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Happiness: Our Natural State

What we seek lies within, hiding in plain sight.

Portrait of cute baby laughing
Portrait of cute baby laughing

Don’t all the world’s religions and spiritual traditions teach that the ultimate goal of life is happiness and lasting peace, and that these qualities reside within all of us, at all times and in all circumstances? Why then do we continue to suffer so deeply and frequently?

In reading a small book* by British nondual teacher Rupert Spira I came across a comparison he made about happiness. He reminded the reader that the sky is always up there even if it is obscured by clouds. He likened the sky to happiness and the clouds to unhappiness or dissatisfaction. He writes:

“Happiness, like the patch of blue, appears at first to be a temporary experience that occurs from time to time, but when investigated turns out to be ever-present and always available in the background of experience.

“As such, happiness is not a temporary experience that alternates with unhappiness. It is not the opposite of unhappiness, any more than the blue sky is the opposite of the clouds. Just as clouds are the veiling of the blue sky, so unhappiness is the veiling of happiness.”

I liken the blue sky in Spira’s comparison to the nondual perspective, the oneness that is pure beingness, and the clouds as the dualistic perspective, the temporary separateness that obscures or veils happiness. Spira continues:

“Happiness is our very nature and lies at the source of the mind, or the heart of ourself, in all conditions and under all circumstances. It cannot be acquired; it can only be revealed.

“We cannot know happiness as an objective experience; we can only be it. We cannot be unhappy; we can only know unhappiness as an objective experience.”

There is another comparison often made by different nondual thinkers, including Spira, to differentiate objective experience from awareness or knowing. They compare a movie screen with our awareness or our natural knowing and the movie being projected on the screen as the objective experience. When one is immersed in the movie – the object of one’s experience – one isn’t particularly aware of the screen upon which the film is being projected.

The objects of our experience – feelings, thoughts, sensations and perceptions (such as the movie) – appear and occupy our consciousness for a while. They also disappear. But the underlying awareness or knowing – the screen in the comparison above – remains present despite all the various objects or objective experiences (or movies) that come and go. This pure awareness or knowing is never changed by any of these experiences. To quote Spira, “Knowledge and experience are always changing; knowing or being aware never changes.”

So the next time you are feeling unhappy and start longing for happiness, be reminded that happiness is not some place “out there” – some objective experience that may provide some temporary pleasure – but rather resides within, like the sky that never disappears even though it may be obscured temporarily. Happiness is our very nature; it can’t be purchased or acquired, it can only be revealed.

*Being Aware of Being Aware, by Rupert Spira, New Harbinger Publications, 2017

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