I've stopped engaging in the "pursuit of happiness." And not because I don't think I can be happy. It's just that I'm not sure that's what I want to aim for anymore.
For so many people I've observed who've fallen under the spell of Western culture, happiness seems to consist of collecting experiences, things, or people. They inhabit a dead world--not only are the rivers, seas, rocks and hills non-living to them, but even the plants and animals are treated as though they are consumable resources rather than sentient beings. Some quantum scientists are now telling us that consciousness is the root energy of the universe; in other words, we inhabit a living, conscious universe. And yet we inhabit a consensus reality which instructs us that the universe is dead, and that our happiness comes from consuming it, and affixing it to ourselves in various ways.
Some of the happiest times of my life were the most fleeting and false. For instance, the happiness I felt after putting away several stiff drinks. The happiness I felt after winning an academic award, or selling a stock at its peak. These "happinesses" were false because they affected the most superficial part of my self, the self that had been schooled by consensus reality to consume the world without reverence for the living spirit of that world. They were like analgesics, temporarily medicating my sense of unease with my life.
One day years ago, my college poetry teacher, Michael Dennis Browne, made a diagram of the human psyche. He drew a huge circle on the blackboard. Towards the edge of the circle, but within it, he made a tiny dot. He told us that the dot was our ego-mind, the self-conscious part of us, the part we think of as "me" during waking hours. We think of that part as our self, but there is really so much more to us. He pointed to the rest of the circle and said "That is the rest of your mind; it is from there that you draw inspiration for poetry and for life." I learned later that the boundary of that circle doesn't really exist. That in essence, we are not separate beings: the psyche is unbounded, woven into the world from which it has emerged, just one of many patterns in a huge textile. We are floating in a sea of wisdom, but our ego selves can put up barriers against it.
I knew what Michael was talking about, because I had been exploring that expanse of territory for some time. My journeys into it had brought terror, wonder, exhilaration, and joy. I had met dragons, talking animals, angels, and all manner of other beings, both human and Other. Only by learning that terrain, and coming to know its inhabitants--and thus myself--have I been able to re-animate the dead world of my culture. Or perhaps I should say, I reconstructed my view of the world, according to a different model.
Has that brought me happiness? Not really. I go through months at a time filled with self doubt, and feeling anxious, blue, and fearful. A lot of the time I feel like a loser, when measured against society's standards of success. But I love being me. Although my exterior self feels out of sorts much of the time, my deeper self lives connected to a greater Being, a living world, an enchanted realm. That realm lies not just inside my mind, in some space inside my head. It's on the outside as well. As the old folk tales teach us, life is scary, dangerous, sad, beautiful, filled with violence, with love, with helplessness, and with power. I do not know what to make of it. But I have learned to love the whole of it. I have put down roots very very deep, and I would not give that up for all the happiness in the world.