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Enjoy what you have

In my last post, I suggested that in meditation and in life you should hew to the cliché about putting one foot in front of the other. In this post, I want to offer some related homespun wisdom, and suggest that instead of hankering after bright and shiny things, you should enjoy what you already have.

Enjoyment is a somewhat confusing aspect of meditation, and also of life. On the one hand, we might think that the point is to enjoy meditation (and life). We might want it to be relaxing, pleasurable, even blissful. But this quickly gets us into trouble because, much of the time, it’s not, and our efforts to make it so backfire. There are few things less relaxing than trying to relax, and it’s not very enjoyable trying to enjoy meditation, or anything else. It leads, mostly, to frustration.

But at the same time, enjoyment is integral to meditation. First, it makes meditation much more appealing, so that it motivates us to do more of it. Second, it accompanies and promotes collectedness – states in which the mind settles down, the body relaxes, and it gets easier to concentrate on what’s happening in mind and body. Which, in turn, can lead to the useful insights that are part of the fruits of meditation. And third, it teaches us valuable lessons about enjoyment and how to relate to it (which I’m seeking to articulate here). So, you should aim to enjoy meditation (and life). But, on the other hand, if you try too hard to enjoy meditation (and life), you are liable to run into trouble.

The point here is that wanting enjoyment is inconsistent with actual enjoyment. Because if you’re wanting enjoyment, then by definition, you don’t have it – you’re feeling like what you have right now isn’t good enough; that there’s some more enjoyable state that you need to get to. And that’s a painful place to be, albeit sometimes subtly so. It’s not pleasant to wish that things were other than they are. And there is an alternative that is less painful, more enjoyable, and also quite obvious, although not easy to do: to stop trying to get somewhere else, and simply enjoy what you have.

We have probably all heard this advice before, but it’s hard to implement. And so, we are all dissatisfied, almost all of the time. We pick holes in our actual lives, fantasising about how we would like them to be. We imagine that the key to our happiness is to realise those fantasies, failing to realise that if that were to happen, we would just start to pick holes in our new reality, and to fantasise about something even bigger, even better, even more perfect. We fail to realise, most of the time, that what is making us unhappy is precisely our desire for ever greater happiness.

So far, so cliched. But as with many truisms and cliches, they come alive anew when we see how they play out in the laboratory of meditation, under the microscope of our attention. And what we might find is that we can learn to let go of our striving after enjoyment and simply enjoy what’s already happening.

If we want to enjoy our meditation, we might simply notice how things are already – the sensations of the body and/or the feel of mental experience – and notice what’s pleasant, however subtly so. And we might tune into that pleasantness and simply enjoy it; luxuriate in it. We might notice when thoughts arise about how it’s not that pleasant, or how it was more pleasant yesterday, or how it's not so pleasant as we think it ought to be, and put them aside, returning instead to our current experience of pleasantness.

And in doing that, in simply enjoying the practice rather than scheming about how to enjoy it more, we might find that our enjoyment increases. We might find that this is a way to greater collectedness in meditation, and (because meditation is a microcosm of life) we might realise that it’s also a way to greater contentment in life.


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