By Joshua Sumitta Hudson
Enlightenment is not born from ecstasy but from the displeasure of discontentment. Stimulated enjoyment is simulated happiness. The arousal of the senses to pleasurable experiences distracts the mind from genuine experience. We know this because when we turn the stimulation off—we are left empty and wanting.
All pleasure is like food. We can satiate our appetites, but only for awhile. Eventually the great sucking maw of want hungers for more—more food, more sex, more experience, more money, more everything. Most of us are so busy seeking our next pleasure that we are deluded to think that this is normal: this is what life is all about. But there are moments of stillness where each of us can feel the inherent unsatisfactory nature of always wanting and looking outside ourselves to find happiness.
KICKING THE HABIT
From the time we are born we are conditioned into the habits of seeking outside ourselves. At first it is the physical needs of food, water, and shelter for survival. We then look for social, physical, emotional and economic safety. Eventually, as our basic needs are met, we create more and more complex desires.
Each level of need for survival reinforces a sense that external fulfillment is always a good thing. The pleasant sensations of a full belly and a warm fire provide us the proof that getting what we need is beneficial.
The mind of “external appetite” doesn’t stop at what is necessary for survival. We mistakenly think, “If having a meal for dinner is good, than having a horde of food in the cave to eat whenever we wish is better.” Our “needs” are soon mixed in with our “wants.” “I need a safe place to sleep,” is exchanged for “I want a mansion with beautiful things.” If a warm bed is good, then a luxurious home is better—right?
On every level, we are deluded to think that feeding our desires and cravings is the path to becoming happy. Even when we give up the greedy monetary desires; we still seek out other cravings of companionship, knowledge, thrill-seeking, etc. We are addicted to “wanting” like a drug and we need to kick the habit.
Ask any four-year old whose toys are on the floor, and they will answer you, “those are mind and these are so-and-sos … “Every child has been trained to see the world as “mine” and “yours.” Every child in the world has been trained to believe in the “happiness of owning.” Our conditioning is so profound that most of the habits are unnoticeable to us. Imagine when those children grow up and are told that wanting things doesn’t bring happiness—they would call you crazy.
This is why we must spend so much time unconditioning those habits of delusion that make up who we define ourselves. We must uncondition the concept of “ourselves.”
When we ask, “Who am I?” we must stop seeing who we wish we were and start seeing us as we truly are. When we ask, “What is this?” or “Why is this so?” or “When will this be?”—we must develop the ability to understand that the question is not about the answer but the experience.
To see an unconditioned world is to see a world as it is, rather than as it ought to be. It is removing our wanting, craving and desire to create a world in our imagination, but live in the world that we exist in. An unconditioned world is ever-changing, and we are ever-changing within it: all things are impermanent.
Impermanence is a concept that is uncomfortable. The idea means that we cannot rely on food, shelter, fire, family, money, and even health will always be there. When we trust someone, it is based on our ability to label them and define who they are. If that person is impermanent, then we cannot rely on them to be there forever, or that the labels we assign them will be accurate. When things are impermanent nothing is solid, fixed or certain.
Most people avoid the truth of impermanence, like Plato’s allegory of the cave. Plato wrote of a group of people forced to live in a cave. They were only able to see the shadows from the world outside the cave and believed that to be the true nature of the world. When one man was freed and went outside, he was amazed at how much richer life was than their limited experience. But when we returned, the cave dwellers killed him preferring to believe in their delusion than be wrong about the universe.
If we spend our life meeting our needs and then seeking our wants only to find out that we can never find real happiness when we find them; If we realize that the world is impermanent—that nothing is ever certain or constant; When we realize that we are impermanent and death is the final destination of everything—we can start to be free.
The first freedom is from anger: avoiding life and its difficulties. This fear is overcome by a sense of self-actualization and wisdom that happiness is not found in avoiding but in engaging the world around us. How can we live fully in the world if we are busy avoiding half of it?
The second freedom is from fear: clinging to what is unwholesome. How much misery in our lives is seeded in clinging to a person, a hope, a fantasy? We horde “things” as if they have real value, and ignore experiences that could enrich our lives.
How many people do you know that work 80 hours a week to earn large paychecks and expensive cars? How often do we hear them complain of stress, deadlines, and missed family vacation? Eventually, they end up just as dead as the rest of us—and how much of all those “things” are they bringing with them?
Orienting ourselves to an unconditioned world, we can see where engaging with the world without unwholesome clinging allows us the opportunity to revalue what is worth our time and energy.
The third freedom is from delusion. Living life fully without fear and clinging we can see clearly the world around us. That claritycomes from an acceptance of the world the way it is, and not how we wish it to be.
The word “metta” is Pali (the language of the time of the Buddha), and it means “loving kindness.” It may also be translated as “unconditional acceptance.”
While unconditioning ourselves from our need to crave, cling and avoid may help us in our journey to find acceptance and happiness—it is also true that practicing acceptance also helps us in our journey to uncondition ourselves from unwholesome craving, clinging and avoidance of the world.
Many meditators practice metta meditation regularly developing this quality of character. All that it requires is time spent focusing on accepting the world as it is, and wishing our compassion and good wishes to everything and everyone in the world — including ourselves.
INTO PRACTICE TO FIND HAPPINESS
Shifting our mind from seeking external stimuli and pleasures to find happiness towards an outlook where acceptance of the world around us is a significant step in creating a mind that finds happiness without blame (i.e. without the need for external causes). This is not the only factor in discovering happiness, but it is a step in the right direction.
Take time in each day questioning those moments in your life where you find yourself thinking “only if …” or “life should be like …” or “when I …” and think on the impermanence of the world. Reassess the value of those wants and see if they as important as you originally believed– are really bringing you happiness?
Then spend time everyday practicing metta. See how developing acceptance reorients your outlook– one where the word happiness comes without strings.