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“Happiness, then, is the confidence that pain and
disappointment can be tolerated, that love will prove
stronger than aggression.
It is release from the
attachment to pleasant feelings, and faith in the
capacity of awareness to guide us through the
inevitable insults to our own narcissism and selfishness.
It is the realisation that we do not have to be so self-obsessed, that within our own minds lies the capacity for a kind of acceptance we had only dreamed of.
This happiness rarely comes without effort to train mind.”

One reason we have so much trouble attaining
happiness is that we don’t even know what it is.

We keep trying to annihilate anxiety and other disturbances.

But happiness has more to do with
broadening your perspective.

“I’m sick of this,” a friend of mine remarked the
other morning. “I can’t stand myself anymore. When
am I going to be happy?”

It’s not an uncommon
question in life, yet aspirations for happiness
can sound naive or even trivial.

How could she be
asking for happiness, I thought to myself.

Didn’t Freud say the that best one could expect of questioning ourselves about happiness
was a return to “common unhappiness?”

Yet my friends yearning was heartfelt.

How could I possibly address it without being misleading?

I approached her dilemma not just as a friend, but as a long time enthusiast of Buddhist meditation.

For Buddhist meditation holds the promise of more than just common unhappiness in life; it sees the pursuit of
happiness as our life goal and teaches techniques of mental development to achieve it.

To the Dalai Lama,”the purpose of life is to be happy.”
“On its own,” he goes on to say, “no amount of
technological development can lead to lasting
happiness.

What is almost always missing is a
corresponding inner development.”

By inner development the Dalai Lama means something other than mastering the latest version of Microsoft OS.

He is talking about cleaning up our mental environment so that real happiness can be both
uncovered and sustained.

Humans have a peculiar relationship to happiness.

On the one hand, we consider happiness a right, and
we are eager for it, as the advertising world knows and tempts us to buy more things to be happy.

We do everything in our power to try to possess it,
most particularly in materialistic form.

We think our lovers,friends,and the company we keep is going to make us happy.

We treat happiness as an external input that should be fed into our lives for us to be happy.

On the other hand, we tend to denigrate the pursuit
of happiness as something shallow or superficial,
akin to taking up woodcarving or scuba diving.

But,as the Dalai Lama always emphasises, happiness is
not a hobby, nor is it a trivial pursuit.
It is a fundamental drive as basic as those of sex or aggression, but not often as legitimized in our
cynical, post modern culture.

In fact,humans are
waking up to the Dalai Lama’s point: Materialistic
comforts by themselves have not led to lasting happiness.

Having reached that conclusion, however,we do not often see another way, and retreat into our
comforts, barricading ourselves from what appears to be a hostile and threatening world.

Acquiring and protecting our material possesions-including lovers and friends, we continue to crave a happiness that
seems both deserved and out of reach.

My experience in practice of
Buddhist meditation has given me a unique perspective.

I have come to see that our problem is that we don’t know
what happiness is.

We confuse it with a life
free of feelings of anxiety rage, doubt, and sadness.

But happiness is something entirely
different.

It’s the ability to receive the pleasant
without wanting to possess it, and the unpleasant without condemning.

Buddhist meditation teaches us that the very
ways we seek happiness actually block us from finding it.

Our first mistake is in trying to wipe out all sources of displeasure and search for a perennial state of well-being that, for most of us in our deepest fantasies,happiness resembles a prolonged
erotic dream.

One of my friends said it best with his adolescent fantasies of romantic love.

He described his perfect woman as someone who would faithfully
leave him with an erection every time she exited the house.

This approach to happiness is instinctual, deriving from our earliest experiences, when intense emotional states of pleasure and gratification
inevitably are interrupted by absence and frustration, evoking equally intense states of rage or anxiety.

Anyone’s first response would be to try to preserve the pleasurable states and eliminate the unpleasant ones.

Even as adults we rarely come to
terms with the fact that good and bad are two sides of the same coin, that those who make our pleasures
possible are also the source of our worst misery,as in lovers who are madly in love,but become miserable when the relationship finally falls apart.

In modern
society, with its lack of extended family structure and rabid pursuit of individualism, people often find
themselves with nowhere to turn for support in dealing with these feelings.

In more traditional
African societies, there is a much greater social and familial support system that helps people contain
their anguish.

However much we, as adults, think we have come to terms with the fact that no one can be all good or all
bad, we are still intolerant of frustrations to our own pleasure.

We continue to grasp at the very objects that have previously disappointed us.

A wealthy friend of mine exemplifies this predicament.

After a yummy meal, he craves a bottle of beer. After the beer,
a cigarette; after the cigarette he will want to make
love; after making love, another cigarette.

Soon, he begins to crave sleep, preferably without any
disturbing dreams.

His search for happiness through
pleasures of the senses seemed to never have an end, and he is not happy.

We think only of manipulating the external world; we never stop to
examine ourselves.

Our search for perpetual gratification often plays out in intimate relationships.

Take my friend who was very much in love with his new wife, but plagued by rage and bitterness over her sexual unavailability when she became expectant.

He could not help taking it personally.

His happiness in her pregnancy was
overwhelmed by his inability to tolerate his own sexual frustration, and he could not get past the
feeling that if she really loved him she would be as interested in sex with him as he was with her.

He was restricted by his tunnel vision; his own pleasure or
displeasure was his only reference point.

We identify with the feelings of violation, rejection, or injury and we long for a happiness in which no such
feelings could arise.

Yet as Freud pointed out, even
intense erotic pleasures are tinged with unhappiness since they all must come to an end, in the form of a
relaxation of tension.

Post-orgasmic depression is a
well-known phenomenon.

We long for this not to be so, but it is physiologically impossible.

The Buddha’s point about happiness is very similar.

As long as we continue trying to eliminate all displeasure and preserve only pleasure for a
prolonged sense of well-being, no lasting happiness is possible.

Rage, envy, and the desire for revenge will always interfere.

Real life and its complications
inevitably trickle in.

There is a well-known story in
the Buddhist tradition, that of Kisagotami, that illustrates how important it is to give up that approach to happiness.

Kisagotami was a young woman whose first child died suddenly somewhere around his first birthday.

Desperate in her love for the child, Kisagotami went from house to house in her village, clasping the dead child to her breast and asking for medicine to revive her son.

Most of her neighbours shrank from the sight of her and called her mad, but one man, seeing her inability to accept the reality of her son’s death,
directed her to the Buddha by promising her that only he had the medicine she sought.

Kisagotami went to the Buddha and pleaded with him for medicine.

“I know of some,” he promised. “But I will need a handful of mustard seed from a house where no child, husband, parent, or servant has ever died.”

Slowly, Kisagotami came to see that hers was not a unique predicament.

She put the body of her child
down in the forest and returned to the Buddha. “I have not brought the mustard seed,” she told him.

“The people of the village told me, ‘The living are few,but the dead are many.”‘

The Buddha replied, “You
thought that you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no
permanence.”

Kisagotami’s story resonates, not just because of our sympathy for the horror of losing a child or because
of our fear of a world in which such tragedy is possible, but because we all, like her, feel that our
situation is unique and that our emotional pain requires relief.

In the privacy of our own minds, we
are aggrieved and single-mindedly self-centered.

We still seek absolute gratification that is intolerant of frustration.

But the most difficult part of Kisagotami’s story for me comes when she lays her child down in the forest.

Even though he has been dead for a long time, I still feel slightly aghast at the idea of her leaving him there.

Yet this is precisely what the Buddha is asking us to do.

He did not teach a method of recovering primal emotions or embracing some sort of injured
child that lies buried within.

The Buddha helped Kisagotami find happiness not by bringing her dead
child back to life, but by changing her view of herself.

The inner development he alludes to is a development beyond the private childish perspective of me first that we all secretly harbour.

The root cause of our unhappiness is our inability to observe ourselves properly.

We are caught in our own perspective, unable to appreciate the many perspectives of those around us.

And we are unaware of how insistently this way of perceiving drives us.

Only through the uprooting of our own self-centeredness can we find the key to happiness.

Buddhist meditation practice is one way to catch hold of this me-first perspective and begin to
examine it.

But it can happen in incidental ways.

A friend of mine, for example, remembers standing in
line for food at a silent meditation retreat when someone suddenly spilled the large serving bowl of
soup.

“It wasn’t me,” he remembers himself thinking spontaneously.

“It’s not my fault.”

Immersed in the quiet of the meditation retreat, he was all too aware that his reaction was patently
absurd.

Yet this is the kind of response we all have much of the time without being aware of it.

Buddhist meditation is a way of coaxing the mind to deal with
frustration in a new way, experiencing it as an interested observer instead of an aggrieved victim.

Rather than responding to the inevitable frustrations of life with “Why me?” the successful practitioner of meditation can begin to see how conditioned our
everyday sense of self has been by the insulted response to disappointment.

The first step to inner development is to find and hold the sense of single, one-point perspective.

This is the feeling that we all have that we are really the most important person in the room at any given
moment, that no matter what happens the crucial thing is how it will impact me.

You know the feeling;it’s the same one you have when you are cut off
suddenly in traffic or are standing on line at the ATM machine while the person in front of you makes one
transaction after another.

The visceral response is always, “Why are you doing that to me?”

Similarly,when a friend comes to me because they have been spurned by a would-be lover, there is always
the feeling of “what is wrong with me?”

In Buddhist meditation we seek out that feeling; we bring it into
self-awareness rather than let it run our lives.

When a person is able to do that successfully, there is often a
sense of freedom.

A friend of mine, for example, recounted to me how,when he picked his girlfriend up at the airport
recently, he reached out to carry her bag for her after retrieving it from the baggage claim.

She took the bag from him and carried it herself.

Rather than take her action as a sign of self-sufficiency, he felt
immediately rejected, as if she were not glad to see him.

Once he learned to make that knee-jerk reaction of his the object of his meditative self-observation,
he was freed from his obsessive scrutiny of his girlfriend’s mood.

He then became more self-reliant,
she felt more supported, and both were happier with each other.

As the tendency to view the world self-referentially loses its hold, we begin to appreciate the Einsteinian
world in which all realities are relative and all points of view subjective.

Then a happiness that has more
to do with acceptance than gratification becomes available to us.

One particular meditation technique prepares the mind for the a new, broadened perspective, that of
naked–or bare–attention.

The technique requires you to attend only to the bare facts, an exact registering,allowing things to speak for themselves as if seen for
the very first time and distinguishing emotional reactions from the core event.

So instead of
experiencing a partner’s suggestion as criticism or their withdrawal as abandonment, as so often happens within relationships, one would be able to simply bear the experience in and of itself, recognising any
prevailing feelings of rejection as separate and of one’s own making.

As bare attention is practised, many of the self concepts or feelings of self we harbour are revealed to be reactions that, on closer inspection, lose their solidity.

My friend who overreacted at the airport was astonished at what he discovered upon closely examining his core sense of self.

“This is it?” he asked. “This little feeling is determining so many of
my actions? Am I really so narcissistic as that?”

The answer, for most of us, is a resounding yes.

Our sense of self, we soon find, is a house of cards.

A common misbelief people hold about meditation is that, in attacking reactive emotional tendencies, it
encourages a stoic acceptance of unhappiness.

Yet stoicism per se is not the goal.

The point is not to become
insensitive but open, able to savour the good with the bad.

We cannot have pleasure without displeasure, and trying to split them off from each other only drives us
more deeply in our own dissatisfaction.

A recent incident involving an old friend of mine may illustrate
the point.

After breaking up his 10-year marriage, he sought counselling at a local mental health clinic.

His only wish, he told his new therapist in their first meeting, was to feel good again.

He implored her to rid him of his unwanted emotions.

His therapist, however, had just left a three-year stint in a Zen community.

When my friend approached her
with his pain, she urged him to stay with his feelings,no matter how unpleasant.

When he complained of anxiety or loneliness she encouraged him only to feel them more intensely.

While my friend didn’t feel any
better, he was intrigued and began to practice meditation.

He described to me one pivotal moment.

Terribly uncomfortable with the burnings, pressures, and
pains of meditation, he remembers watching an itch develop, crest, and disappear without scratching it.

In so doing, he says, he realised what his therapist had meant when she counselled him to stay with his
emotional state, and from that moment on his depression began to lift.

His feelings began to change only when he dropped the desire to change them.

This is a major revelation
that is often brought on through the physical pain of meditation, which requires stillness within a
demanding posture.

My friend’s discovery is similar
to the sensation cancer patients feel after taking morphine for chronic pain.

They say the pain is still there, but it no longer hurts.

So the sensation remains, but without the oppressive quality.

Likewise, my friend learned to recognise his emotional pain, but was not oppressed by it.

Like many others, my friend was looking for that pervasive feeling of well-being and hoped that meditation (or love, money, success, alcohol, or
therapy) would provide it.

But well-being, which is not sustainable, is not the same as happiness.

Happiness is the ability to take all of the insults of life as a vehicle for awakening–to enter into what the
pioneer of stress-reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has called the “full catastrophe” of our lives with an open mind and heart.

In pursuing a study of Buddhist meditation,I am convinced that a method of mental development exists that enables a person to hold
feelings of injury without reacting destructively.

Rather than immediately responding with rage or anxiety, a person can use feelings of injury to focus
on the core sense of self that will prove illusive,nonexistent.

If there is no ego to protect, there is no need to react in rage or angst.

Pleasure and displeasure can then be appreciated for the ways in
which they are inextricably linked.

Well-being becomes understood as an inseparable part of a larger whole that also encompasses catastrophe.

Happiness, then, is the confidence that pain and disappointment can be tolerated, that love will prove
stronger than aggression.

It is release from the attachment to pleasant feelings, and faith in the
capacity of awareness to guide us through the inevitable insults to our own narcissism and selfishness.

It is the realisation that we do not have to be so self-obsessed, that within our own minds lies the capacity for a kind of acceptance we had only dreamed of.

This happiness rarely comes without effort to train mind.

To accomplish this we must first discover just how narrow our vision usually is.

This is the function of meditation.

Go ahead, close your eyes for five
minutes and observe how self-obsessed your thoughts are.

“When can I stop doing this?” you may think.

None of us is very far from the eight-year-old child who can think only about who got the biggest
piece of cake.

Just some random thoughts that came to my mind….

Just some random thoughts that came to my mind….

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