[Happiness is the natural outcome of being aligned with Essence, our true self, which is experienced when we are fully present in the moment.
The key to happiness is being very awake and aware of what is really happening in every moment rather than being absorbed in thoughts about the past, the future, your life, other people, and the many other thoughts we tend to get lost in, which don't add to our life or enhance our experience of life but, rather, detract from the potential joy, peace, and contentment inherent in each moment. Happiness is in our control, since where we focus our attention is in our control. When we focus it on what the mind is telling us, we suffer; when we focus it on what is real and true in this moment, we experience happiness, joy, peace, and contentment.
The present moment is all that exists, since the past and future are simply thoughts about the past and the future. But because we are programmed to pay attention to our thoughts, we often fail to notice what is actually going on now. Most people live in a mental world. When we drop out of this mental world into the Now, we experience a depth, a richness, and a joy and peace that feel sacred. This is the experience of our true self, or Essence. So, when we talk about being in the Now, we are also talking about this experience of Essence.
The ego is the sense of being a me and all the ideas, beliefs, and other conditioning entailed in the sense of existing as an individual. The ego is called the false self because the ego isn’t who we really are, although it seems like it is who we are.
The egoic mind, which is a reflection of the ego and its conditioning, is the chatterbox mind, which produces a nearly constant flow of commentary about life based on our conditioning. We experience it as the voice in the head, as Eckhart Tolle calls it. For simplicity, I sometimes refer to the egoic mind as the mind. However, the egoic mind is distinct from the functional mind, which is the aspect of the mind that we use to read, calculate, analyze, design, follow instructions, and so forth. We need the functional mind, but we don’t actually need the egoic mind to function. The egoic mind is the aspect of the mind that talks to us, while the functional mind is a tool we pick up and use when we need it.
In my writings about the ego, I have somewhat positioned it as the enemy, as a device to help people detach from it. When people are identified with the ego, they are, in a sense, in love with the egoic mind, and I’m hoping to help them fall out of love with it, because the ego and the thoughts and feelings it produces are the source of human suffering. Of course, even the ego belongs to the Oneness, and the ego serves exactly the function the Oneness intended.
The ego isn’t actually an entity. Rather, it is the sense of being a separate individual, which is innate to us. We feel like individuals, although we are actually manifestations, or expressions, of One Being. This is the Oneness that mystics throughout time have realized as being behind all life and which the term non-dual, which means not two, refers to. While encased in a human body, we have lost awareness of our true nature, and we are meant to rediscover the truth. That discovery is what the spiritual path is all about and what spiritual practices are meant to reveal.
The sense of being a separate individual is accomplished through the mind. We are programmed to think of ourselves as separate and as having distinct characteristics and labels: “I am a man,” “I am smart,” “I am a mother,” “I am twenty years old.” Anything that comes after “I am,” defines us, and we take those definitions as who we are. And yet when you examine those assumptions, you see that they are just ideas. There is no you behind the thoughts about you. This you that you think you are is made up of thoughts! What a revelation that is!
Then who are you? That is the perennial question, which ultimately results in the discovery that we are not a thing but more of a being, an experience of existing. If we strip away all labels and ideas, we are left with just I am, just existence. We are that which is existing right here and now and aware of that existence. Spiritual teachers often call the true self Awareness because the experience of the true self is that it is aware. Beyond that, who or what we really are can’t be defined. It has qualities that can be felt, such as peace, acceptance, love, compassion, gratitude, kindness, patience, wisdom, and strength, although those words don’t come close to defining the mystery of our true nature.
Who we really are is indescribable because it is beyond anything the mind can grasp. But to speak about who we really are, we have to give it a name. It has been given many names: the Source, Spirit, Oneness, Beingness, Consciousness, God, Awareness, the Divine, the Absolute, Presence, Stillness, Emptiness, the Now, Essence, the Self, the higher self, the essential self, and the true self, to name a few. I usually refer to it as Essence, the Oneness, the Self, or Awareness. Those words mean basically the same thing. I generally use the word Essence to refer to the aspect of the Oneness that expresses itself and lives through each of us. Words and definitions are not important. You know Essence when you experience it, just as you know the ego when you experience it. Essence and the ego feel very different and are very distinct.
Awakening is another term that may need some definition. It refers to the shift from identification with the ego, or false self, to a recognition of yourself as the spiritual being that you are. This shift happens whenever we are simply in the moment without all of our thoughts. So awakeness is possible in any moment. Awakening, however, generally implies a more permanent shift to living from a place of non-identification with the ego and alignment with our true nature.
Now let us begin…
Whatever you are doing, enjoy it! You have another option, of course, which is to not enjoy it. Notice what keeps you from enjoying whatever you are doing. It’s your thoughts, isn’t it? Even if you are experiencing pain, for instance, or something unpleasant, like going to the dentist, if you don’t listen to any negative thoughts, fears, complaints, and desires related to that, you won’t suffer. You will just have the experience.
Your thoughts about whatever you are doing interfere with enjoying it not only because they are often negative, judgmental, or resistant to the experience, but also because thoughts—even positive ones—remove you from an experience to some degree. Some thoughts don’t interfere much with being present and enjoying what you are doing; they just float in and out of your mind, without you paying much attention to them. Other thoughts, however, grab you, and you lose touch with what you are doing and the experience you are having. When that happens, it feels like you are going through the motions or doing something just to get it done.
You can go through life this way if you want, but when you are not fully in contact with what you are doing, you miss out on the potential joy and pleasure in an experience. Any experience can be interesting, since you have never had it before. And any experience can be enjoyed, because when you immerse yourself in it, you lose the false self (the sense of I or me) and discover the true self, which is always enjoying life. Essence is always in-joy. And from Essence’s standpoint, every moment is an opportunity to serve life and love, which is another source of joy. What if you approached each moment as an opportunity to experience, serve, or love?
The secret to enjoying what you are doing is to get lost in it, to get involved in it. That means getting all your senses involved in it or, more accurately, noticing how all your senses are involved in it. Noticing sensory experience will take you out of your egoic mind (your functional mind is still available) and into the experience you are having. When you are present to the experience you are having, you are in the moment, and that is when you experience Presence, or Essence. The experience of Essence is highly pleasurable, so no matter what you are doing, if you are present to it, it will be enjoyable.]