Dharma Topic: Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

Dharma Topic: Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 06, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Where do we look for happiness? Do we find it there?

In the excerpt below Pema Chodron concisely sums up the Buddha’smessage by noting that most of us mistake suffering for happiness: “we look for happiness in all the wrong places.”

The core issue is that we are not comfortable with life as it is -changing, with indistinct boundaries, not meeting our unrealisticexpectation. As children most of us learn, from parents, relatives,peers, and caregivers, to want something else, such as onlypleasurable experiences, external approval, the security of things thatdon’t change, or the self-satisfaction of being morally right.

We are like the drug addict looking for the unending high, the one thatisn’t followed by illness and distress. We don’t find it with one drug,so we try another drug, then another and another. The variations arewonderfully creative and endless. Looking for the perfect partner, job,community, or profession, can be the drug. Looking for the perfectspiritual teacher can also be the drug. We might hop from one toanother, exuberant for a while, and then disappointed. We move on.

When we walk the path of mindfulness, we are encouraged to try aradically different approach. We calm our minds, we focus on thepresent moment, and we embrace what we find.Sometimes there is pain, and sometimes pleasure. Sometimes it is toohot, sometimes too cold, and sometimes it is just right. As we learn tohappily work with what we have, a quiet contentment grows.It has a different texture than the momentary highs we used to know -it is longer lasting, more stable, and more open-hearted.

You are invited to join us this Thursday, April 6, for our meditation and our program. We will share where we have looked for happiness and what we found. The best times to join us are:

  • Just before the first sitting at 7 pm;
  • At 7:25, at the beginning of walking meditation; or,
  • At 7:35, at the beginning of the second sitting.

Also, this Thursday we will have a Still Water MPC Orientation,beginning at 6:30 p.m. We will talk about sitting meditation and othermindfulness practices as well as provide information about the StillWater community. The orientation is open to everyone, includingold-timers, those with some experience, and those new to mindfulnesspractice. (It is helpful but not essential to email us, atinfo@StillWaterMPC.org, letting us know that you will be attending theorientation.)

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher  


From The Places That Scare You: A Guide To Fearlessness In Difficult Times
by Pema Chodron

The third mark of existence is suffering, dissatisfaction. As SuzukiRoshi put it, it is only by practicing through a continual successionof agreeable and disagreeable situations that we acquire true strength.To accept that pain is inherent and to live our lives from thisunderstanding is to create the causes and conditions for happiness.

To put it concisely, we suffer when we resist the noble and irrefutabletruth of impermanence and death. We suffer not because we are basicallybad or deserve to be punished, but because of three tragicmisunderstandings.

First, we expect that what is always changing should be graspable andpredictable. We are born with a craving for resolution and securitythat governs our thoughts, words, and actions. We are like people in aboat that is falling apart, trying to hold on to the water. Thedynamic, energetic, and natural flow of the universe is not acceptableto conventional mind. Our prejudices and addictions are patterns thatarise from the fear of a fluid world. Because we mistakenly take whatis always changing to be permanent, we suffer.

Second, we proceed as if we were separate from everything else, as ifwe were a fixed identity, when our true situation is egoless. We insiston being Someone, with a capital S. We get security from definingourselves as worthless or worthy, superior or inferior. We wasteprecious time exaggerating or romanticizing or belittling ourselveswith a complacent surety that yes, that’s who we are. We mistake theopenness of our being—the inherent wonder and surprise of eachmoment—for a solid, irrefutable self. Because of thismisunderstanding, we suffer.

Third, we look for happiness in all the wrong places. The Buddha calledthis habit “mistaking suffering for happiness,” like a moth flying intothe flame. As we know, moths are not the only ones who will destroythemselves in order to find temporary relief. In terms of how we seekhappiness, we are all like the alcoholic who drinks to stop thedepression that escalates with every drink, or the junkie who shoots upin order to get relief from the suffering that increases with every fix.

A friend who is always on a diet pointed out that this teaching wouldbe easier to follow if our addictions didn’t offer temporary relief.Because we experience short-lived satisfaction from them, we keepgetting hooked. In repeating our quest for instant gratification,pursuing addictions of all kinds—some seemingly benign, someobviously lethal—we continue to reinforce old patterns ofsuffering. We strengthen dysfunctional patterns.

Thus we become less and less able to reside with even the most fleetinguneasiness or discomfort. We become habituated to reaching forsomething to ease the edginess of the moment. What begins as a slightshift of energy—a minor tightening of our stomach, a vague,indefinable feeling that something bad is about tohappen—escalates into addiction. This is our way of trying tomake life predictable. Because we mistake what always results insuffering for what will bring us happiness, we remain stuck in therepetitious habit of escalating our dissatisfaction. In Buddhistterminology this vicious cycle is called samsara.

Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 06, 2006


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