In modern society, we’ve all heard of “The Pursuit of Happiness”. Some of us are either concerned with chasing material comforts…those shiny sources of ‘happiness’ that get endorsed by social media; or we embark upon an untethered “spiritual quest” that often gets lost in esoteric concepts more than experiences…an existence waiting to be validated by somebody else instead of our Self.
The common factors in both these ways of pursuing or chasing happiness are: externality over internality, and pursuit versus embodiment. Let’s break down and examine this counter-concept instead: The Happiness of Pursuit. And why does this matter to us as Yoga practitioners?
In examining this concept of “The Happiness of Pursuit”, there is a beautiful Sanskrit saying that reads as:
सर्वं परवशं दुःखं सर्वमात्मवशं सुखम्।
एतद्विद्यात्समासेन लक्षणं सुखदुःखयोः।।
Transliteration: sarvaṃ paravaśaṃ duḥkhaṃ sarvamātmavaśaṃ sukham|
etadvidyātsamāsena lakṣaṇaṃ sukhaduḥkhayoḥ||
Translated, this reads as: “Everything that is another’s control is painful. All that is within our own control is happiness. In essence, this is the definition of happiness and pain.”
When we think of pursuing things or experiences for the end result of an emotion or feeling of ‘happiness’, it puts us in a spiral of control: we end up being controlled by the very things or experiences we are chasing. And ironically, this brings us away from that feeling of ‘happiness’ that we seek. Similarly, when things happen ‘to us’, we end up feeling sad or disappointed or angry or lost, instead of happy. In other words, when the object or experience is external to us, we do not experience happiness as an end state.
A starting point to step out of this spiral is to witness instead of react. If I paint an image of a monk meditating under a tree, some would say: “He is an inert man. He does nothing significant.” But some would remark: “He is a wise man. He witnesses and observes his emotions and thoughts so that he may control them, instead of being controlled by them.” This leads us to the essence of: pursuing internality (defined as ‘assimilating characteristics, attitudes, beliefs into the self as our own’) over externality (defined as ‘existing outside the perceived subject’) in our life. And, here is where the Yogic practices of Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses to an inward scape), Dharana (focussing upon a single concept or symbol) and Dhyana (letting your focus being absorbed into the symbol or internal point of focus) help us.
The next stage is to try and transcend the differences between happiness and pain altogether. If we understand that as humans, we have been socially conditioned to seek out some things more than others (eg. comfort or social status) and that these things end up controlling how we think or feel about our existence, we can ground this understanding into a practice of sacred silence. Silence is something we share with other humans, living beings as well as inanimate objects. Before there was sound in this universe, and before there was diversity — there was silence and singularity. When we meditate in total silence – silently witnessing ourselves and our changing thoughts and emotions breath by breath – we free ourselves from false notions of pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, comfort or discomfort. Instead, we enter a unifying mental space where pleasure exists alongside pain, where sadness may emerge from happiness or vice versa, and where comfort is not separate from discomfort. We enter a new dimension of thought where ‘or’ is replaced by ‘and’, where seeing these seemingly opposite states co-exist in our life makes us anticipate change as well as embrace it. When we sit with sacred silence and its non-discriminatory nature of truth — we set the foundation within our Self of embodying the happiness, grace, freedom, comfort and ease that we earlier sought outside. When we embody a concept instead of trying to pursue it, we set ourselves free from the limitations of environment, external causes or people.
These practices and way of living help us embody the wisdom: सर्वम् आत्मवशं सुखम्। Within us, rests the happiness we seek. So instead of the Pursuit of Happiness, why not embrace the Happiness of Pursuit? 🙂
I’ve included a downloadable poster of the main Sanskrit quote for this article below (feel free to download and share it!). As always, let’s continue the conversation in the ‘Comments’ section of this post. I’d love to hear more about your experiences and journey too.