If we don't like our job, our house, or if we are generally unhappy about our position in life, we naturally try to change our circumstances. When we are uncomfortable with any situation, we instinctively attempt to escape from it. We might feel angry inside, or frustrated thinking that something external is the problem - maybe our job or our situation, and we think that if we can just change the situations, we will be happy internally. But have you ever studied what actually happens when you try to escape? Have you ever been able to escape?
During our lifetimes, all of us have gone through the above exercises innumerable times, and we have all had some happy times as well, without a doubt, but how long has the happiness lasted? We strive to be forever happy, but happiness just doesn't work that way; happiness is always in flux, is always temporary, and never a constant reality. The externals, that we originally think will make us happy, eventually double-cross us and become that from which we eventually attempt to escape.
At first, the job was great, but now it's not. At first, our life was great, but then something changed, something happened, and we are unhappy once more. We simply don't seem to understand the mechanics of happiness and unhappiness. But even when we do garner an inkling of how they work, we still don't accept them; we think that we can somehow wriggle out of their truth. But we can't, and until we accept that we can't, we will continue to beat our heads against a stone wall trying to circumvent the fact that when we count on externals, we can never be happy for long. Only an internal solution will work long term.
We fool ourselves by thinking that if we can keep things from changing- if our relationship remains vital, if only our car would stay in style, if our bodies would remain healthy, then we could maintain our happiness. if the problem is investigated carefully, however, we will discover that no matter what we do to keep things on sn even keel, they will nevertheless change on us. Either the actual circumstances will change, or our own feelings and outlook will change. Then, the happiness that once was, evaporates. This has been going on non-stop since we were born, and this discontent that we feel constantly is the one thing that never changes.
So we have a choice; we can continue living these ups and downs for the rest of our lives, relying on outside changing circumstances and never knowing from one moment to the next when they will double-cross us, or how long we will be happy. Or, we can find that which is within, that which never changes; that which the sages and saints speak about.
It isn't that saints and sages don't suffer greatly when they make the transition from relying on externals for their happiness, to internally investigating their minds. They suffer, because the first step, which is foregoing the pleasures of externals in order to quiet the mind, is the most difficult. But it is the only way to search internally.
Turning ones back on all those wonderful promises that the externals have to offer is not easy, but it gets easier when we begin to see how externals mislead us. “Look over here! This new car and house and wife will make you happy!" Or; “Look over here! This new relationship, career, situation will surely make you happy!"
And in the end, if we are fortunate, we begin to see how the hollow promises of external stimulations set us up for discontent every time.
Eventually, if we are serious about finding a permanent solution to our stress, these desires for sense stimulations begin to fade, and a small spot in our heart begins to grow. This is a special spot; one that never depends on external pleasures for its contentment, and therefore once this heart center begins to grow, we no longer can become lost in our pleasures as before. Now we become more careful about pleasures, understanding their treachery and understanding how they addict us.
We see that our dependency upon fleeting external pleasures is no different from any other dependency, because when we can't indulge in them, we have withdrawal pain. We might call it boredom, or being fed up, but it boils down to a lack of positive sensory stimulation, with which we are addicted.
The first step in becoming wise to the tricks of the mind is refusing to allow the mind to rule your life. Use the mind to make a living and go about the affairs of a human being, but don't let it go past actual needs and into a desire for pleasure. If you do, that sets you up for pain. There can be no desire for pleasure without resultant pain. That would be impossible.
Becoming wise to the mind equates to becoming aware of both our thoughts and our emotional states created from those thoughts. In order to do this, we must slow the mind from its frantic pursuits, those things that spin us around and around. We believe that thought is alive, vital, but thought is dead. Thoughts are merely old computer files that cannot help us in this very moment, which is the only moment we have, and where true creativity, not thought, is required to live life to its fullest.
Void of addictions, void of distractions, and void of the false promises of happiness, our life now has the potential to take on a new meaning beyond happiness and unhappiness, beyond pleasure and pain, and beyond existence, as we know it.
No longer do we try to escape the human predicament, because there is no fundamental escape, and as we fall into the arms of that acceptance, we suddenly realize that, in fact, there never was anything from which to escape.
The one who could never escape was nothing more than an illusion, a fantasy created by our minds, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightening. It was merely our “I" thought.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com