When we have these concepts of happiness and joy as our frame of reference, small wonder that we often feel that while we experience calm and contentment, peace as a result of our disciplined practice, we don’t experience happiness or joy very often. I felt that way until relative recently, despite all the progress that I had made on the path.
Then one day when I was meditating, I realized that spiritual happiness is simply peace, the absence of turmoil in ones life. When I understood that, I knew that I am and for quite a while have been happy.
Likewise, the joy of the heart is not the joy of the ego-mind. The joy of the heart is experienced simply by experiencing beauty from whatever source or helping/having compassion for another person without any expectation of thanks or other “reward.”
Spiritual happiness and joy are quiet states. Until you understand this from within yourself, you will always feel that your practice is lacking because you are not experiencing happiness or joy.
But despite these meditations and revealed truths, something continued to be missing. I still felt that there was a cloud over me much of the time. I still did not generally feel what I thought a state of happiness should feel like, spiritually.
Then during a more recent meditation, I realized what that something was. It stems from one of our four basic needs: food, freedom from pain, warmth/nurturing, and physical security (see my book, The Self in No Self). The need to not feel alone.
From the moment of birth, of being tossed out of the womb, man feels alone. The feeling of being alone is further developed as man encounters the existential truth that he alone is responsible for how he deals with the facts of human existence. There is no one, when all is said and done, who can help him. This is why the Buddha said, “Make of yourself an island. Yourself and no other your refuge.”
This may strike the reader as something strange coming from the Buddha, but it should not be read as meaning one should be ego-centric, thinking of just yourself. It just is a reflection of the truth that you can’t look to others for an end to your suffering; you can only look to yourself. Making yourself your refuge is totally consistent with thinking of others and offering them joy, while not expecting … and this is important … anything in return, or as the lojong puts it, “no applause.” It’s part of feeling that you have everything you need inside yourself to be at peace and happy.
But because man feels this burden of aloneness, we react by desiring not to be in fact alone. Offering others joy, letting positive energy flow from your heart outward to all others … these all help us to feel connected and thus not alone.
But as I observed this in my meditation, I realized that something more was needed. Meaningful ongoing human relationships. This is again not in and of itself an ego need. This is an elemental irreducible human need. We need these relationships to fulfill the basic need for warmth and nurturing in the face of the hostile social environment in which we live.
Whether it’s monks living in a community of monks, or secular people living in families and a circle of friends … we all seek these relationships to nourish us and to not feel this existential aloneness.
I have had wonderful relations with family and friends. I have even had over the years several true loving relationship, deep and filled with trust. One would think that would be enough. But that is not the case. Why then did I still feel alone in a very basic way? Because I wasn’t in a place of equanimity … I did not accept my existential aloneness … I craved nourishment, turning the natural need to something unskillful.
I realized during this meditation that throughout my life what I thought was an insecurity brought on by the actions of people was really the more elemental anguish of my existential state. Whether as a child or an adult, regardless where I lived, regardless what friendships or relationships I had, I felt alone in an existential sense. And that’s just the way it is.
And that awareness opened the door to the answer to this conundrum. The answer is, as with all things, to embrace that it’s just the way it is. And so I have opened my heart to embrace my existential aloneness, together with all the other aspects of my being and experience. And thus nothing offends, all my internal and external struggles end, I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy even as I am aware of this existential loneliness. If that sounds like a contradiction, I have found that it is not.
And guess what? As the days have passed since I embraced my aloneness, I don’t feel alone anymore. Just like after I embraced fear and other aspects of my being and experience, they had no power anymore.
As often happens during meditation, observing something, there is a thread that develops which finally leads to a resolution, a truth.