"Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of unhappiness."
Lao Tzu

What would happen if you were in a state of perpetual bliss? Let’s say you figured out how to activate those parts of your brain that trigger pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of wellbeing, and you could just keep pulling that trigger. Would you get anything done? Would you bother to talk with anyone? Would you work or create or exercise if you could be blissed out automatically?

In all likelihood, life would grind to a halt. Why would you scratch if you didn’t have an itch. Why would you earn a living, get food, cook it and eat it if you could feel just as good empty as full. How would you know to take your hand out of the fire if it felt as good when burning as when not?

States of discomfort are essential to life. If you stop breathing for 60 seconds, you will get a strong sensation that you should resume the procedure. That’s a good thing. It assures that you continue to do an essential life function. Would you want to eliminate the suffering that goes with not breathing?

It seems that pleasure keeps us seeking life affirming action and discomfort keeps us avoiding life threatening experiences. So while we are alive, we can assume that we will be presented with an ever varying array of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. That’s a good thing.  If we are able to respond to these adaptively, appropriately, we may find ourselves in the flow, and being in the flow of life generates a sense of satisfaction.

The trick then is to figure out how to get pleasure from the right things and which things it is right to avoid. When we seek pleasure from things that give bad consequences, we generate more suffering. When we avoid things that we need for life we also generate suffering. If we stay confused about which is which, we will waste our energy, depression will ensue and the system will shut down to prevent us from wasting any more energy and doing more harm.

If we are wise, we have the ability to judge which thoughts, words, and deeds will be good and which will not. To make that judgment though, we need to see beyond the present moment and beyond our limited self. To be happy, we cannot always choose immediate gratification or choose self-interest over the interests of others.

Meditation is a tool we have for helping make these discernments. As they say, “Life comes at you fast.” When we meditate, we slow it down. The clarity of mind we find in meditation helps us sort through the choice points. A calm and steady mind is one that is responsive. The one-pointed,  meditative mind can more readily see through the thicket of confusing stimuli and impulses so that we can respond with clear intention to fears and desires. When we examine the nature of our own mind,  our experience and our  sense of self, we may recognize our interconnectedness with other beings and with the universe. Our choices then can be less selfish and therefore more likely to be virtuous, true and wholesome. Life then will work out better and we will be more likely to experience the emotions we prefer.

To the Meditation Archive Menu

To the current Meditation of the Week


© 2010 Tom Barrett