How the ancients found their happiness (in times of war, loss & death)

February 20, 2017 , 10 minutes read , By Alan Belkin



How the ancients found their happiness (in times of war, loss & death)

Publicly negative, direct, not inspirational, blunt, timid, shy, afraid, stingy, judgmental, positional, lost, unhinged, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, high opinion of self, afraid.

Sitting on airplane flying back from a family visit interstate those are the list of traits that I wrote in my journal which I try avoid at all costs.

In spite of my public image that displays confidence, success, wealth and happiness, behind the scenes I am worried, afraid and concerned that my life will result in an epic fail.

I am not always positive, not continually filled with optimism, in fact I am negative and most of the time I see a bleak future and lots of problems.

While drinking my black tea in a cheap recycled paper cup on the plane and in a cold war for the middle seat arm rest I had a small epiphany:

When we accept that our lives won’t be ideal or a picture perfect fantasy and will be filled with setbacks, challenges, nights of misery and days of disappointment, we finally GIVE ourselves permission to begin living.

Its a fancy way of saying: “When my life feels like it sucks, it’s ok”

We have been conditioned in the pop culture of personal development and the self-esteem/ happiness movement to believe that life should be easy, fun, enjoyable and happy.

Yet most often our social media public projections and fantasies are contrasted with a stark private reality of disappointment when we don’t know our purpose, don’t get the income we expect, the investment property we want, the parental relationship we think we deserve or someone we love gets an unexpected disease or dies.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many moments of joy, fulfillment, happiness, gratitude, appreciation, love, intimacy that are interspersed throughout our lives.

But if we are to be brutally honest with ourselves we find that those moments are, just that moments.

But when lost, the road back to a feeling of happiness is a state of acceptance of what is, as it is.

That is, accepting your situation and your circumstances for what they are, especially when the stakes are high and you are really low.

Accepting all of it, including the feelings, sense of loss, worthlessness, pain, fear and especially rejection.

Something profound happens at the moment of true acceptance, you become truly free, no longer directing mental or emotional energy towards what should be, but just being.

Try it. Really get present to the sensations in your body, the feelings, the in-completions, problems, ‘should be’s’ and ‘need to’s’ and in this moment physically exhale and ACCEPT things as they are.

Feel pain? Be with the pain. Feel sadness? Be with sadness. Feel, happy, be with happiness.

Wherever place you are at, STOP RESISTING desiring to change yourself or others and accept things as they are.

This is not a quick fix, it is a constant process moment-by-moment throughout your day.

Day-by-day, moment-by-moment.

If you are a quick-fix-junky this is the quickest-long-term solution you will get.

An additional mind hack, is seeing things for what they are without the glossy veneer.

We are often wrapping our minds around fantasies of what life could be like if we ‘got this’ or ‘achieved that’.

We are the perpetual hamsters in a wheel running around with no end.

So take whatever it is that you are infatuated with or ‘desiring’ that life ‘should be like’ it’s time to strip it of its glossiness and restore equilibrium to your perceptions.

  • It’s about seeing beyond the aesthetic beauty of a stunning man or women your desire to see his or her ‘beauty’ for what it is truly is – bones, skin, fortunate genetics.
  • Or seeing beyond a financial fantasy of ‘obscene wealth’ to recognize the trade-offs you need to make to get there.
  • Or realizing seeing a relationship for its wholesome nature, not a one sided fantasy of pure happiness, but the added conflicts, arguments and moments of closure.

Taking this ‘Stoic’ approach reduces the emotional volatility and allows reason to return and a provides a steadiness that has a state of happiness have a chance of showing up.

Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations wrote about looking at your beautiful glorious dinner and remembering what you are looking at is a dead fish, a dead pig, a slaughtered animal.

“When we have meat before us and such eatables, we receive the impression, that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are. Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and where there are things which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness, and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted. For outward show is a wonderful perverter of the reason, and when thou art most sure that thou art employed about things worth thy pains, it is then that it cheats thee most….”1

Somehow the universe is made up of two wholesome polarities. A positive force and a negative one. Batteries have two charges (+,-). We have two magnetic poles (+,-). A negative ion (-) attracts a positive ion (+) in chemistry.

So, it appears in the outer world experienced through our senses, that there is a physics and mathematics where the equations are balanced.

“What is true in the outer world must be true in the inner world of psychology; there must also be balance. It can be put in this least eloquent way: The more shit you can swallow, the more positive circumstances you will attract.”

Its kind of like this: “When you can finally be OK with the ugliness, plainness, dirtiness of things, you can start appreciating their beauty.”

When you really be with the “hardness, ugliness, dirtiness” in life in a state of ok-ness, you can finally begin living and enjoying life and appreciating the kindness and caring nature of those around you.

If you love the opposite of what you desire, you become impenetrable, bullet proof and resilient from life’s inevitable knocks.

In other words, nothing can penetrate into your inner-world and affect your biology, physiology or psychology when you have nothing you seek to change in the external world.

Stop resisting, trying to change and fix things or people. Embrace what is. The pain, hurt, loss, fear, rejection, criticism – all of it. Do not shy away from it.

Let it hit you, bruise you, knock you about.

The man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive.

Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a “raft that leads to the far shore.”

Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring. Thus, the aim of (spiritual) practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a man to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered – that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites. 2

The more negativity you can experience without recoil, being perturbed or thrown off course, the happier and freer you will be.

Put into practice, allow yourself:

  • Take on more rejection, get more opportunities (in business and relationships, in fact in all of life)
  • Tolerate more pain at the gym, gain more strength and endurance
  • End a a stale relationships or friendships and embrace the pain of separation, gain a deeper self love and increased self worth

The world operates in opposites. It is counter intuitive.

Translated: stop avoiding pain in all its forms. Instead embrace it.

Treat it as a friendly welcome visitor.

Pain, when loved in all its forms, creates a space within which a pleasure can show up.

1 Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. (121–180).  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.

2 The Way of Transformation, Karlfried Gras von Durkheim.

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