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The Most Important Question You Can Ask

Updated on December 22, 2013

The writer at seventy-seven

No pain, no gain - is it true?

What is the most important question you can ask? I typed this into Google and came up with a long, and brilliantly written, essay along the lines that whatever you want to have, you have also got to want the pain that comes along with it. Well, the word used was want, that is, being desirous of the pain. That is the way I interpreted the writer. What I think he meant was the willingness to put up this particular type of pain in order to get a specific outcome which would result in ‘happiness.’ This, along with all the things which that person feels will give them that happiness. The writer talked of that prestigious, well-paid job, of gratifying relationships with others, including enjoyable sex, fine health, good appetite and lots and lots of material things.

To want pain is masochism. But deliberate avoidance has its drawbacks

On the other hand, I’m of the belief that nobody wants pain. To want and enjoy pain is an illness. It’s called Masochism. We think of self-flagellation. A person isn’t quite – to use the Australian vernacular – the ‘full quid,’ to want pain. However, as the writer of the essay I’m referring to said, “You can’t really have pleasure without its opposite,” or words to that effect. I’m not quite sure I agree with that, but more on that later.

Our home in a limitless universe set in illimitable universes

"What's it all about, Alfie?"

The author mentioned that we’re all willing – if the motivation for what we want is great enough – to endure the pain that will inevitably accompany us on our journey to get what we really think will give us that lasting satisfaction. He then went on to say that, once obtained, that satisfaction often falls short and we say, “What was it all for?” or “What is it all about, anyway.”

We'd better look after it. It's all we've got at the moment

There is a part of that we think is us that can never be satisfied

Quite frankly, I think this is an excellent examination of how so many of us think about happiness. It is an end goal in itself. It is a goal which will come to us when we achieve something that satisfies us, or, more specifically, satisfies our ego – our mind. Problem is there is a part of our mind cannot which can be satisfied for long. This part of our personal mind is fickle. It becomes bored easily. It lives on stimulation. Moreover, it approves of things like superiority, specialness, fame, glamour and being outstanding as compared with others. This puts our ego-mind in a combative and competitive stance which can never be permanently satisfied. You see, this ego-mind of ours knows that there are always greater or lesser in ability than it is. But the comparisons and the agitation which go along with it are stimulations it thrives on. It does not care if we suffer because of it. It sees itself as boss and has no empathetic feelings at all.

The ego is a bundle of reactive emotions that lives in fear

This greater or lesser extends not only to what the ego-mind thinks but what our mutual servant, the physical body is and can do as well. The ego-mind and body so often form up as one and the former judges and compares and evaluates all manner of comparisons between its body-mind combination and that of others. It knows no peace. It is always seeking. And it is always seeking for its evidence of superiority or inferiority outside of itself. It compares itself with other human beings incessantly. It is a bundle of reactive emotions. However, it’s basic emotion is fear.

Lose yourself in the moment and ego temporily disappears

With all of this going on, if you -the real you - are ‘on the ball’ and aware enough, the real self knows that you’re not enjoying yourself. That the seeking is not giving you what you want – except when you are so immersed as to not identify with what you’re doing. You’re so ‘in the moment,’ so ‘in the now,’ that the ego-self your regard as yourself is temporarily out of the way. But it quickly returns when this being in the moment with what you were doing is laid aside.

The smaller planets of our Solar System and their relative sizes

Ego is an important part of us, but it should be our servant, not the man in charge

For example, I am in the moment as I write this essay. It is coming to me largely from subconscious processes. I learned to touch type sixty-years ago. I learned to read and write even earlier. I’ve had lots of practice, so I can come up with a general concept and an essay like this will eventuate. The question is who or what is setting in action the impetus to type this essay? It is, of course, the I am. That is, it is the real self. There is some ego in these thoughts as I evaluate what is being written. That is ego-mind stuff. So the ego-mind is essential in certain aspects of our lives, e.g. evaluating. However, I’m beginning to think that it should be used to evaluate what we, ourselves, are up to, and be used far less in judging the behavior of others.

The moon draws trillions of tons of water towards it as it circles Earth

We have a mind but we are not our mind...

It won’t do this, of course. Well, not with those of us who have not made a study of ego-mind’s behavior and determined to do something about it. However, once we have done this, once we have realized that we have a mind rather than we are a mind, things begin to change. Insights as to what we are - and what we are not - begin to arise. It becomes clear also that we have a physical body but that we are not that body. It is forever changing, but we are constant. Further, it becomes clear that our thoughts are accompanied by emotions. But these emotions are not us. They are of us, but not us. So conclusions are gradually reached by way of insight that we have body, mind and emotions but are not these things.

The elements of our mind are our tools. They are of us but NOT us

The closest we can get to as to what we actually are without realizing it at the experiential level is, I think, that proposed by Roberto Assigioli, MD. He liked us to being a centre of awareness with a will. The will in combination with our awareness (without mind content) is what we are. He listed the Elements of the Mind: Sensation, Impulse-Desire, Feeling-Emotion, Visualization, Thinking and Intuition. These are at the periphery of what we are. These are our tools. They are not us. Somehow, though, we have come out of habit – a habit established and conditioned from infanthood – to identify with these elements. That identification has become so strong that we often think we are these.

A typical Solar system. Note the planets circling it

Immersed in the Realm of Relativity, we ask questions about it

We are then thrown back on the use of our minds to ask that most profound question. It is the most important question we can ask: What am I? Who am I? Then comes the corollary to these questions. Why am I here? Do I have a purpose? Did I always exist or do I have a beginning and an end? If I didn’t have a beginning and an end, where was I before I was born? Where will I go after my body dies? Will I still know myself as an “I’ or an individual person?

How can we find the truth for ourselves>

We want to know the truths to these questions but we don’t know how to go about finding the answers. It is often around this time that we begin a serious search. The first step is that of self-actualization. We study. But the theory and the teachings of others only tantalize us. We read of others, masters who ‘know the truth.’ We learn that ‘the truth will set us free.’ But how can we find this truth ourselves?

If we are really serious about finding happiness we need to Go Within. If we don't go within we go without

Once again we ask ourselves the most important question we can ask. Who am I? The answer is not forthcoming. We listen for that intuitive answer and are so often simply met by silence. But, if we’re persistent we are led to a serendipitous event: we learn about serious meditation. We learn that most important thing. The key to happiness cannot be found without. We have to go within. “The Kingdom of Heaven lies within.” At least we accept that now. But how to go within; how to get there? We learn of a serious type of meditation which will get us on the right road. If we’re serious about our happiness, we ‘go for it.’

That our eyes, with our intrument, the telescope, can see such beauty

Certainly we can gain through pain. But it is not always essential

But to get back to this business that we must have suffering in order to have its opposite - happiness. In the essay I previously referred to, the writer said that we are willing to undertake certain types of suffering. That is, the motivation for the end we want has to be such that we’re willing to undertake the suffering inherent with its pursuit. We want to be a musician, so we have to put up with the boring, repetitive and arduous exercises. Perhaps travel to a music teacher; the scorn of others who are more advanced and many more things. I have no argument with this. But I would say that there are areas where just about every facet of one’s job, vocation or pursuit can be joyous, though to greater or lesser degree. For example, between 2001 and 2008 I ran a class for adults – retirees, actually. I am also a retiree. That class was called Inner Quest, Our Search for Happiness, Body, Mind and Spirit.

More beautiful night sky so very, very far away

I have enjoyed every aspect of a certain type of work

I enjoyed every aspect of the work of that class: selecting and buying the books; the research/reading for the upcoming class. Also, the preparation of the lesson on my PC. The presentations themselves. I enjoyed the class’s questions. Even the setting up of the room for the class was satisfying. Travelling the short distance by car or by a regular and frequent bus service, didn’t detract to any great degree. So where was the suffering? Surely not in the learning of the presentation skills in the distance past?

We can learn joyfully. We probably did when we learned to walk

Maybe this was what the author was referring to. The point I make is that, those early learning skills aside (and we have a right to put them aside; we learned to walk as children and we don’t put this down to suffering, surely?) So, my point is that we do not have to suffer in order to enjoy what we do. It is probably a matter of going with something we love to do and will gladly do.

Gas that looks so solid. Maybe it is solid to other creatures

"As above, so below: as within, so without."

However, if we’re after lasting happiness, we need to understand ourselves far more deeply than most of us do. My recommendation does not differ from those who are far more advanced than I am in this business of lasting happiness: Go within. Learn the importance of such observations as ‘As above so below. As within, so without.’ Learn to experience and love silence. Our real self is above our mind and body. How we are within reflects to us how we perceive and appreciate the world without.

The magnificent colour extant in our visual universe

Knowing things at the experiential level is the step beyond faith and belief

What I say here could well appeal to our intellects. It will appeal to our hearts. But this desire will not change our lives – until we know these things at the experiential level. There is a world of difference between book knowledge and knowing. One is of our personal mind, the other is of the Whole Being. It is motivational to read books on Humanistic Psychology and Meta-physics and Spirituality. It is motivational to undertake New Age-type courses. But you need to establish in yourself the habit of a serious, daily meditation. You need to practice being aware as much and as often as you can, to get any real and lasting benefits as you move forward on your own, personal path to Self-Realization.

Perhaps you are ready for this; perhaps not. One thing is certain, though, there is an earnest search for Spiritual Answers sweeping the world as never before. If you’re are reading this and appreciating what is being written here, then maybe you are in the vanguard.


Submit a Comment

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Thank you Annart. Yes, a lot of the old sayings are starting to fall away. Here in Aussie we used to have a 'tray,' (three pence) a 'zack' (six pence) a'bob' (shilling as in UK. A dollar (five bob) much the same as the UK. All gone now with this dollars and cents stuff.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    4 years ago from SW England

    This is a valuable expression, evaluation and explanation of how to get the most out of ourselves and the world around us. I know little about meditation and don't practise it, however, I do sometimes make myself stand back (especially if I feel annoyed or agitated) and 'click' into a different mode, try to look at my situation from the top corner of the room! It works, strangely, as it makes me self-evaluate and sometimes turn my approach around to something more positive. It often makes me feel happy.

    Great hub, full of wisdom. I agree with your opinion that pain doesn't have to be a part of the process, that we go with it all if we want a result.

    By the way, your saying about not being ‘the full quid’ is 'tuppence short of a bob' here though probably still only understood by the older ones among us, as it refers to two pennies and a shilling ('bob').

    I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Ann

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Thank you for your kind words, Harishprasad. It is always nice to get feedback. Knowing oneself is, as you probably know, well pursued in India. I have my copy of the Bhagavad Gita.

  • Harishprasad profile image

    Harish Mamgain 

    4 years ago from New Delhi , India

    Tusitala, such a masterpiece is this stuff that in a nutshell, eveything has been poured into by you in one place to enable a guy to proceed with a great journey of knowing the Self that is shrouded by a veil. I am also very curious about the Self and often contemplate upon it in silence. I have experienced that silence gives us wonderful insight into the hidden aspects of our whole existence. This hub is so fascinating and knowledgable that it will be very fruitful for us to come back to it often and read and reread it. Really enjoyed reading such a stimulating and wonderful hub ! Thank you very much.


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