The philosopher Spinoza is said to have the gift of giving peace to his readers by clarifying things and leading them to understand the big picture of life for themselves. ‘To understand is to be free’. It was he who said that ‘all our happiness and all our misery solely depends on the quality of the object to which we are attached by love.’
Or, as Jesus said ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ (Mt 6:21).
There is a thriving happiness industry today. One side of it is entertainment which offers us continuous stimulation and more distraction than we can consume in a lifetime. Ancient history, for this generation, the days when television shut down at 11pm and people went to bed. The other side of the compulsion to be happy is the contemporary self-help, self-improvement industry. This offers a production line of courses, publications and quick tips, of varying quality, which promise that secret of happiness which entertainment-addiction patently fails to deliver.
It is our right, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, to pursue happiness. Politically, though, this means something different from what it means spiritually. The spiritual declaration is about inter-dependence; and we do not pursue happiness as a state of private satisfaction and fulfilment. We realise it.
We are all happier than we think. If we detach from thought in the right way (entertainment is not the best way), we transition into deeper levels of awareness where happiness is waiting for us. We find it, as Jesus described in his parables, like a treasure buried in the field or a seed that grows naturally into its full potential.
Our happiness is not our own. It is the happiness of the universe in being itself. Each of us, as an interdependent entity, shares in this joy of being. We cannot grab or possess it. This is blatantly obvious to us when we are surprised by true happiness. But we forget it as quickly and go back to pursuing it independently. Most of the time we don’t know where our treasure is; and therefore we have lost track of where our heart is. The ironical thing, too, is that we then forget what we truly love.
Reducing and slowing down our consumption and clarifying and improving our mental activity – which Lent and meditation can help us to do – show us where our heart is; and also, as Spinoza said, the real quality of what we have become attached to. There is no love without attachment. But no less truly, no love can grow without detachment.
Your smart phone probably has a feature showing you where your car is parked. Very useful when you parked it unmindfully and are wandering the streets looking for it. Meditation reminds us where our heart is and, in addition, clarifies for us what it is we truly love.