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Happiness: The Great Way is Not Difficult?

handrail on a tricky bit of trail in Oregon

Koan: The Great Way is not difficult, it just precludes picking and choosing.

Preclude is such a great word. And so under-used. It's great because of the way it admits everything except what follows it, in this case Picking and Choosing. But what is actually meant by picking and choosing? Does that mean I don't get to like some things and not like others, no preference for spicy or mild, paper or plastic? Is this some kind of dry and dull non-attachment thing that Buddhism seems to cling to? No, it's not that at all. That's why preclude is such a fantastic word here, it points out the ease of it all. The Great Way is a very broad path; all of reality, everything, is on it. The only thing you can't do is turn away, you can't be somewhere else than where you are. It's so easy and still so hard. And I find it helpful to notice that effort sometimes.


The whole idea behind meditation and the arts of paying attention came out of a desire to address the problem of suffering. Suffering may be broadly defined here. You can understand it as many things: boredom, pain, loneliness, a distance from the world, anger, fear, disappointment, envy. We each have our own particular version that we carry, perhaps even that we come to this world with. Most of us arrived at meditation as a way of responding to some kind of suffering, or as a way of getting away from it, or we stumbled into it because something deep inside us had a longing for some kind of freedom.

Hard work, in a funny way. 

Something I observe is that, while happiness is very appealing, and the happiness that I come upon through meditation is quite compelling and potent, I'm used to trouble and strife and unease, so I return to it. It's a habit, a feeling I'm familiar with and I find myself making a case for myself that I can get away with just a little bit of blaming this person, or the luxury of feeling dread and disappointment. It's like when you're really tired on a long drive and start to tell yourself that you could maybe sleep with just one eye closed. So in that way, the Great Way is hard work for me, since it requires being honest with myself. It's good to remind myself from time to time that I really care about this, enough to look again, enough to put my shoulder into it.

You can't have it both ways

So, just like I can't really sleep with one eye closed while I'm driving, I can't indulge in a little bit of suffering and be on the Great Way. But wait, the suffering I'm talking about isn't grief over loss, or pain, or the unavoidable texture of things. I'm referring to the suffering that comes from telling myself that this isn't it, that somehow my life is flawed, that my problem is that's what is happening now is wrong. Because the first step (and every step) on the Great Way is noticing what's happening now.  I'm not being a hardass about this, it's just empirical. It's like this: I'm rushed, just a bit, taking a friend to the airport. I've convinced her we have enough time if we do it just right and so we set off. The conversation is a good one and suddenly she says, "wow, what a beautiful bridge!" and I say "Dang! wrong bridge!" and realized I've missed my exit and gone the wrong way. Now we're really late, perhaps irredeemably so. What happens next? Either this is suffering because I add to it by telling myself I need to have done it differently, that this connects to many other wrong things, or it can be otherwise. I can be here. When I'm here, the sun shines brighly off the shiny paint of that bright black GMC sportscar in front of me. It's beautiful, the way the convertible top is so new and clean, and I begin to see the clouds reflected in it. The same sun is warm on my face. I feel the solidity of my body, I'm alive. Anything is possible and I haven't precluded the possibility that this is all perfect.

Take the hand that's offered 

One of the tricks of the great way is not to refuse when the universe reaches out its hand. There's the koan, your breath, a person who says "hey, lady, wake up!" I had a friend who found that the part of the stoplight that said "don't walk!" was such a great gift. He could stop for a second in the middle of busyness and just not walk for a few minutes.

Don't lie to yourself

The last thing for right now is this, and more on this later: there's a way that happiness and disappointment and dysphoria recruit for themselves. It's probably just a thing our brains do automatically, but it's worth opposing. The difficult feelings can be so strong that they make us forget that we ever were really happy, that there really is a light inside everything. Maybe we tell ourselves that it protects us to forget this, that we need to harden ourselves so as not to be hurt or fooled. 

Just for now, try not making things up. Try not knowing how things are going to go. Hold the koan in your meditation and revery and see where it goes. Sometimes the shift to putting my foot in the Great Way is just glancing in its direction. And here are a few things to consider:


1.    When have you been really happy?

2.    What are the conditions under which you couldn’t be happy?

3.    What do you allow to help you when you’re unhappy? What can’t help?

4.    What qualifies as suffering in your book? How do you know when you’re suffering?

5.    What does meditation do for you? Does it help? Always? What else helps?


  1. This morning, the soft rain turned to heavy blobs of wet snow. I put the red flannel shirt on. I'll go cover the materials in the back yard.


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