It is said that ignorance is one of the three roots of our unhappiness. Ignorance takes many forms. Simply not knowing the joy of a concentrated mind–a mind at ease with itself–is one form of ignorance that causes us to continually search outside ourselves for “something”: something to make us happy, something to make us whole, something to peak our interest, or something that will finally let us ‘get ahead’ of the struggles of life.
During this journey of self discovery I’ve been on I distinctly recall a time when I started to notice this kind of “looking”. I would seek often, if not continuously, for that something. I would seek for it in my mind, thinking “what can I do to finally become successful?”. I would look in the windows of the passing cars for a smile or pretty face, to get a little hit of pleasure. Seeking for satisfaction in the external world of things can cause us to eat things that make us feel bad (after the fleeting taste of sweetness has faded); drink things that make us feel tired and dull (though they temporarily allow us to change the flavor of consciousness and lay down our responsibilities); and buy things we don’t need and cannot afford, just to gratify our grasping mind and feed our habits of desire for desire’s sake alone.
The key to seeing this clearly, to illuminate the patterns and remove the ignorance is to see that it isn’t the objects we are after, as we’ve mistakenly assumed–it’s the pleasant feeling tone that arises dependent upon contact with the object in the mind. If we miss this feeling tone as it arises–or more precisely, if we conflate the feeling tone and the object itself, we will generate an attachment to the object and expect it to provide in us the satisfaction we seek, although it is woefully unable to do so. If we miss this link in the chain, we end up deluded and unable to escape the never-ending cycle of seeking satisfaction in the very things that cause us to overlook our innate happiness.
Once we are lucky enough to have practiced sitting still, breathing in and out, bringing our awareness to the present moment, developing kindness with whatever arises–once we are able to establish some concentration, we discover another whole category of happiness. We discover the happiness of the concentrated mind. We discover the joy of mindfulness and equanimity. Once we start to see that all of the seeking of objects, the chasing of things, the looking in windows, the need for approval and appreciation– all of it is just busy-ness that keeps us from our own innate stillness. It keeps us from being in the present moment–from our very lives as they unfold. Seeking happiness outside keeps us from finding happiness right where we are. Becoming established in this new way of being and seeing the ‘unworldly pleasant feelings’ that come from practice is like turning a corner. This is the current edge of my practice.