Editors note: This is an excerpt from the book Happiness Now (Hay House), available at all bookstores or online at www.hayhouse.com.
Picture the following scene: I am at my friend Jane’s house. It is mid-afternoon, and we are having tea. Jane and I are engaged in a deep and meaningful conversation when her two boys run into the room. They’re young, full of energy, lively and noisy. Tom is 4 years old, and Ben is 3. Ben follows Tom everywhere. Jane and I continue to talk, but soon we can’t hear each other speak because the boys are in a dispute.
"What’s the problem?" Jane asks.
Tom throws Ben off him, takes a deep breath, and says, "It’s my turn to play on my bike, but Ben won’t leave me alone, and he’s already ridden MY bike once today." A few more things are said, but no agreement is reached.
"Good," we both say.
Tom continues, "Today the bike belongs to me all day, and tomorrow the bike belongs to Ben all day." Both boys nod their heads with great enthusiasm.
"Are you both agreed?" asks Jane, sounding quite surprised.
"Yes," they both say.
"Good, now go along and play," says Jane.
The boys turn around to leave, and just before they do so, Ben pipes up at the top of his voice, "I know-let’s pretend it’s tomorrow!"
Use possibility thinking
Tom and Ben’s story illustrates perfectly how children use possibility thinking to enjoy happiness Now! I believe that, contrary to popular opinion, a baby’s favorite toy is not a thing, it’s a moment-a moment called Now. Children are born only with an awareness of Now-past and future are meaningless at first. In the beginning, now is the whole world to children, their entire playground. This fascination and reverence for Now is entirely natural; it is neither learned nor fabricated.
Kids like Tom and Ben are completely unimpressed by the idea of "future happiness"-above all, they want happiness Now! Those who are yet to be indoctrinated or conditioned fully by meaningless "laws of time" don’t know how to wait for happiness. Why wait for heaven when the possibility for heaven exists right here and now?
I believe that as a young child, you too were alive to the infinite possibilities of the present moment. Like other children, you were full of wonder, imagination, awe and appreciation for the precious present. You got so much from "now" because you gave so much to "now"-and for the entire time you were engaged with the present, you were happy to leave the past and future exactly where they were. Now was your treasure island, and you believed wholeheartedly that happiness was here and now, waiting to be seen. The more you believed this, the more you would look; and the more you looked, the more happiness you found. Here is an important key to happiness.
Milking the "Sacred Now"
The world has changed greatly in recent times in an effort to accommodate our desire for happiness now. Everything has speeded up. We live life fast-faster than ever. Fast technology, fast travel, fast careers, fast relationships and fast results are all the rage in our "I want it now" world. Indeed, the world is fast becoming a vast convenience store where you can get everything in an instant-instant coffee, microwave foods, minute-meals, half-hour film developing, 24-hour banking, drive-thru funerals, quickie divorces, television shopping, home delivery of everything, and, of course, instant credit. We’re sold on signs that read "No lines," "No need to wait," "One stop," "Open all hours" and "Buy now-pay later."
One way of looking at our "I want it now" world is to see it as a highly egotistical and selfish pursuit of happiness that is fueled by impatience, violence and greed, doomed from the very start to "end in tears." Indeed, many people are voicing their concerns at "the way the world is going," believing that traditional values and morals are fast being corroded and obliterated by the chase for happiness now.
Another way of seeing our "I want it now" world is that this clamor for happiness now reflects an instinctive wisdom and a great spiritual truth, which states that…
everything-absolutely everything-is available to you "now."
There’s a famous story from the Zen tradition that tells of an encounter between a young, eager student and a well-respected Zen master, noted especially for his perpetual grace and happiness:
"Master, I dream of everlasting happiness. What is the highest wisdom you can teach me?" asked the student.
The master smiled. He took his brush and wrote, as if for the first time: "Attention."
"Wonderful," said the student, "And what comes next after attention?"
The master smiled. He took his brush and wrote, as if for the first time: "Attention. Attention."
"Yes," nodded the student, utterly perplexed. "Anything more?"
The master smiled. He took his brush and wrote, as if for the first time: "Attention. Attention. Attention."
"Okay, so what does ‘attention’ mean?" asked the student, unable to see.
The master spoke: "Attention means attention."
"Is that all?" asked the student, obviously dispirited.
"Attention is all," said the master. "Without attention, happiness is nowhere; with attention, happiness is now here. Attention is freedom from all. Attention offers all."
Every authentic school of wisdom and spirituality teaches you that now is the most abundant moment of your life. The bibles of the world, be it the Old Testament or the New, the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada or the Tao Te Ching-indeed, any true spiritual text-all agree that now is an eternal treasure chest dripping with beautiful, everlasting gifts of peace, happiness, love, and joy freely available to all on a 24-hour "Don’t pay now-don’t pay later" basis.
Now is sacred! This is what the Zen master is trying to tell the eager young student in the story above. Indeed, talk to any spiritual teacher or guru worth their mantra, so to speak, and this person will tell you that now is always sacred. But why and how is now always sacred, you may ask? What if you’ve just been stood up on a date or you’ve just opened a bill or you’ve just chipped a tooth or your football team has lost again-how sacred is that?!
One approach to milking the sacred now is to place your attention on what is happening around you right at this minute and aim to appreciate, respect, and value it as much as you believe possible. You can do this right now. Before you read on, look around you and appreciate fully for a moment what your senses pick up. When you do so, you’ll experience firsthand how pleasurable appreciation can be. Events sometimes seem to make this exercise hard, but willingness can overcome this.
In my workshops for The Happiness Project, I often show a slide that reads:
When I ask people to call out what they can see, I always get two distinct answers, one being HAPPINESS IS NOWHERE, the other being HAPPINESS IS NOW HERE. Often, then…
the difference between "happiness is nowhere" and "happiness is now here"
as something to do with the event,
and everything to do with how you see the event. Your perception is key.
The real secret to milking the Sacred Now is to place your attention not out in the world about you, but within yourself-your inner, unconditioned Self. In truth, the SACRED NOW is an inner potential. It is eternal and abundant; and its geography is spiritual, not physical. In other words, the Sacred Now represents a permanent potential within you to experience love, freedom and joy regardless of time, place or circumstance.
The gift of happiness is wrapped in your heart, not the world. Thus, your happiness will never be mailed to you! And it can never get lost in the mail! In truth, your happiness has already been delivered, sitting in your inner mailbox-your heart-waiting to be opened. This is what the Sacred Now is really all about. In essence, then, you are the key to happiness. More than what happens to you, it is your perceptions, your thoughts, your beliefs and your overall response that are essential; your Self, your original Self, is the real key.
The real reason now is so naturally abundant is because when you allow yourself to be unrestrained by fear and uninhibited by worry, it is YOU who is so naturally, originally abundant. In truth, then . . .
Now has enough wisdom to last you forever, because within you, right now, there is all the wisdom you listen for in others.
Now has enough love to last you a lifetime, because within you, right now, there is the love you continually cry out for.
Now has enough peace to last you an eternity, because within you, right now, peace of mind is one thought away at most.
And now has enough joy to outlast the world, because within you, right now, the joy you chase is not in things-it is in you.
The problem with our "I want it now" society isn’t that we want happiness now, but that we’ve lost sight of how to experience it now. In particular, we say, "I want it now," but we doubt and don’t really believe that "it is here now." We’ve lost faith in now and have placed all of our faith in some imagined future. Similarly, we’ve lost faith in our Self and have placed all our attention on the world outside. Now it is the world, it seems, that must "make us happy"-and herein lies the source of all of our misery.
As long as you believe that it’s the world that must make you happy, you leave yourself open to great disappointment and much sadness. Why? Because as long as you refuse to see your inner potential for happiness now, you will not see it in the world. How can a mirror change the way you look? Think about that, for the world is only a mirror. You will only see in the world what you’re prepared to see in yourself-nothing more and nothing less.
Know, therefore, that the journey to true happiness and to happiness now is not a journey of physical distance or time; it is one of personal "self-recovery," where we remember and reconnect consciously to an inner potential for joy-a paradise lost-waiting to be found. One moment we look within and we see happiness nowhere; the next moment we look within and this time we see happiness now here. This is a revelation. This is enlightenment. This is joy!
The faster we chase the world and the future, the quicker we appear to overlook the possibility that happiness is here already. Every morning as we wake up, the alarm clock sings "Now," and from that moment on we do not give NOW another thought as we desperately chase our future. But are you so sure that happiness isn’t already here with you now? Have you really looked? I mean, really looked?
Milking the Sacred Now is excavation work. It’s about rediscovering an inner potential for original joy-a potential that already exists but has been buried beneath a pile of fears, doubts, guilt, conditioning, and history. Think of this potential for original joy not as something to arrive at, but as something you bring with you wherever you go. Recultivating this potential is our task, and the task begins with the realization that…joy waits on welcome, not on time.