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Is this really the only way to happiness?

Is meditation really the only way to happiness? Daniel talks about the importance of having a decent day to day life in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. If meditation can lead to the end of suffering, why do the circumstances of your day to day life matter at all? 

Also, please let me know if it sounds like I'm going through a Dark Night. I did a little 6 hour solo retreat last Saturday with a mix of samatha and vipassana and have been feeing so damn angsty since then. But I'm not sure I'm experienced enough of a meditator to be at that stage. 

I went through a traumatic breakup a few years ago with a person who I thought would be in my life forever. We haven't spoken since. After this breakup, I became somewhat fixated on the notion of impermanence. Beyond the apparent futility of romantic pursuits, I was perpetually fearful of the inevitable death of people I love - my mom in particular.

I had basically no experience with meditation, but I did my first 10-day course that year (Goenka style vipassana). I finally felt like there was a way out of the despair and nihilism that colored my post-breakup existence. That there was some version of me, maybe in the distant future, that could feel okay without that relationship in my life as long as I would put in the work. 

It's been a couple years since then and I've done 2 more 10-day vipassana courses and practice, on average, for an hour a day. I am able to exist in the world again. I almost never feel anxiety anymore. I have close, fulfilling (non-romantic) relationships. Most of the time, I feel okay.

Yet, I sometimes feel resentful that I feel I have to spend so much time meditating in order to feel okay. I think it's at least partially grief regarding the loss of my old worldview - the worldview that told me I could find a romantic partner and live happily ever after, that my parents would live forever, and that if I figured out how to navigate my career and relationships in just the right way, that I would finally have control. 

I feel so alienated from those around me at times. While they're planning their weddings and having children, I'm sitting alone in my room trying to experience the sensations in my body. I could pursue a relationship, but if I've already glimpsed the true nature of existence (at least on a theoretical level) and realize it won't lead to the kind of deep satisfaction I want, why bother? I think at least part of me still believes that if I find the right person, things will be okay. 

I'm staying with my parents because of corona, and I find myself resenting them for bringing me into existence. For bringing me into a world of seemingly endless suffering. A world where I can be well off, well educated, physically healthy, and have fulfilling friendships ... and still feel terrible some of the time. While they've provided for me materially, they're so emotionally closed off and seemingly indifferent to my inner life. Do I work to get their affection, to improve my relationships with them? It seems futile, particularly if meditation really is the right path to liberation. 

I find myself wondering what the point of all this is and doubting whether meditation will allow me to experience life as I want to. Is the best thing for me to do to continue to retreat into myself? To quit my job and go on retreats until I don't feel like shit, until I don't long for intimacy and connection in a way that makes me miserable? What now? 

As I write this, I can feel a tiny, distant part of myself watching the angst, watching the emotions and not getting caught up in them. Maybe that's what I need to cultivate above all else.  

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/3/20 2:12 PM as a reply to M.
A good way to think about it is that there are different forms of peace:

The peace of mind the comes from having the 4 requisites: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.

The peace of mind that comes from following the 5 precepts: refrain from killing, refrain from theft, refrain from sexually abusing, refrain from lying/gossping, refrain from abusing substances - all of these support the peace that comes from having a clean conscience.

Peace that comes from jhana.

Peace that comes from entertainment.

Peace that comes from 'waking up'.

Those were a few examples. There are more things to do in life to create peace for you personally, but you'll have to figure those out for yourself based on your goals, the society you live in, etc.

Another way to think of it:

Morality/day-to-day stuff is like having a day pack, and you are a hiker whose 'strength' is dependent on mental training. Life is the hike. There are 4 ways this can stack up.

1. Heavy Backpack; Weak Hiker

2. Lite Backpack; Weak Hiker

3. Heavy Backpack; Strong Hiker

4. Lite Backpack; Strong Hiker

Example 1: person has terrible morality - thus the day pack is heavy. Also, since they don't meditate, they are weak. This is the worst combo.

Example 2: person has good morals/day-to-ay life - thus the load is lite. But they are weak because they don't meditate.

Example 3: person has terrible morality - heavy pack. But they can deal with the crappy situation they find themselves in because they meditate well and often. 

Example 4: person has good morals - a nice lite load. They are also really strong because of their meditation practice.

If the practice of meditation is to help make life easier, it only makes sense that we don't weigh ourselves down through making terrible choices while also having a dedicated meditation practice. It's all part of a greater whole. Don't shoot yourself in the foot, and you'll have more peace of mind. In other words, I think the Buddha would like us to use some common sense when it comes to the decisions we make in regards to how we treat ourselves and others.


RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/12/20 6:13 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Thank you for your thoughts. I especially like what you wrote about different forms of peace. Do you think it's possible to rank some of these and view them as higher or lower? It seems like the first kind you listed can be met and still leave some people with a deep sense of dissatisfaction. 

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/12/20 8:37 PM as a reply to M.
Happiness is always based on impermanent conditions. 

"If I just had that Porsche I could just stop buying cars."

"That heroin was amazing. I'll just do it one more time, and I'm done."

"My marriage would be perfect if we could just stop fighting about the kids."

There are a million variations, and you know what yours are. You hear yourself tell stories about what conditions would make you happy, as well as stories about why your past means you never can be.

What we are looking for here is something that isn't dependent on conditions. Enlightenment is that. Meditation (in my tradition, anyway) is LITERALLY resting in the quiet, still (M)ind that exists under the churning of the (m)ind that constantly berates you. That first Mind IS enlightenment actualized in this moment, a literal connection between your suffering daily grind and liberation. 

It costs NOTHING but your abundant time to experiment with meditation. Try it for 20 minutes a day for a month. Before you start, make 2 lists of the same metrics, like: Reactivity, General Contentment Wiith How Things Are, Depression, etc. Whatever you want to change. On one, rate them on a scale of 1 -10. Put this one in a envelope and seal it. Leave the 2nd out. When the month is up, fill the 2nd out and open the first. Compare them. Meditation may not be for you, or maybe not yet. See if it is beneficial to you. It costs noting. There are no beliefs necessary. Why put off a possible avenue of mitigation for your suffering?

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/13/20 5:19 AM as a reply to M.
I strongly doubt it is the ONLY way, just the way that seems to work most often for the most people. 

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/13/20 6:21 AM as a reply to M.
I'll put it this way: only basic sanity creates the conditions for happiness. Basic sanity allows us to go through the ups and downs of life without becoming decadent or freaking out. If we have a lot of psychological patterns that aren't healthy, then it's nearly impossible to have happiness.

So go for sanity if you want happiness.

And meditation may or may not be a part of that pursuit. It doesn't have to be. Really the best combo is some kind of psychological therapy along with some kind of meditation. That's a powerful combo.

That it! 

Best wishes!!

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
4/13/20 12:43 PM as a reply to M.
Lots of good thoughts here. Bottom line is that meditation is one area of focus to find greater happiness. Others have mentioned things like cultivating morality and counseling. I totally agree with all of these points.

Another factor that I think is important to look at is relationships and community, by which I mean primarily and mostly in-person and face-to-face (although online communities like this one are priceless in their own way). Our current situation is not conducive to this, but hopefully, at least, it makes it more clear how much we need interaction and how much isolation sucks.

I would recommend reading Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone and George Vaillant's Aging Well for context on this point. We live at a time in history that is unique in the degree of freedom and individuality it offers, but also unique in the degree of isolation and insulation that it causes. That is just not how humans were built to function. It's been the exception to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years of human history and it causes immense suffering and despair.

To riff off of Shargol's point -- living a solitary life is not sane. Relationships and community also happen to be critical for developing good morality and incredibly helpful in supporting meditation practice. In most cases morality is meaningless outside of community, but relationships and community can also be incredibly supportive of living an individual healthy life. While I appreciate dharmaoverground, it can't replace the support I get from participating in a weekly meditation group or the other in-person relationships I find in my neighborhood or various other local communities I am part of.

This is what religion and Sangha have the potential to be, at their best -- a community of mutual support for living the best life possible. Investing in community and relationships is at least as good of an area to invest your time in as meditation, and the data to support that is very strong.

In my personal experience I have found that the best pay-off for happiness has been in investing in all of these areas together. Morality, meditation, counseling and community, when nurtured in combination, will provide better results than focusing on any area alone.