Creative Commons License photo credit: makani5

In our high paced modern world there are many things pressing you for attention and a share of your available time. Outside all our onerous daily duties we tend to want to simply take it easy. Many of us are so wound up or tired out that we just reach for a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day, sit back in front of the television and do nothing.

It certainly is a great deal easier then summoning up the determination, discipline and energy it takes to meditate. So why invest any of your free time and energy into something that is so difficult and takes so long? In the words of Bhante Henepola Gunaratana: Because you are human.

You see because you and I are human we experience the inherent unsatisfactoriness of life. Oh, it can be suppressed by distractions. At times it feels like everything is going right. You find a great job that pays well. You fall in love. But when the show is over, and the show always comes to an end, this creeping feeling that somehow everything is all wrong comes back.

How many times have you had a moment of clarity where you’ve taken a good look at your life? At such times you really see how you are just getting by. How your life is one of quiet desperation. At such times you must wonder if there is a better way to live, a better way of being.

You may have thought it was just you. That something was wrong with you somehow. The truth is you are suffering from the same affliction each and every human has suffered. Not one of us has ever been completely free of this affliction. Take a closer look at the so-called “stars” of our society. On the surface they are rich, successful and happy. However on closer inspection they are far from happy and the measure of their success is meaninglessly materialistic. If their lifestyle is the one that we as a society aspire to then something is very wrong.

There is a constant undercurrent to our lives that is pushing us to have more, to be better, to do something again but better this time. Nothing is quite good enough yet. Just a little bit more. Look around you when you go to work on busy public transport or sit in the twice a day traffic jam. Watch the behavior of those around you. Watch your own behavior. You will see that this is not the behavior of people who are happy and at peace with themselves.

Life for the majority of us is experienced as one gigantic struggle against odds heavily stacked against us. Such a life is tortured by the great “if only”. If only I had just a little more money then I would be happy. If only I had someone who loved me the way I want someone to love me. If only I could have that expensive surgery to alter my body the way I wish it was. It never ends and so thus does the frustration and unhappiness never end.

How did we come to be this way? This state of being comes from the condition of our own minds. We have deep mental habits that are at odds with the nature of reality. Trying to fight the true nature of things is like one man trying to hold back an avalanche. It is impossible and sure to end in catastrophe.

What is this fundamental nature of things that I’m talking about? It is change. Life is constantly flowing by without one single moment ever being quite the same as another. Change is incessant. If you haven’t already, once you begin meditating, you will notice thoughts coming into your conscious awareness and the next moment they are gone. A dog will bark and the next moment fall silent. People appear suddenly in your life and just as suddenly leave. Sometimes you get what you want and other times you don’t.

Change is the nature of the universe. Change is an undeniable force. It is our response to change that is the problem. We tend to label our experiences into three fundamental categories. Good, bad and neutral. Then we respond to our experiences with particular rigid mental habits depending on which of the three categories we subjectively judge the experience to fall under. The result? Endless grasping after pleasure, endless fleeing from pain and the ignoring of 90% of our lives because it is neutral.

No matter how endlessly you may pursue pleasure and material success there will always be times when you fail miserably. No matter how you flee pain there will always be times when it catches up to you. And in between everything is so dull and boring it is driving you insane. No matter how great a particular moment in your life may be you can be sure it will soon end. No matter how much wealth and success you accumulate it will all either be lost or you will spend the rest of your days guarding what you have and scheming how to get more. Finally, in the end of things, you die and ultimately lose everything. Everything changes.

There is another way of being beyond this apparently bleak reality. It requires a mind that does not grasp at experiences as they flow by and does not attempt to block out pain or ignore what had previously been considered neutral and boring. It is a level of experience that is beyond good and bad. Beyond pleasure and pain. It is a skill. A skill you can learn and develop through meditation.

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