Enjoying The Simple Pleasures of Life

Minduful observation

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by Jayaram V

Source: This essay was originally published in the book “Think Success, Essays on Self-help” by Jayaram V under the title, “The Simple Pleasures of Life," and reproduced with publisher's permission.

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We hardly live in the present. What we experience in the present is usually superimposed by the memories of our past. We cannot experience anything and make sense of it, without labeling it, categorizing it, comparing it or contrasting it. Here comes the most significant existential problem of our lives. We experience reality through the mind and it does not perceive reality accurately, as it is subject to many restrictive and disruptive mechanisms. In this our past becomes the filter, the accumulated know-ledge, through which we experience the current reality. How we experience the world or the reality depends upon what we already know or what we have already experienced. Hence, it is seldom the real reality.

When we live in the prison cells of our past, looking at the world through the windows screened by our desires and expectations, there is hardly much scope for enjoying the spontaneity and beauty of life. Jiddu Krishnamurthy, an Indian spiritual master, once said to the effect that there was no true observation if there was an observer. You are the observer who determines what you want to observe from the choices that are presented to you by situations and circumstances.

If you observe with your baggage of memories, desires and expectations, you interfere with the purity of your observation and put a smokescreen of your interpretations between you and the observed. It is true because when you see everything from the colored lenses of your past, there is no actual seeing, but a validation of what you have already seen. He also said that when you looked at something, you were conditioned not to see the thing itself, but invoke a copy of its image stored in your mind and treat it as real.

Thus, for example, when you see a rose, you do not see the rose, but an idea of it or an image of it that is already present in your memory. When one falls in love, one does not fall in love with the real person, but an embellished image of that person colored by beliefs and assumptions.

Hence, those who fall in love hardly see any flaws in their loved ones. It is also why human love fades away quickly as reality settles in and both sides begin to see each other's flaws clearly and objectively. We are conditioned to perceive the world this way. It is normal and natural to use our past knowledge and our learned behavior to deal with our current reality. It is how our minds choose to do their jobs efficiently and facilitate our survival and continuity.

It is also true that the knowledge that you store in your mind is but an accumulated knowledge. It is the sum of little pieces of information, which you gather from your perceptions and experiences and store in the vaults of your memory, primarily through your senses, which are in themselves limited and imperfect. You cannot rely upon it because it is colored by your beliefs, judgments, values, desires, and understanding. It is also shaped and influenced by the weight of the authority, which you respect and follow. With Its help, you can know only what you already know or what you desire to know. It is not capable of letting you know the unknown, the unfamiliar, or what cannot be fit into its constructs. Hence, as Krishnamurthy said, as long as we are in the field of the known and within the boundaries of our minds, and rely upon our memories, we do not see the truth, without the adulteration of our minds, or experience it accurately.

To a person familiar with the metaphysical aspects of life, this is a profound revelation. If we observe ourselves carefully to know how we live and experience the reality around us, we realize that most of the time we lead repetitive and monotonous lives, reinforcing our current beliefs and knowledge rather than trying to know anything new or transform our awareness. In this scenario, every new experience that we undergo remains an altered version of what we already know or what we have already experienced. Through a maze of conceptualized knowledge and belief patterns, we waddle through life, staying within our comfort zones, dealing with the familiar, and cultivating rigid mindsets. If you are familiar with the concepts of object oriented programming, you will realize that the human mind follows a similar pattern. It uses the same objects and a few design models to interpret and classify information and make sense of the world. It is as if we have created a framework, in which we want to fit in everything, however unrealistic and difficult it may be. We do not realize that we become prisoners of our own minds and worldviews, from which we cannot escape unless we are willing to break the walls that we raise. When we are forced by circumstances or chance to step out of our comfort zones and daily routines to deal with the unknown and unfamiliar, we suffer from fear and anxiety or try to escape from it.

I have explained in a previous article that to ensure your survival and keep you well informed of the threats and opportunities present in your world, your mind performs many functions routinely, and thereby saves you from information overload. Since it is impossible to do everything in a short time, it employs several filtering mechanisms, generalizations and over simplifications to minimize effort, maximize efficiency and conserves resources, without disturbing your feelings of continuity, stability and wellbeing. As a result, you do not pay enough attention to many feelings and sensations that arise in you or the situations that happen around you. If at all you do, you perceive and interpret them according to your beliefs, values, standards, assumptions, existing knowledge and states of mind.

Your cognition or how you make sense of the world also depends upon many factors. The world that we see and accept as real is an assumptive world. You may see the same object, but perceive it differently at different times, depending upon what is going on in your mind. When you look at things you do not look at it with complete surrender, as if you are looking at it for the first time, as if you have never seen it, or as if it is unique and different from all that you have known and experienced before. It happens because the mind makes sense of the world with existing images and memories stored in it rather than the actual images perceived.

The moment you perceive an object, it is superimposed by an image or memory that is already present in you. Since your perceptions are mostly colored by your thoughts, imagination, and memories, a lot of knowledge, impres-sions and memories that are stored in your mind are mere constructs rather than accurate copies of the objects and situations you experienced. You may rely upon such knowledge for your continuity and survival, but you cannot count on its accuracy or authenticity. It is your version of the past that happened, not necessarily what really happened. It is as you remembered it and not what might have originally happened. If the incidents happened in the remote past, you might have even rewritten them and altered them to fit them into your current belief system, self-image, and worldview.

Thus, we go through life in predictable but self-limiting ways, confining ourselves to the known and the familiar, losing things the moment we perceive them, and letting our past images and impressions aid our perceptions to create a believable reality. To focus upon things, in which we are particularly interested, we allow our minds to ignore all that we deem unnecessary, inconsequential, or irrelevant. While such selectivity helps us to resolve the problem of information overflow, it also limits our experie-nces, our perception of the world and our ability to understand it. Unfortunately, there is no way we can perceive the world and experience it differently, except through our minds and senses. Until we find an alternative either spiritually or scientifically, we are subject to the limitations and conditioning they impose upon our consciousness, behavior and perceptions.

It is not easy to go against Nature, or the deeply ingrained behavior that stems from your conditioning. Since, the mental processes that control your understanding are also guided by the same factors that influence your perceptions, you may not be even aware of your perceptual errors, logical fallacies, and cognitive distortions, or acknowledge them. However, your mind can be trained and reconditio-ned to act in desirable ways. By understanding your erroneous thinking, biases and logical fallacies, you can overcome its natural weaknesses and habitual thought patterns and learn to see the things in the field of your observation with greater clarity, understanding, objectivity, and appreciation. You can live more consciously, actively and adaptively to appreciate life and the world around you in wherever situations you may find yourself.

Your happiness must arise from within as a natural condition, in response to the simple joys of life and the little pleasures that make up most of your life. You will not be able to appreciate them if you are too busy or tied up with certain goals and expectations that are not within your easy reach. To be happy naturally, you have to slow down, lift your head and start looking around. Then you will realize how much life happens around you and how much of it you are just letting by, overlooking them rather than looking at them. In your journey of life, you may become stuck in problems and situations, but the world does not stop for you. It moves on, since you have little control over it and you cannot impose any conditions upon it. You can only take from it what you can find in it, as it opens to you in the moments that make up your life. It is how you can make peace with the world around you and find happiness within yourself as well as in the world.

Your happiness does not arise from the external things but from your conditioning. You make yourself happy by finding happiness in the things you seek or by finding freedom from the things you seek. Many people try to find happiness outside, in things and people to whom they develop attachment. For them life occasionally happens when they go on vacation, spend time with loved ones or stay in some exotic location. Their happiness remains short-lived, because it is tied to certain notions, desires, conditions and expectations that are disconnected from their regular lives. Your happiness cannot be sustained for long by the things of the world but by your ability and willingness to appreciate life as it happens. This is the truth. Unless you are a happy person by nature, nothing can make you happy, and unless you are mentally prepared to accept the world on its terms and create happiness from ordinary circumstances and simple pleasures of life, you cannot remain happy for long.

If you have become too dependent upon the world and people for your happiness, it is time you wake up your senses and enrich your life with the simple pleasures of your daily life, shifting your attention, from having to being, from feeling important to staying attentive, and from seeking attention to being perceptive. People go to faraway places to relax and enjoy their vacation. It is definitely a good way to break the monotony of your life. However, should you limit your happiness and enjoyment only to few such occasions? Do you have to spend a whole year doing dreary work to enjoy just a few days of rest and relaxation?

The answer is certainly no. Happiness exists not in the things, but in the seeker. A person can be happy by just staying at home or by flowing with the moment. What is important is your state of mind. If you are disturbed or unhappy you cannot enjoy any vacation or experience peace and relaxation. Therefore, you should learn to be happy naturally, wherever you are, finding opportunities to invent peace and happiness. You have to train your mind and senses to make the very process of living a source of enjoyment. It is immaterial whether you are rich or poor. What is material is whether you know how to appreciate life as it happens and how you can enjoy the simple pleasures of life, by becoming sensitive to the environment in which you live.

A sunset is a sunset, whether it happens in front of your house or on a snowy mountain. Perhaps you may not get a good view of it or you may never see it, but it still is a sunset. There is no point in wishfully thinking about the summer you are going to enjoy in an exotic place when and if you get that bonus, promotion or leave, while it is winter here and snow has covered the ground. You can learn to appreciate what comes your way or what happens to you, suspending your judgment and keeping your mind open and receptive. You can enjoy the snow when it snows and the rain when it rains, instead of thinking of summer when it is snowing, and wishing for snow when the summer is hot and humid.

You do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy your life or go to faraway places to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of Nature. It is good if you can afford it, but, right here and right now, you can enjoy whatever you have and whatever is given to you. What is required is sensitivity, a loving heart and an appreciating mind. Even the silence of a street or a secluded place in your house can put you in touch with the peace that you may experience when you watch an expansive ocean or a mountain range. Do not ignore familiar things or people just because you know them. You can always find in them something new and fresh, and each time you meet people you can learn something new about them or their behavior.

By observing the world around you, with loving attention, and appreciating the presence of the most ordinary things within your immediate environment, you can stretch your mind, expand your awareness and find freedom from your dependence upon particular things and conditions for experiencing real joy and happiness. By observing the beauty of a flower, the innocence of a child, the serenity of a sleeping baby, the wisdom of an aging face, the anxiety of a flying bird, the placidity of an afternoon sky, the mysterious silence of a starry night, or by simply tasting your favorite coffee, tea or beverage, you can experience the simple pleasures of life here and now. All of it is possible with a few simple guiding principles such as the following. You can improvise them or make your own.

  • Happiness is a state of mind. It arises from within.
  • The world does not make you happy. You make yourself happy.
  • You can create or invent your own happiness
  • It is the sense of freedom which fuels your happiness and relaxation.
  • Take a few deep breaths and pay attention into your senses.
  • Make things and people important and worthy of your attention.
  • Each day you spend is a special day.
  • Take the child in you along with you when you go into Nature.

Suggestions for Further Reading

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