Today I thought I’d share an experience I had last year that sheds some light on the connection between desire or craving, a sense of identity and happiness.
Exploring this area of the mind is like peeling apart an onion, layer by layer. This blog post is an attempt to help you start peeling your own onion. 🙂
Catching the Craving
I was walking through my local university campus and I noticed a new building. I don’t get to the campus very often, maybe about once a year, so I hadn’t seen this building before.
I was immediately struck by the architectural form of the building and the landscaping around it. It was beautiful!
(I’m a bit of an architecture nerd, so these kinds of things excite me. If you have no interest in architecture, don’t worry. This story will definitely be relevant to you! Just keep reading =) )
I was doing a walking meditation at the time and so I was paying very careful attention to what was going on in the mind. What I noticed was a very innocent, simple feeling of pleasure and happiness as I looked at the building and the surrounding grounds.
But that lasted only for a few moments.
Very quickly, there was a feeling of the mind suddenly reaching toward the building and that simple enjoyment became largely clouded over by a tightness and grasping.
The mind wanted “more beauty”.
There was still a pleasant feeling associated with the sensations of looking at the building, but it was muted now.
Happiness was still present, but it was like a once blue sky being covered mostly by storm clouds. It was largely obscured by the arising of the desire for “more”.
The craving for more pleasant sensations had tainted my enjoyment.
And an “I” is Born
Immediately after the craving for more, there was suddenly a “me” in the mind, whereas before the attachment reaction, there was no “me”, there was only “seeing building”, “feeling happy”.
Now there was a “me” looking at the building and a “me” wanting “more”.
A sense of identity had arisen as a consequence of the craving.
All of this happened in the space of about a second or two. Very fast. And very familiar. Like the mind was travelling in some well-worn grooves!
Finding Real Happiness
I kept watching the mind and didn’t react.
I didn’t try to “get back the happiness” or “push away the craving” or sense of a “self”.
As I continued to observe, the tightness and grasping went away, then the sense of “me wanting” dissolved, then the sense of “me” disappeared, and then all that was left was that simple pleasure of enjoying the building again.
I watched this process repeat itself several more times in the space of about 10 to 15 seconds.
This experience was a great reminder that real happiness, really enjoying what is here, now, is hiding just under the surface of all that “me”, “mine” and “more”!
Sometimes people ask me, “what’s wrong with wanting more pleasant sensations? Isn’t experiencing pleasant and avoiding unpleasant what happiness is?”
Well, this experience gives a great answer to those questions!
If you’re grasping after more (or if you’re resisting what you already have), you’re missing out on the real joy that lies just underneath that craving!
And it’s not like that joy needs to be constructed somehow.
You don’t need to “make yourself happy.” The happiness is already there, just waiting to be uncovered.
Now it’s Your Turn
So how do you get started uncovering your true happiness?
The first step is to notice when you get attached to something you experience as pleasant. You want to catch the craving in action.
What you’re looking for is that feeling of “I want more of that”.
For me, it feels like a mental pull towards the object of desire and it’s accompanied by a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) physical tension in my abdominal region.
Once you can clearly identify what craving feels like, the next step is to mindfully observe it, just as you would mindfully observe the sensations of the breath during meditation.
Don’t do anything to change the craving. Just accept it and observe it with curiosity.
See what you can learn about craving.
How quickly does it arise?
When you don’t act on the craving, how fast does it pass away?
How does your experience of pleasure change when craving arises? How does it change when craving passes?
How is craving related to your sense of identity?
Thoughts? Experiences to share? Questions? Please post them in the comments below.
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