I like being comfortable and happy. It feels good.
But I’ve also realized that it’s the times when I’m not very comfortable or happy that I do the most waking up – and that psychological pain is the most effective alarm clock – the greatest opportunity for growth and for deeper, real happiness.
In 2006, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth deftly changed the cultural understanding of the severity of the climate crisis. He pleaded for us to collectively wake up, smell the toxic brew and do something about it.
Gore encapsulates our mass, convenient denial this way: “The Earth is so big, we can’t possibly have any lasting, harmful impact on the Earth’s environment.”
But the inconvenient truth is that our lifestyle has radically altered the viablity of life on this planet.
Inconvenient truths are reflected in myriad ways throughout our individual lives also. And it’s the adept, practiced denial of those truths that throws the biggest wrench in our personal transformation process.
The tireless advocacy of environmental activists and organizations has inspired a radical consciousness shift in western culture. But once you wake us up, it’s hard to keep us awake. The media has kind of lost interest in climate change – have we’ve psychically numbed ourselves to the fact that this summer has been the hottest on record?
“Don’t look!” The other day my friend covered my eyes as we walked by a parked car with a bird impaled on its grill. The injunction to protect ourselves from the horrors of the world, and from the horrors of our own being, is deeply engrained and nothing new.
Buddha’s father kept him palace-bound until he was 29 – if he doesn’t see how bad things are out there, he rationalized, maybe I can dodge the prophecy and he can take over as the heir to the kingdom instead of becoming a yogi.
Both the world and each of us individually are full of inconvenient truths – and waking up to external horrors, while unpleasant, is a lot easier than seeing them within ourselves. Waking up is painful and if we decide to stay awake, we realize we’ll have to change. Buddha woke up first to the suffering of the world, but then he spent years mining his own dysfunction and pain. Nothing comfortable and happy about living in the woods – but it afforded him the opportunity to unearth and battle his “stuff” so that he could wake up completely.
Why should feeling good and being temporarily happy trump real transformation? What is the sustainability of life dedicated to comfort and happiness and all costs? The west is living in the last days of the Roman Empire of unsustainability – if we don’t consciously make changes inside and out, they will necessarily be made for us.
What is the personal sustainability of the teachings of some new-age gurus who pedal wisdom like “the path of least resistance”? Or who coddle our egos with the very comfortable assurance that we are already enlightened? Or those who offer chocolate and wine with yoga as just a natural extension of the feel-good experience of asanas?
Addiction is not something confined to alcohol and drugs. It is the default mode of our entire culture – carefully crafted to keep us comfortable and happy at the expense of any real personal or social change. Too much tv, coffee, shopping, sex, junk food, gossip, sugar, reality shows, Facebook, and Twitter are just the tip of the addiction iceberg. We become increasingly dependent on that which numbs the pain and keeps us comfortable.
We also become increasingly dysfunctional because the addiction gradually fails us. You have to do more to get the same amount of happiness and comfort.
Popular culture encourages us to indulge our dysfunction. You have to increase the levels of denial, go deeper to sleep, to keep yourself happily dependent on your dysfunctional behavior and thoughts. Comfort and happiness keep us in our addictions. All of our addictions and addictive behaviors are simply the misguided, desperate desire in all of us for the limitless.
“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” – Albert Einstein
Are struggle, pain and real happiness mutually exclusive? Can’t you open to grace and feel the love even while admitting to yourself that you need to change? The path of yoga is not a path intended to help you maximize happiness and comfort while eschewing personal and collective transformation. Real happiness comes only from a relentless, but contented, commitment to waking up.