I’ve spent the past few months at a quiet, secluded location on a high desert plateau in Southern Colorado, watching the clouds. If you’ve never seen a storm roll in over the desert, you should try it sometime. It’s an experience that might qualify as genuine happiness.
There’s not a lot to do here. Daily pleasures like tea and toast. Visits with friends. Walks in the forest. Moon gazing. Quiet time with a loved one.
Because the pace is so slow and relaxed, something else starts to become evident – a quality of mind that is not dependent on external circumstances for its existence.
In the habitual way of experiencing the world, we seek sensory enjoyment to induce a state of happiness.
It reinforces our sense of self. The equation goes something like this:
1. Chocolate cake exists (I know because I tasted it)
2. I like chocolate cake
3. Therefore, I also exist.
You’re probably laughing (or rushing off the the bakery) now, but this is actually how ego functions. It create situations to “prove” its existence, so it can continue to pretend to make us happy. Ego is essentially our constructed image of ourselves; our false identity. Take away its cake, and ego gets very pouty.
This is essentially what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. We take away ego’s cake. We are seeing through ego’s game, like Toto discovering the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Ego puts on a really good show. When you threaten to unveil the mechanism that runs the show, you risk consequences. Groundlessness, uncertainty, disappointment.
But those consequences are actually the foundation of authentic presence. You finally get to experience who you really are–which is so much bigger than you could possibly imagine. Some of us are so scared of what we might find beyond ego’s smoke and mirror show, that we allow ego’s game to continue unchecked rather than risk seeing what’s underneath. It’s safer that way — it’s a known quantity. But when you start to glimpse your experience unadulterated, just a pure moment of peace or the thrill of a bear crossing your path, you start to get in touch with something beyond ego. Something more primordial and essential to your nature.
You can create this experience yourself.
You too can experience this, and you don’t have to travel to the high desert plateau, or cavort with wild animals, or go anywhere for that matter. Though it does help to be surrounded by nature. You can experience this yourself simply by sitting down to watch your mind in sitting meditation. If you do this on a regular basis, and observe your mind with a certain degree of focus and discipline, I’m pretty sure you will start to experience moments of clarity that transcend ego’s command.
The truth is, I can’t really tell you why I’m so happy in Crestone. It can be very boring. There’s an awful lot of space, and it takes an hour to drive anywhere. But I’m often more happy here than I’ve ever been anywhere. Go figure.
Maybe it’s because I’m not looking for answers here. I’m just here.
You already have all the answers inside.
It’s important to distinguish between temporary pleasure and genuine happiness so you don’t run after one thing and expect another kind of thing to happen in your life. Like putting a penny in a gumball machine and waiting for a winning lottery ticket. All you’re going to get is a gumball, and if you keep hoping that you’ll eventually get that winning ticket, you’ll waste a lot of time and pennies.
Temporary pleasure depends on conditions coming together, whereas genuine happiness is a state of well being that does not depend on anything external. It arises because you’ve tamed your mind to be still and present, so it doesn’t get distracted by events in the phenomenal world. It’s so tempting to believe that if we just get what we want, everything will be wonderful. You may sense that something is missing and if and when that illusive “something” comes along then you’ll be really happy. But I think you know how that goes.
So what’s the difference between temporary pleasure and genuine happiness?
It’s the difference between two breaths. It’s allying with the breath to bring the awareness back home and learning to rest there.