Monday, June 19, 2017


Someone important to me asked me yesterday if I was happy and I gave the wrong answer. I started waffling away about happiness being the acknowledgement and acceptance of who I am...

Wrong answer. Or at best a detour. The more truthful, direct and authentic answer is that I think I know how to find happiness, even though I don't always succeed. What I have come to understand from my still limited grasp of the dharma (my "beginner's mind"!) is that I can find happiness if I learn how to release myself from suffering; and that the cause of my suffering is clinging--both to the addiction to everything my mind tells me I want or need in my life, and the compulsion to avoid all those things that cause me fear, hatred, or disgust. I need to learn to recognize when these reactive patterns arise, and let them go.

Reactive patterns may arise in the form of thoughts, emotions, or actions. A reactive thought might be, for example, the familiar "I'm not good enough." A reactive emotion, the disgust that arises at the sight of something that revolts me. A reactive action, loading up my plate with food I don't need at the breakfast bar. Simple stuff, really.

A more complex reactive pattern, as I see it, takes the form of the egos I create for myself, the images of who I think I am, or want to be, or might be, in the eyes of others. I spent many years, for example, under the spell of the "writer," and suffered accordingly when I failed to live up to the complex image I created around this concept. Once I learned to recognize the "writer" as nothing more than the construct of my ego, having no relation to my personal reality, I was able to free myself from his spell and get on with the business--and the pleasure!--of just writing. (Though I must confess that the writer does insist on coming back to inflict me with suffering, once in a while!)

So this thought occurred to me yesterday, on Father's Day, a little too late to answer that question more thoughtfully than I did: another one of my ego constructs--and one that is particularly powerful and resistant to rational analysis--is the image of father whose absolute duty is to ensure his children's happiness and protect them from anything that might cause them suffering in their own lives. It's an obviously impossible task, one to which I have notably failed in many ways to live up, and my failure has caused more suffering in my life than I can say. I note that this is one aspect of my ego to which I continue to cling.

So these are the basic questions to get back to: what is causing my suffering? What thoughts, feelings and actions do I persist in repeating over and over again, despite the suffering they cause? What thoughts, feelings and actions no longer serve me, and what can I do to let them go? Consciousness is a good part of it--recognizing these things for what they are. Reactive patterns do their damage precisely because we are for the most part unaware of them. Also, acknowledging them for the way they might have served me in the past--for how else could they have become the reactive patterns that they are today? And perhaps, in meditation, learning simply to breathe them away.

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