Vernon Howard on Happiness, Talk Transcript

Vernon Howard
Vernon Howard

"The Secrets of the Invisible Man - Discover the Meaning of Life" by Vernon Howard

A talk by Vernon Howard given on 11-22-79. (On video tape)

There has to be an answer to the delirious world that we live in. There has to be, and there is. The fact that you haven't found the answer has nothing to do with it. That is, with the existence of the answer itself. It is there whether you know it or not, whether you want it or not.

So that's very encouraging if you've come here tonight because you want answers that answer something, answers that change something inside of you. So that you go through your day - and go through your night, too, for that matter, while you're asleep - in a way that's unique. With a uniqueness that the world knows nothing of, wants nothing to do with. A uniqueness that is very beautiful because it is indeed without effort on your part.

And I'll tell you a long, long story in connection with that. And I want you to see, as I go to the story, to the illustration and to the application, that I'm describing perhaps your life and the life of the people that are around you.

There was a man, a scientist, who lived in the very world you lived in. He was famous, well-known. He knew the answers to the stars and the seas and the earth. A world-renowned scientist, famous, in the public eye, interviewed by newspaper reporters all the time. And on the surface, of course, if you looked at him, you would say, "Here is a man who has it made; here is a man who has everything that this world has to offer. He has his fame and he has his fortune, and he has people seeking him out."

But this man, being a scientist, was a little more investigative of his own life than other people are. And he understood that the fame and the acclaim that he had throughout the world - with the world coming to his door - he understood that that was really a very shallow thing.

And he understood it very close to home, because in his personal life, in his daily life, when the TV cameras weren't on him and the reporters weren't interviewing him, when he went home all by himself, he was intelligent enough to see the difference in his condition when he was all alone and the condition he presented to the world when he was out there, out among the crowds.

For a long, long time he wondered about the difference between his public self and his private self. And, being a scientist, he decided to investigate it, look into it, put his life under a microscope and try to find out just why there was this difference between his apparent happiness out at the banquets and joking with people and giving speeches - he wanted to find out why there was a difference between that and the way he actually felt when he was all alone or thinking to himself, even when he was with other people.

So he studied for a long, long time. He made his mind sort of a scientific laboratory. He studied himself as he went around out in the world, as he studied in his own laboratory and wrote scientific reports. And after a long time of investigation, a very startling thought came to him. And a startling thought that the sooner you come to it, the better it will be for you, too. And here's what it was. And think how startling this might be if you were to see this all at once to yourself here tonight.

It became obvious to him that he was not living his own life. He had studied it, and that was the only conclusion he could come to. When he was out there in the world receiving honors from other scientists, from the public, from politicians, receiving awards, he sensed that that was his public life, what was expected of him. But it wasn't his own life, because he was still a very unhappy man. When the distraction of the award went away, and he went home alone, driving home, even, he could see that he couldn't take back home with him what he had been given by the world.

He couldn't take it home with him. He was living a life that was dictated by the public, by other people, by their demands, which were often concealed under high-sounding phrases such as, "We would like to have you here because you're a famous man and we need your presence." And he understood that he was a slave to the public, to the world. That part became very clear to him then.

Now, you remember that first point: He wasn't living his own life. Do you think that you're living your own life? You would almost vow that you were. Because you would say, "What do you mean not living my own life? I do what I want to do."

Now, what do you mean by that? That you do what you want to do. Could it be that you're constantly doing things that you don't want to do? And you know the answer to that is yes. You're constantly being compelled to be in the company of people. Perhaps you don't want their company. Perhaps you're doing things that you're doing simply because you have a habit system that says you should do them.

You pause long enough right now to decide whether you're living your free life, what you want to do, or is it being imposed on you by something - you don't quite know what it is - but someone seems to be always telling you what to do, right? You know that.

Something from the outside and something from the inside, too, is always telling you what to do with your life. How to talk. Look at your conversation and see if that's the way you really would like to talk. Maybe you would rather just be quiet and not talk at all. But you get in these social situations, and it's quiet in the room, and you think that the silence shouldn't be there, and so you talk - force yourself to talk. You don't even know that you wish that you didn't have to.

Anyway, this scientist understood that he was not living his own life, and he was getting pretty tired of it. He had seen enough that he was beginning to rebel inwardly. He didn't know what to do about it, but he knew the fact of his condition. And what a nice thing that is. That he could simply see that he couldn't kid himself anymore. That all that was going on out in the world of honors and popularity and newspaper reporters coming around - that didn't contribute a thing to his real happiness.

So he studied that again for a long time. And he said to himself, "Maybe, just maybe now, if I'm on the right track," he said to himself, "I am doing something that is causing me to not live my own life, to not do what I want to do inwardly."

He understood that he was going to be a scientist all his life. That was okay. He understood that's the way he made his living, that's what he was interested in. That was fine. He understood that part. That was all right. But maybe there was something that he was doing wrong in connection with his profession, with his being a scientist, something that made him not a happy human being. He had everything outwardly that he could want, but why was he still subject to moods of depression and bitterness and fear?

So he said, "I'm going to continue to be an inward scientist and see if I can go on to the next step. The first step was a very clear statement by myself to myself that I'm not living my own life; that other people and things inside of me are dictating it to me; and that I just don't like it; and I don't want to put up with it anymore if it is possible to break it. Now, I'm a scientist. I'm not going to go into conclusions. I'm going to see if it's possible or not."

So he studied himself. When he would go out to a reception of some kind, or he would go out working with other scientists, he studied himself, and he studied what happened to him. And putting it under the microscope, he came up to one great conclusion.

He was at his desk in his laboratory one night, and he felt that he was making progress toward the second discovery in his self-investigation, and it all seemed just about to be able to be defined in a single word. So he sat at his desk, thought about his past life, the horror of it, how he had sold himself very often to applause when he would rather have stayed home. And he came down to one single word which he wrote on a piece of paper to double the impression in his mind. "Where I am going wrong" - and this was a shock to him - "Where I am going wrong is in my own aggression."

He looked at that word on the piece of paper and it looked very strange to him. But there it was. His own hand had written the word aggression. But he started arguing with himself. He said, "That doesn't fit. I'm not an aggressive person. As a matter of fact, I'm a little bit shy. I'm pretty quiet. I'm not aggressive. I don't go out and hurt people. I'm not vocal a whole lot. I'm very quiet. So how does the word aggression seem to be a solution to the fact that I'm not living my own life? I had better investigate this much deeper." As we all should. "Aggression. Perhaps I had better take a new look at that word and see why I wrote it down."

He looked at it, and he looked at himself, and he took that word with him wherever he went. And again he was shocked. And the second shock - the first one being that he was living a borrowed life, an imposed-upon life - but the second one that he was indeed a very aggressive human being.

Aggressive? He was aggressive, he understood, because he was very insecure. Insecure? Of course he was. He knew it. The medals did nothing for him that they gave him at the scientific conference, and all the references in magazines to him did nothing for him.

"I am aggressive because I'm insecure. Now, what does that mean? It means that my mind," he said to himself, "is working overtime and triple-time to keep itself occupied with thoughts about myself." Even though he sensed the emptiness of the fame, he still craved it. He was in a contradiction there. At the same time he began to feel that it did nothing for him, he saw that he wanted it. He saw that he was aggressive in small things.

Can you break into the story right now with me and see where you're aggressive in ways that you don't know? When will you leave other people alone?

Now, you just stop and think about that. When will you leave other people alone to live their life the way they want to? You had better examine very scientifically your interference with other people's lives because you want something for yourself out of it. Even doing things for people is aggression masquerading as generosity. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the other person wants his mind and his life to himself? No.

You won't see it as long as you're scared. You don't want to see it as long as you are unconsciously aggressive and want to use the whole world for your own benefit. Use that other person, use that organization, use anything to try to push back your feeling of fear, of insecurity.

He saw this. And he saw that it wasn't apparent to other people. He accepted the awards very gracefully and very modestly. At the same time, he knew he was greedy for more of them. Because if they should ever stop, who would he be? They were keeping him alive. That was his aggressiveness.

Don't you miss the main point of what I said a couple of minutes ago. Do you know how to be a genuinely nice person? Shall I tell you how? Please, please leave people alone. They're not longing for your company, as you think they are. You want their company for your benefit. Do you have the honesty and the courage and the decency to see that?

And if you're offended by what I'm saying, you had better then think ten times about what I just said, because your happiness is at stake. You're not happy as long as you're aggressively going out trying to distract yourself and trying to get things from other people, hoping that in some way they will echo back a statement that you're okay, that you're wanted, that you're desirable, that you're pleasant, that you're nice, that your company is good. When you can leave other people alone to live their lives, then you will live your own life and not before.

Now, I've told you - and that scientist is still on the investigative track, and we'll get back to him in a minute - but you had better see how your insecurity and your attempts to solve your insecurity in the wrong way are keeping you in that state.

So the word aggression - mental aggression, emotional aggression, the aggression of desires, the aggression of vanity, of subtle vanities - that was the second shock. To see himself as he actually was.

He said, "How interesting. Here are two things I have found out about myself over my period of scientific investigation. I wonder if there's something else." Well, that's what a good scientist always says, right? "I wonder what's next. What's beyond the next door? I'm not living my own life, and the cause of that is my unconscious aggression so that I lose myself in activities and lose myself in people, lose myself in thoughts and in cravings. I wonder what's next."

He studied that to see what was next, if indeed there was something else. And he didn't even make an assumption that there was, but he investigated more. He searched more for the solution, because, "If I cure my aggression, I can begin to live my own life because I won't be causing my wrong life to be lived."

And he thought about that for an extra long time, and it was a hard one to come by. What was the answer to the fact that he wasn't living his own life because of unconscious aggression? And he struggled with it, and the answer alluded him. And he thought he had it, and then he found out he didn't have it. Until something came to his mind. A story that he had read as a younger man. And he saw the solution. And it was quite amusing in a way - both amusing and yet very serious - because he was very intensely serious about not being a slave anymore to himself and to the world.

And the story that he read prompted him to go back to his laboratory again, to the office, and sit down again and take a piece of paper and write on it two words. And he wrote the two words down, and he looked at it, and he thought about it a little bit, and he looked at it again, and he knew he had the answer to recovering his own life. And those two words were "Invisible Man."

"That's it. I have to become an invisible man." Not physically, of course. That wasn't his field. Mentally, psychologically invisible. That's it. Now he understood aggression better. Wherever he went - are you connecting this with your life? Wherever he went, without realizing that he was doing it, he made himself as visible as possible.

He began to see all the little tricks he played - in public, out among people, out among women, trying to impress people. He saw that as long as he could consider himself visible, that is, the center of attention - thinking about what other people are thinking about him, for example. Keeping himself visible to himself as well as to other people.

He began to think for a long time about that, and he saw that the one great solution was to make a daily effort to be invisible, which is the same thing as being non aggressive. Ah, now it was getting closer. Now he was understanding.

So he got up in the morning, and he went to the scientific laboratory, and he went to lunch with his colleagues, and he went to dinners with scientists, and he continued his life exactly as it was before, with one exception. Wherever he went, he made a deliberate, conscious effort to keep himself invisible. That is, to not attract attention of other people or of himself.

Oh, what a long, hard experiment and practice he had set before him now. Because that meant when he was seated at the dining table with his colleagues at lunch - there are five or six of them around at the table - he understood how he used to behave on occasions like that: he would talk a good deal, and he was pretty emphatic in his opinions, and he wanted people to notice him talking, of course, and he wanted them to be impressed with what he was saying. And he understood that this was aggression which caused him to not live his own life.

And he saw at the very start of his investigation, when he was seated around that dining room table with the other people around it - men and women around it - he understood that if he made a deliberate effort to go against the way he usually behaved, that that was what is known as making himself psychologically invisible.

But you see, do you not, nobody notices an invisible man. Nobody gives attention to an invisible man. Nobody can give him medals, nobody can tell him how marvelous he is. Then he came into this state which you've heard described before, this condition where you understand what you have to do but you're afraid to do it, and everything in you screams out, "Go back to the way you were, where it was comfortable, where it was easy, where you could just be as aggressive as you wanted."

He couldn't do it, because he remembered the first self-statement he had found, which was that he was not living his own life, and he wanted his own life more than he wanted anything, everything else on earth. What a beautiful statement that was.

So he practiced. And here is, for example, another thing he started to do to make himself invisible - to get his life back. Say he was with just one other person - you understand, this is the lecture; I'm talking to you - he was with just one other person, for example. And in the past, he, of course, would like to talk all about himself and his achievements, while appearing to be modest about it, of course. But in his search and his success towards self-recovery, he began to understand something that very few people ever really understand deeply and thoroughly, which is that when there are two people seated at a table, that there are two people seated at the table.

Egotists, self-centered people, people who are just looking for something to pounce on, something to get themselves excited about, the only thing that exists to them is the physical body of the other person across the table. That's all. Their psychology doesn't exist at all, the way they think doesn't exist. And they don't care.

The scientist was beginning to mature a little bit. Here is this great man - a great man who knew he was immature. Could you see it? What do you think the rest of the world's great people are like? Pretty much like the scientist, right?

Say, for example, he watched a lady friend across the table. And he saw how he used to behave toward her - how he interrupted, how he boasted, how he was thoughtless of her. Having seen that that was his aggression, his wrong aggression, which kept him away from his real life, he began to notice strange little improvements in himself. And first of all, he would visibly, of course, with his eyes, look at the other person across the table, and he would see that that other person for the moment wanted her mind to herself, so he never spoke.

Don't you see how profound that is? If you can catch another person in their own mind wanting to do a certain thing, say a certain thing, and you're so aware of it that you're going to sit back and let them have their own mind for the moment. You see another person about to speak to you, and instead of you speaking first - because you're awake, you see them about to speak, and you don't speak. You see what I'm talking about? Do you see what's happening? You're letting that person live his life. You don't interrupt.

I'll give you another example. Listen to this. You know how we all want to be humorous and witty and funny and make clever remarks? Cleverisms? Do you know that? How we all want to impress someone.

I want you to notice the next time you do that, that your cleverism may cause discomfort to the other person. Because that other person knows that you are nosy. You're expected to laugh at the joke, at the funny remark. You're expected. And they do laugh at your remark, maybe, but it's mechanical.

Can't you see that they did it not wanting to do it? And you led them into a wrong, unnecessary, wasteful response because you are aggressive and wanted to be visible. Do you follow this? Do you understand that?

So this is the way his work progressed. He watched all the world. He watched people closely, very personally, and found out where he was imposing himself on them. And let me tell you, those of you in this room, if you knew how far you have to go to even start having common courtesy to other people - you are not courteous if you are lost!

Now, you go ahead and get mad if you want. If you're a five-year-old kid, that the only response you know to being told the truth is to get mad, then you get mad. And you'll burn yourself. And you will have to start sooner or later where that scientist did to find out that you are not living your life but the life of a very dark force that's taken you over, and all you know what to do in the face of something that is truthful is to reject it with hostility.

Do you think that a person who is always angry is living his own life or has something captured him? Do you think that a person who is greedy, who is jealous - do you think that a person who is in perpetual fear is leading his own life or is he a slave of everything that comes along? You know the answer to that. Let's review briefly.

Whoever you may be - and I'm talking to those of you watching this film - I know you. I know all about you. I know the expressions on your faces even though I'm not where you are. I know what's going through you internally. I'm just stating a fact. And I know that in that condition, you are not leading your own life. And you should be very grateful for what you're hearing tonight, because this could be the start of you ceasing to be a slave to yourself.

Point two: Do you understand what I said about aggression? Do you begin to understand that it's an unconscious force that goes out in which we want to attract attention to ourselves because we're so scared, so insecure, and we always want to prove that we're right? At the top of our voices, we yell that we're right. If you're right, you don't have to shout at the top of your voice. Truth is very, very quiet because it's very, very confident.

Can you see at the last that there's a lot of work for you to do in understanding what it means to be invisible, to not care whether you make an impression on anyone or not, to not care whether you conquer the world or not?

What do you care about this social world? You've got a better world. And only those people, those very few rare individuals who live in this other world can bring the cure to this sick social world that we're all living in. A person on the level of the sickness of this world can only contribute sickness to it. Nothing else. The divided person can only offer division to the world. Only a sane and a decent person can tell the world about sanity and about mental health and show them what it is.

So you're going to have to judge what your actual condition is. What is your answer to my question to all of you here tonight and watching this film - what is your answer to my question - real honest now, sir, madam, real honest now. You can't get out of it. You're not going to fool me. And you're not going to fool truth, either. Are you living your own life or are you a captured slave who suffers? Which is it? Now, if you have the honesty to admit that you're not living your own life, you can be as wise as the scientist was. You can begin to study your condition. You can begin to see that there is indeed a way out of this delirious world.

So, you will agree, will you not, that the truth you've heard here tonight is the kindest, most compassionate force on earth? And that nothing but the truth is compassionate? It's not trying to hurt you at all, as you may have thought during this talk. It's not trying to hurt you but trying to heal you, giving you an opportunity to not suffer from living with yourself.

And I'll tell you once more, don't you try to kid me. You won't succeed. You'll just hurt yourself. That's not said fiercely. Truth's invitation is very gentle, very quiet and very compassionate. And if you want to know what that compassion is, what that beauty is, then you take the attitude that the scientist did and say, "No matter what the world has given me or what I want to get from it, I'm going to look much deeper than that. Because I look around at other people, and I look at myself" - you are saying this to yourself, you understand - "and I see the folly of trying to win in this world - win socially - as everyone else is trying to do." Who said you had to follow everyone else in the world?

Truth tells you something entirely different. It says, "Follow me and all will be different. You won't be a slave anymore. And you will live very quietly and very naturally your own free life."

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Barbara 6 years ago

I thank Vernon and you, Mark, for letting me have access to this wonderful text and its life saving ideas.

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