No longer shackled by outdated religious traditions and the rules and guilt they impose, we are free to do what we want, when we want, with whom we want. Pretty much, anything goes, as long as everyone consents. Year after year, ripping down boundaries, social media gurus and music icons compete to out-explicit each other, and we all get to revel in their wake, free to be ourselves. By now, we should be totally happy, because we can do whatever we want.
It’s logical to believe that making everything acceptable and having no rules of right and wrong will bring the greatest pleasure. Why wouldn’t it? Everything can feel so artificial and confined can’t it? People don’t really know what you are thinking or feeling about them. Freedom must mean we can say and do exactly what we think, at every moment! Just as Sigmund Freud speculated, all anxieties come from having to inhibit our most primal instincts. Only society’s rules and regulations force us to tame ourselves. Inside, the real person supposedly wriggles and grunts to be free. How happy Freud would be in 2016!
But hang on, are we okay with a deranged person walking into our classroom and opening fire on everyone? Probably not. Obviously I’m taking this philosophy to its extreme, to test whether it is really a bulletproof principle to work from. But where do we draw the line marking what is acceptable or not, or will the line increasingly widen to accommodate anything and everything? “Hey man, as long as you feel good when you blow my brains out, that’s the main thing—you did what you wanted.” Maybe some ethics are necessary if we don’t want total mayhem?
JUST DO IT
Experimenting with all kinds of stuff in the name of art, my art school friends were a stimulating bunch to hang out with in my Uni days. One night, in a small room at the art school, inspired to explore how I would act if I did exactly what came into my head, I began moving randomly around the room. Squatting down, rising up, dancing, and making whatever weird noises came to me, I hoped that expressing whatever was inside me, moment to moment, would somehow liberate me. By the end, I felt not much different to before, except a little less human and more like an animal. The experience had been absent of social norms, and I missed my intelligence, which decides what to do and what not to do at each moment. I still thought I was pretty cool, however, to have tried the process. One of the artists present had watched me incredulously as I experimented. Every time I saw him after that, he told me, with some concern, how I had been acting crazy that night. Even as an artist himself, he thought this was going a bit far! I thought he just wasn’t ready for such boundary breaking tests. But when I think of that night now, I agree with him—he was the only one who had seen what was really happening. I was just being crazy; the experiment wasn’t some sophisticated intellectual art form as we had thought at the time.
Compared to what we can get into when we let our instincts really dominate, my artful exploration was pretty short-lived and harmless. Yoga psychology explains that until we are spiritually enlightened, acting on our impulses means acting according to unconscious conditionings. This can develop into obsessive behaviour, causing harm, not only to ourselves, but to the people around us. Acting on our urges is no different from behaving like an animal, just as a dog, dragged by its senses, sniffs lamp posts and backsides with no concern for what anyone thinks! No offence to our furry friends—that’s life for them, even though, like most humans, they are not in touch with their original enlightened state either. Beyond both the animal and human body types, the nonmaterial self sits dormant until revived using spiritual techniques. Significantly, for life on this level, animals stay within nature’s boundaries, and they don’t get into really awkward, unusual habits – they don’t have perversions, psychologically speaking.
I’m not convinced it’s natural for humans to act on impulse. What happens when we let it all hang out? So many destructive habits go on in the name of expressing ourselves. Think alcohol and drug abuse, date rape, drunk driving accidents, STDs, domestic violence, child abuse, pedophilia and numerous other distorted sexual tendencies, gaming addictions, porn addictions, overeating, for example. At a certain point, acting out our every desire gets ugly, because these desires are selfish and usually result in exploiting others. Actually, all desire we know is selfish, because it has been pulled out of shape from its genuine nature, like a jumper that once fitted well but now hangs misshapen.
The fact that human habits can really get out of hand, destructive and nasty at worst, indicates that the human being’s intelligence is being misused or channelled in the wrong direction. According to yoga science, human intelligence is meant for big things, like understanding our nonmaterial identity, the nature of existence, how reality is working, and running complex and harmonious societies, to list a few. Just as children with no positive engagement get themselves into trouble, our human intelligence, if not chasing a higher purpose, gets into all sorts of unwanted habits, bringing our consciousness down to its lowest expression. And because we are meant for more, we are not happy living like loose units. It’s depressing to have no self-control, to be instead controlled by habits that we hate. Uggh! If we are not pursuing our highest potential, how can we be happy?
CRACKING THE GAME
Yup–this business is counter-intuitive. What we think will make us happy—letting loose, doing what we want, however we want, whenever we want—often doesn’t, you might have noticed. How many times have you launched full-hearted into doing something that you think will make you happy but you’ve ended up bummed out, or disappointed at least? For example, you spend hours getting all dressed and hyped up for a night out. You check your hair in the bathroom mirror or a shop window a dozen times. But the night ends up a fizzer. A few awkward moves on the dance floor, some random and unsatisfying drunken conversations, nobody notices your perfectly styled hair or how showstopping your new pants are. Even worse, your fake eyelashes don’t lure any victims for late night sensuality. You stumble to a taxi, get home, go to bed and wake stinking of alcohol and cigarettes, facing another long day of trying to get happy.
Or maybe you do get lucky, but the experience is so awkward and devoid of emotional connection or care that you feel ten times more empty the next day. You stagger home, doing the walk of shame in your get-up from last night, which glitters incongruously in the morning sun. You win some, you lose some. But even the sporadic “winnings” are short-lived, because they are always threatened by change, flavour depletion and inevitable endings—like a mouthful of chewing gum after a couple of hours. But like moths to a flame we fly back again and again, attracted to what glitters, thinking it the path to happiness, only to find our wings scorched, as we tumble back down to earth. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, superglue our wings back together and take another leap at that bright light . . .
WHO RIGGED THIS WARPED REALITY?
This reality is based on desire, our misapplied desire that we be controller and enjoyer of the world. In the Bhagavad Gita, Ultimate Cosmic Project Director, Lord Krishna, explains how he is a neutral facilitator of our desires. Always appealing to our good intelligence to rethink our dream of nailing happiness in this shadow world, he assists us, regardless of what we choose. We may choose to descend to darkened consciousness—increasing selfishness and exploitation, serving only ourselves. Or more rarely, we may choose to evolve to higher levels of consciousness possessing more luminous desires to serve the Complete Totality, Krishna, which automatically includes service to all beings.
This revolutionary vision brings us the ultimate education in personal responsibility and accountability. In other words, we can’t blame anyone else for the mess we get ourselves into. Desiring to overlord our own little fantasyland creates this world of appearances. Here, what looks like happiness isn’t, and what looks like a bad time—controlling your basic instincts, and practising techniques for spiritual enlightenment—can deliver the real thing.
WHERE DESIRE AND PLEASURE CONNECT
Control your basic instincts? Is that another contradiction? Isn’t happiness to be free from any control? But how free are we really in our current state? Can we stop going to the toilet? Or getting hungry? How about stopping those urges for sex and financial, emotional, and physical security? Besides managing the universe of our own drives, from outside we face the uncontrollable and often unfriendly realities of weather and natural disturbances, and we suffer from the actions of living beings—people, insects, and other animals. As if that isn’t enough, if we zoom out and survey the human lifespan, we see the numerous difficulties and distresses of birth, the different life stages, health crises, old age and finally “the big don’t argue”—death.
Did we say we felt free to do whatever we wanted? We can’t control the daily disturbances from the outside, nor do we have much control over the challenges our lifespan throws at us. But we can work on mastering our lower urges and transforming our desires back to their original state. In this original state, our senses are compatible with the complete project we are part of, aligned with the desires of the Complete Whole, Krishna, so that everything clicks into place. The good news is that we human beings are equipped to control our lower tendencies. Through the spiritual practice of bhakti- yoga the deafening noise of our bodily and mental urges is drowned out by authentic experiences of nonmaterial pleasure, allowing our higher spiritual identity to flourish. No longer controlled and pushed around by our lower drives and habits, our intense likes and dislikes, we are actually free. We are free to choose how to act at every moment, because we move with our original natural desire to work in harmony with Krishna. Like a hand cooperating with the whole body, we move in perfect synchronicity with that Total Reality, one in desire but always individual in our identity and expression. This opens the door to real freedom and spontaneity on the spiritual level, where our decontaminated desire actually produces the pleasure we have always wanted, every time.
The Bhagavad Gita is all about how to get real freedom, genuine pleasure, and true self-expression. We just have to learn the art of transforming desire with the applied spiritual technology of bhakti-yoga. In this way, we will be totally happy, because we can really do whatever we want, on the level of pure desire.