To live optimally cultivate awareness and unconditional happiness.
Optimal living is living in a way that promotes unconditional happiness, not just for oneself but for everyone. Optimal living implies behaving ethically, with kindness. It implies being adaptable and effective. It implies doing no harm, and, as much as possible, doing good and adding value. Optimal living is founded on the intention to serve and the recognition of the interconnection of all things.
Everyone wants to be happy. Unconditional happiness is the principal sign of optimal living. In wisdom traditions, unconditional happiness is a quality of our basic nature. It is subtle innate satisfaction with things as they are, informed by the sense that everything is in continuous motion, subject to change. Unconditional happiness is the deep feelings that naturally produce the subtle smile that reflects a heartfelt sense of peace at the center of it all.
This is not the kind of happiness that comes when you get an award or a delicious treat or, even, the happiness that comes from reflecting on how wonderful life is. That kind of happiness is conditioned and temporary. Unconditional happiness is continuous, it is always available, though, often not consciously experienced. This kind of happiness is the platform for effective action.
Optimal living requires continuous awareness of the present moment.
Awareness can be described as the experience of being fully present, knowing what is going on - thoughts, sensations, feelings, sounds, etc. - yet having no sense of separateness, not identified with anything, being without desire or aversion.
Awareness is effortless. It is not an object. It is a ground or natural base underlying all experience. It is awareness with no one being aware.
Few are continuously consciously aware. Cultivating awareness requires the intention and effort to overcome the obstacles to experiencing being aware. For example, obsessive thinking, fear, anger, ignorance, and attachment cloud the mind. The open expanse of awareness is lost.
Increasing the frequency and duration of moments of recognized awareness by cultivating mindfulness and effort to recognize when awareness is obscured by distractions and then letting the distractions pass to rest back into awareness.
This awareness is experiential. Poets, holy books and spiritual masters point to it but it is only through recognized direct personal experience that it becomes known. One recognizes the moment of simply knowing, being present, clear minded, and open.
It seems true that the primary motivator for making the effort to live optimally and experience unconditioned happiness is the desire to relieve suffering, stress, anxiety and the other unpleasant feelings that one may experience.
Initially, the motivation is fueled by belief or faith in the teachings of philosophers and spiritual masters, telling us that it is possible to experience unconditioned happiness; to eliminate unnecessary suffering.
Direct personal experience replaces belief or faith. That experience may be momentary. But, once it is recognized it becomes a touch stone that reminds the seeker when awareness is not being recognized and to relax back into awareness.
Direct personal experience comes by a formal introduction from a teacher, through "wake-up" experiences, and/or through effort, using methods like study, meditation and the contemplation of questions like "Who am I".
Awareness is effortless. Effort is required until awareness is a constant natural state of mind. That may take a moment, years, or lifetimes.
Cultivate the mindfulness needed to recognize when awareness has been obscured. Awareness is constant, recognition is something that happens spontaneously. As mindfulness becomes stronger, the frequency and duration of conscious awareness increase.
Make the effort to change thoughts, speech and behavior. Realize that one can be aware and still caught up in obsessive thinking and reactive behavior.
Taking it Home
Awareness offers choice. You are able to see everything occurring within and around you as objects moving in a continuous fluid process. You are in the flow and yet not carried away by it.
Begin with the belief that unconditional happiness is possible. Acknowledge the reality of impermanence. Accept the likelihood of that things will not always be to your liking. Learn and use techniques that bring tastes of unconditional happiness. Then faith turns into knowledge.
Apply the effort to let go of obsessive thoughts. Let go of the juicy story or idea that has taken over your mind. What happens, how does it feel when you see the stories, thoughts, emotions as passing clouds in the expanse of awareness?
Increasingly less effort is required as mindfulness increases and you change old mental habits and drop unfounded and ineffective beliefs.
Awareness and unconditioned happiness becomes the natural state of mind. Thoughts, feelings and all the rest come and go. From this natural state of mind, you make the decisions and take the action to live optimally -
- behaving ethically, with kindness
- being adaptable and effective
- doing no harm, and, as much as possible, doing good and adding value
- having the intention to serve
- recognizing the interconnection of all things in continuous motion.