
We tell ourselves that if only we could fix our partner or find a different partner, life would be blissful; or perhaps, if we lose a few pounds and get that plastic surgery, we will find the key to everlasting happiness.
When we are driving to work, we wish we could be an entrepreneur and own our time, which will make us happy. As an entrepreneur, we may wake up every morning wondering why we are not making as much money or enjoying the same accomplishments as other entrepreneurs. Thus, the list of things we need to “fix” to find happiness goes on and on…
At some point, some of us eventually learn that nothing in the material world can give us permanent happiness, so we decide to detach from the material world to pursue a spiritual life. Yet to our surprise, we find ourselves experiencing the same nagging unhappy feeling, wondering why our life isn’t perfect. After all, we have risen above those in the material world, so shouldn’t we be granted everlasting happiness?
As someone who ventured into the world of meditation and yoga to gain a better understanding of suffering, I had this assumption that all yoga instructors, spiritual gurus, and monks were walking around peaceful and happy all the time.
In the beginning stages of my practice, I kept thinking if I could be like this yogi or nun or monk, all my problems would be solved. I would finally be free from all suffering—I would finally have arrived.
Once I mentioned to my teacher, Kelsang Chokyan, who is a monk at the Kadampa Buddhist Center in Safety Harbor, Florida, how peaceful it would be to renounce the material world and be like him.
He responded with a smile saying, “You will still have your mind with you, Simi.”
This conversation is what eventually led me to the realization that what I was searching for was always there to be found, but I was conditioned to not see it.
Most of us who embark on the path of meditation, yoga, or spirituality in search of happiness may have at some point felt that something was still lacking—that there was one more step to take so that we could finally arrive and enjoy that eternal feeling of bliss.
This is because from childhood we are trained to think of all aspects of our lives in terms of climbing a ladder: kindergarten to college, entry-level employee to senior level, dating to having a family. Even when we go on a spiritual or self-development quest, we unconsciously try to climb the ladder, believing we have to set goals and achieve them to attain happiness.
When I set out on a spiritual quest to end my suffering—promising myself I’d never suffer again—what I failed to realize at the time was that I had taken with me the invisible ladder that I was trained to carry by the external world into my internal quest for happiness. Anytime I started to feel sad or struggled even a little, I thought I had not climbed up the spiritual ladder high enough; and if I could climb up to that place where all the great yogis and monks were sitting, I would finally be able to say, “I’m here. I made it!”
Our quest for happiness is the very reason for our unhappy, unsatisfied mind.
Embarking on an inward journey, whether we call it spiritual or not, is what can free us from our unending search for happiness. We just need to become mindful of the invisible ladder we are conditioned to climb on that journey.
Here are five signs that we are trying to climb the invisible ladder on our self-development or spiritual path:
1. We see the path as a project with a deadline.
2. We feel superior to some on the path.
3. We feel inferior to some on the path.
4. We judge those not on our path.
5. We crave validation from others on the path.
These signs do not mean we have failed—they are simply there to remind us of our conditioning.
When we go on that inward journey, it is important to realize that there is no ladder to climb—no final destination that is too far for us to reach.
What we often find on this journey is that our illusions are revealed; and what we find may not be the kind of happiness we were searching for. It may be something far more meaningful and valuable—something that can’t be described, but only experienced.
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha (maybe…)