Getting used to this… Taking that for granted… "Hedonic treadmill", also known as "hedonic adaptation"… Whatever the label we use, happiness as it is commonly defined is necessarily impermanent, or it's no longer defined as 'happiness' anyway!
The last part is the killer: the phenomenon doesn't even need to be impermanent (although it is! but its arising and ceasing might still be pretty slow, by human life standards); our appropriation of it, our definition of it will be anyway! The mind changes quickly!
Therefore, to attain the cessation of dissatisfaction, one needs to drop the erroneous ('wrong') view that 'highs' correspond to 'happiness'. Such an ignorant view is equivalent to confusing pure sugar (and its sugar rush) with healthy food (and its accompanying empowerment). It's also a belief which is the root-cause of craving, of hoarding, of "never enough" dissatisfaction!
A man in India realised as much, approx. 26 centuries ago!
Greek philosophers reached similar conclusions, around the same time.
The Dhammapada starts with « Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought » (tr. acharya Buddharakkhita). A phenomenon doesn't even need to be impermanent; our appropriation of it, our definition of it will be anyway! The mind changes quickly and defines happiness!
To cultivate a mind free from dissatisfaction, the erroneous view of "high = happiness" must be so categorically dropped that the mind can no longer makes such a view its own, out of habit or out of blindness!
But dropping ignorant views cannot be done while merely smoothing the most visible edges of some fundamentally flawed views. Dropping some of one's core beliefs is scary. It requires to take the risk of the unknown, the risk of discovering another form of bliss, unrelated to, unconditioned by 'high's and 'low's. It requires integrity, reflection (to perceive then correct one's blind spots and destructive tendencies), and consistent effort. It requires to drop excuses too, and to take responsibility to live up to the standard we wish to see in the world, to lead by example.
We might as well assert that it's not for the faint-hearted! This being said though, there exist ways to gradually cultivate this —travelling is dangerous… but with experienced guides and maps, it certainly is less so!— and places where to practice, where to meet like-minded explorers, and where to share lessons. Many hearts supporting one another are far from weak!
[For user of the new g+ GUI, please note that this post is more tied to Fariyal's post attached, than to the blog her post links to… so you might want to check her g+ post.]
#dharmahouse : plus.google.com/collection/cO7I2
In my village, where our house is referred to as the 'aquarium', there was a town hall meeting this week to inform residents about a few days of road disruption while a new water collection system is laid down for the valley. The locals used the opportunity of this meeting to express their grave concerns regarding the additional number of cars (and hence, noise) they'd noticed on the road.
To put things in perspective, our neighbours were up in arms about the 5-10 extra cars that use our road in the morning to go to work. Even in the midst of this idyllic and beautiful part of the countryside, where the sound of a car is a rarity rather than a constant, as it is in the city, there is always something to complain about! People 'get used to' any environment and become blind to appreciating what is right in front of them.
I was reminded of a section about the evolution of human happiness in a remarkable book I read this January called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. (Thank you for the recommendation Mr Clarkson.) Happiness is a topic I talk about a lot in my coaching work and one particular nugget of information that made sense to me in this book was in connection to our pursuit of happiness.
The biological and chemical processes of our body system has evolved through millions of years to a point where its aim, in terms of survival for our species, is to strive towards a subjective 'equilibrium', no matter how happy or sad or depressed we feel. For example, being sick with a fever is a way for the body to 'normalise' itself to a 37 degrees Celsius temperature. Hence, we can relate to the experience of feeling pleasure during sex, or excitement upon receiving an end of year bonus at work; though it is inevitably short-lived because our body system is simply not designed to maintain that level of pleasure or excitement. In our modern society, however, we are collectively deluded into believing one of two narratives: either that 'happiness begins from within' and is not subject to the external environment, or that we can overcome dissatisfaction and depression by pursuing goals that reward us with the sense of a 'meaningful life'. We spend so much time, money and energy chasing the 'feeling' of happiness, when in truth ALL feelings are transitory, i.e. they do not last.
Perhaps the 'pursuit of happiness' is not the game at all...
Mr Harari briefly mentions the Buddha, who taught 2,500 years ago that if we do the work to release our minds from our 'craving' of both material achievements and inner feelings (whether it be happiness, depression, joy, anger, boredom, etc.), then we can realise the truth about ourselves and be profoundly appreciative and content with what we have, here and now in the present. This perspective goes totally against the grain of our consumerist, instant gratification society, where desiring (craving) more of everything; money, land, profits, food, reputation, knowledge, technology, products, and so on, equates better, worthier, deserving, and happier.
It was interesting to note that the book did not contain pages of scientific or logical arguments as to how humans could realise this contentment the Buddha spoke about; for the majority of our current modes of living, it is not up for 'consumption'.
As an avid 'consumer' of books, the crucial lesson I was reminded of after reading Sapiens, was the necessity to suspend judgement, of history and of my fellow humans. In hindsight, it is easy to judge and blame specific kings, empires, explorers, scientists, and philosophers for initiating some of the most terrifying consequences our planet has endured. Yet how many of these people in history were merely acting out their cravings? The book concludes on a curious mixture of pessimistic and optimistic scenarios for the future of our species, and humbly puts in perspective the fact that even if we blow up our planet and kill all life upon it, this will be but a tiny blip for the universe, which will continue as is has done for millions of millennia.
The important question, once I closed the last page and put the book back onto my bookshelf, was what will I DO with the insights I've gained? How will I (how will each one of us) engage in and appreciate the life I have right now? Assuming that the planet does not exist solely for my selfish desires and wants, I might as well wake up and know who I really am.
The attached blog is titled Material Fantasies of a Religious Fanatic
Wishing you an insightful February!
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