Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Studying Happiness

From Will at

Over ten years ago, I went on a two week meditation retreat on the subject of metta – the basic positive emotion talked about in Buddhism. For the first few days, I sat there in silent meditation hating every moment of it, gritting my teeth, trying to crank out this positive emotion, getting frustrated with myself for my failure, cursing the whole business. This metta I was supposed to be feeling and wasn’t seemed heavy, a kind of burden or a duty. I struggled with it for days on end. Then, towards the end of the first week, something changed. I went into the meditation hall, sat on those accursed cushions, and took a deep breath. “What do I want most?” I asked myself.

The answer was one that Aristotle would have recognised. Happiness. Then it became clear to me. Metta was the most obvious and straightforward thing in the world. It was really astonishingly simple. Of course I wanted to experience positive emotions. What, after all, could be better? What more satisfying way of spending one’s time than bringing into being the thing that, when it came down to it, I cherished most. And not just for myself, because that made no sense at all. Happiness could not be hoarded or grasped on to as a possession. I wanted happiness not for myself, but for all. And as soon as this became clear, I experienced it. Happiness. Positive emotion. Well-wishing. Relief.

Of course I forget these things. Sometimes I find myself entangled in webs of my own making, webs of ill will and frustration and gloom. But it is for this reason that I find reflecting and studying happiness so valuable. It is for this reason that I still on some mornings sit down practice metta meditation. And it is for this reason that I am looking forward, so very much, to the explorations and investigations of the following few weeks.

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