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Is this really the only way to happiness?

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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?
Answer
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?
Answer
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?
Answer
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?
Answer
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?
Answer
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?
Answer
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.

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
Answer
8/16/20 5:08 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Thanks for your thoughts. I definitely agree that community can help one's practice. I guess the thing I wonder is -- to what extent is can having a community also foster attachment in such a way that hinders spiritual growth? 

I've had experiences where I've felt like I've been a part of spiritual community that helped foster my growth. But these were fleeting, and I miss them and don't know how to find/cultivate something comparable. 

It seems like having a community can hold someone back spiritually by feeling really good, regardless of how much it's helping one's growth. I sometimes wonder if the positive emotions I experienced while part of a spiritual community were really indicative of spiritual growth or if it just felt nice to belong somewhere in a way I hadn't before. 

I feel like I should be able to make progress in meditation without a community. In fact, I feel like a sign of my progress in meditation is having less of a desire/attachment to the idea of having a community. What do you think? 

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
Answer
8/16/20 8:52 PM as a reply to M.
Positive experiences with a community, spiritual or otherwise, aren't a hindrance to meditation unless they become some kind of fixation, likewise with romantic relationships.  Humans are social creatures and if these things feel good than they are good for us, quite simply. 

Meditation can give us real mental peace, but this always occurs in the context of our greater lives.  There's a quote along the lines of "what kind of world (or life) would you like to wake up to". Meditation and spiritual achievement by itself isn't going to automatically fix all of our life hang ups, but it can give us some increased clarify and ability to deal with these things more skillfully. 

So I don't think shunning community or relationships from our lives is necessary for progress in meditation, or really even healthy, but being aware of our attitudes toward these things can definitely be helpful.  At the end of the day, dedication and time on the cushion is what really matters IMO, how much we want to be involved in the world really comes down to individual needs and desires.

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
Answer
8/16/20 9:58 PM as a reply to M.
To be frank, I think the your concern that community will get in the way of spiritual progress is completely backwards. There is reason that Sangha is one of the three refuges. It's that important to healthy spiritual growth.

Yes, there is work that you have to do alone, but too much solitary work can make you wacky. This is something my meditation teacher has discussed at length with me. There is such a thing as imbalanced awakening. Much of meditation practice happens in the mind, so we need grounding to really be balanced. Part of that grounding happens through work with the body, but an essential part of that comes from engaging with other people in a healthy way.

That having been said, it is incredibly important to emphasize that, while community can help support practice, it is not the fundamental purpose of community. Community and relationships, are by themselves, a critical part of human well-being. This is not constrained to just spritual communities, but all connections with other people we have in our lives -- family, co-workers, friends, neighbors, bowling partners, classmates, countrymen, brothers-in-arms, Rotarians ect. It includes our most trusted and intimate friends, but also casual acquaintances and others we may feel bonded to by common interest, nationality, or sentience.

For me this comes from being a husband, father, brother and son, belonging to a community of local artists, volunteering in my community, interacting with my co-workers, chatting with my neighbors and having friends over to play board games. Sometimes online is the only way to do it, but it is always preferrable IRL.

To be clear, it isn't just about having good vibes from belonging to a club, but the grounding, commitment, practical service and compromise that leads to strong morality and stable sense of belonging, purpose and self. Nothing wrong with the good vibes though.

That's not to say that communities and relationships can't be disfunctional and even oppressive and abusive. Lots can go wrong, and obviously it commonly does, and we shouldn't waste our time with communities and relationships that are harmful. It also doesn't mean that we can't have an identity separate from the various communities we are connected to. But it does mean that community and the quality of our relationships have been an essential part of human well-being for as long as humans have been around, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

Check out the recommended books above for a deeper dive. 

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
Answer
8/16/20 11:08 PM as a reply to M.
M:
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?
Meditation is best treated like one of your hobbies and not a way to fix everything in your life. If you over-rely on it to make you happy then you will only get disappointed, just like with any other aspect in your life eg. relationships, being part of community, your job, other hobbies, etc.

RE: Is this really the only way to happiness?
Answer
9/8/20 4:14 AM as a reply to M.
M:
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.  

Hi M, Thank you for sharing your story and practice here. And a belated welcome to DhO. I would be interested to hear any updated perspectives you have now, some six months after this first post. 

It doesn't sound to me, from this post, that you are ripe for a complete renunciate's lifestyle, a monastic commitment to a life of pure practice without "worldly" aspects. It sounds like you are busting your ass to keep your balance in the world, like most of us here. The sense of a retreat into yourself you talk about sounds natural enough to me, at a certain phase of deepening meditation practice. You mentioned grief. In many ways, the path mirrors the grief process; both are protracted exercises in letting go, and finally accepting what has been let go as lost, even as some aspects of that lost stuff come back in new and unforeseen ways. You are at the heart of the letting go and losing process right now, and are wondering whether you should not only accept that, but intensify and generalize it in your life. I would have to advise that you hold steady, and not push right now. The lucidity of your post tells me you're in a phase of strong practice, however crappy and alienated and uncertain it may feel. Patience, and gentle persistence, are priceless right now. 

Again, I would be most interested in where you are at, in an up-to-date sense!

best wishes, and welcome again to this sangha,

love, tim