Did you ever wonder why we resist something that connects us to peace of mind and inner happiness? Isn’t it ironic how often the best things for us can be what we avoid the most? Something like meditation, for instance, that can bring us such joy can appear as unimportant, boring, and we have little time for it. Yet this is like being addicted to poison while resenting the anecdote!
Some years ago, we were in Thailand, attending a ten-day silent-meditation retreat. Each day a cheerful Buddhist monk would come to teach, and he would always ask us: “Are you happier today than you were yesterday?” As he said this, a wide smile would fill his face because he knew that we were confronting numerous obstacles to happiness, and not just the ones in our own minds. As beautiful as the coconut grove was, we were living with mosquitoes, centipedes, and snakes, sleeping on wooden planks, and did not eat after midday. How were we expected to find happiness amidst such extremes?
Yet despite his humorous tone, the smiling monk’s question was a genuine one. We were on a meditation retreat. If we were not beginning to feel happier as a result, then what was the point of being there? Why meditate if we don’t enjoy it?
Every day he asked us that same question, “Are you happier today than you were yesterday?” This had the effect of highlighting the extent to which we were preoccupied with our own concerns, doubts, and conflicts, and even how difficulties can actually feel more familiar and meaningful than joy. How easy it was to blame physical discomforts for our lack of happiness!
Almost everything we do in life is to achieve something: If we do this, then we will get that; if we do that, then this will happen. We are not used to doing something without an agenda. But in meditation we do it just because we want to. There is no ulterior motive other than to be here, in the present, without a goal of succeeding or of trying to get anywhere.
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