Usually, I write here about something that I’ve been focusing on in my daily practice. In this post I want to write about something I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks. It is a very simple question: Is God really on the side of my happiness?
The question is so simple and basic that you would think every Course student would automatically answer “Yes, of course.” Yet the implications of “yes” are so sweeping and profound that I think none of us are close to answering a truly sincere “yes.”
The fact is that in each and every moment, we face the choice of going God’s way or the more ingrained, habitual, instinctual way of our ego. The ego here is nothing terribly mysterious or remote. It is all those “natural” impulses in us, which amount to seeking some sort of private gain, looking out for number one. It means focusing on ourselves, taking advantage of others when we have to, ignoring others when it’s expedient, and living in fear that number one won’t be so well looked out for.
The God side of the equation is not quite so familiar. It involves stretching ourselves toward the highest, toward the sublime, toward an egolessness that seems scary. We may think we love the concept of being above the battleground, but when it comes to it we are all afraid of heights. Because our wills do not seem to naturally reach up in the God direction (but rather flow with the gravity of the ego), we need to train our minds in this direction. We need to discipline them. And then we need to stretch out of our comfort zone to reach out to the needs of others.
None of this feels very natural. There are times when the right choice comes over you and just happens through you, and those times do feel natural. But they are the exception, and probably the result of all those times where you intentionally chose to go against gravity.
But, getting back to my opening question, I think all of that supposed stretching would feel utterly and completely natural if we really believed that God was on the side of our happiness, and that the typical gravity of our ego was not. If you are convinced that something spells deep and carefree happiness for you, in every way, you are overpoweringly attracted to it. It becomes the new gravity. It becomes the thing you can’t stop yourself from doing, the place your mind runs to spontaneously and in every moment.
Thus, if our minds are not constantly running in God’s direction and away from the ego, in every moment, with an overwhelming momentum that we couldn’t stop if we wanted to, then it’s for one reason: We have answered a deep-seated “no” to the question, “Is God on the side of my happiness?”
Of course we have answered “no.”! Of course we think God’s way spells sacrifice of our happiness. In our eyes, whatever impulse we have in the moment is obviously what’s best for our happiness, and so that impulse is our friend, and God, Who has something different in mind, is a threat.
I’ve been mulling this over for lots of reasons. One is that I am noticing that the Course is utterly focused on this. It sees our current lives not as acts of ungodly indulgence but rather as an almost heroic exercise of “tolerance for pain”–self-caused pain from following our ego. It sees us as mental patients who are a danger to ourselves. God, then, isn’t delivering the bitter medicine. He is not the drill sergeant. He is just trying to stop us from hurting ourselves. We are not the captains of our happiness, having to responsibly defend it against all the demands made on us by God. We are the saboteurs of our happiness, committed to remaining so, gritting our teeth and trying to strengthen our tolerance for pain.
Something else that has made me ponder this issue is an exercise I led people in recently. In the exercise, we were asked to envision God (or in Course terms, the Holy Spirit) as looking at us and simply seeing us on this earth as being in need, not judging our need, simply seeing it and wanting to meet it. I was really surprised at the results of doing this. It made me realize that I carry this image in which God just wants me to conform. I don’t really have a thought-out picture of why He wants me to conform. I don’t have a sense that there is something sinister in it. It’s just this sense that He has one agenda for me: conform. Since I’m not a very good conformist, I naturally resist. But here was a whole different picture: He just wants me to be happy. And that’s what I’m resisting.
Anyway, I feel like I’m just rambling here (isn’t that what blogs are for?). The tentative conclusion to my mulling is this: If I really were to decide that God is the One on the side of my happiness, and that my second-by-second impulses are the big threat to my happiness, it would not only turn my mind upside-down, it would turn my life upside-down. It would change my fundamental attitude toward the spiritual life. It would change my attitude toward everything. I’m still thinking about it.