Got this question from Barry – he says: “Roger, I’ve been meditating for weeks now and I’m still unhappy. I’ve been unhappy all my life, and I’m losing hope that it will ever change. Meditation was my last hope but it doesn’t seem to be working. I’ve read a lot of your posts and you keep saying not to expect anything from meditation. But if that’s the case, why should I keep meditating if it doesn’t deliver the result I’m looking for?”
It’s an interesting question, and it kind of ties in with my last post, ‘Making Love With Yourself’, so I think I’ll attempt to clear the air.
Barry, you’re right – I do keep telling people not to expect anything from meditation.
But in saying that, I’m not saying tranquility and relative happiness are not in the final mix. Of course they are. But there’s a catch which few meditation teachers or books will mention. And it’s this – to reach that happiness, we must accept everything that causes us not to be happy.
And ironically, one of the most powerful obstacles to happiness is the expectation of happiness itself. So the expectation of results – any results – is, paradoxically, a major obstacle to the very results you’re looking for.
So what’s the solution?
As you meditate, let it go. Whatever it is. Let go of expecting. Let go of expecting anything at all.
And just sit still. Let whatever is arising wash over you and fall away as you ride the eternal rhythm of the breath.
Because the breath is your home, your refuge, your safe place. And each time your attention is distracted from it, and you consciously let it go and return to the breath, you are strengthening your capacity to be able to let go. Which means when sad or angry or depressed thoughts and feelings arise, with your capacity to let go strengthened by meditation, you are able to let them go more easily – which makes whatever suffering you’re experiencing less intense.
And when suffering is made less intense, what gradually takes its place?
Maybe not the elation of happiness – but peace arises. Stillness comes.
And that’s more precious.
So then, as I say in ‘Being Still’ (yes, shameless promotion, but what the hell – its a good book an I worked hard to write it) “Trying to force meditation to give you a particular experience is like trying to calm water by slapping at it with our hands. The more you fight with thinking, the more it will distract you. The more you struggle with pain, the more intense it will become. And the more you try to force yourself to feel calm, the more agitated and anxious you will become.”
And happiness? Well, my view on happiness is well known. It’s a toxic notion – a spiritual trap to lure the glib, the gullible and the scatterbrained. It’s an illusion propagated by corporations and advertisers to keep us running and reaching for their stuff, to feed the dopamine hit they’ve conditioned us to crave. Looking for happiness will keep you enslaved to everything that’s unworthy of your desire.
I gave up on happiness forty years ago, and perhaps I’m as unhappy as I ever was – I wouldn’t know, I don’t keep score. But one thing I can say is I’m at peace with unhappiness. Unhappiness is as much my friend as happiness. They’re brother and sister in my family.
As the Buddha intimated, happiness is not a natural condition of existence. Life is inherently ‘dhukka’ – that is, it is too flawed and changeable to depend on to make us happy. So my only advice is, lose the word ‘happiness’ from your vocabulary and live.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
‘BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a softcover book …….. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)
‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook …………………………………..AUD $11.99
‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) …………………………. AUD $25.00
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)