Hiding from pain by pursuing pleasure

August 13, 2015

Fun fair long exposure Photo taken at the fun fair of Hoorn

There’s a famous teaching, the Sallatha Sutta, in which the Buddha discusses our suffering as consisting of “two arrows.” The first arrow is simply the unavoidable suffering that we all experience as a result of being human. We’re all going to experience loss, hurt feelings, physical pain, illness, etc. The wise person simply observes this pain mindfully. The unwise person responds to suffering through resistance: “Why is this happening to me? This is terrible!”

The Buddha called this reaction “grief, sorrow and lamentation,” and he pointed out that this was like responding to the first arrow with a second one! Our resistance to pain simply causes further pain—perhaps even more than we’d originally experienced. … Read more »

Any meditation you can walk away from is a good meditation

September 10, 2013


Meditation’s not necessarily going to be easy or pleasant. You may find that you’re sitting with a chaotic mind, or that you’re falling asleep, or that you have physical discomfort. And there can be a tendency to label those times as “bad” meditations.

If that happens to you, I have two sayings that you might find useful:

  1. “Any meditation you can walk away from is a good meditation.”
  2. “The only bad meditation is the one you didn’t do.”

It’s the doing of the practice that’s the main thing; whether or not there was pleasure present isn’t that important.

Ironically, though, the less you worry about whether your meditation is pleasant or not and the more … Read more »

Self-compassion is not selfish (Day 35)

May 16, 2013

Lotus, isolated on whiteIn his book, Living Ethically: Advice from Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, Sangharakshita has some advice for those who feel guilty about wanting to be happy. I have to confess that I’d forgotten that it was possible to feel this way…

“How can we wish for the happiness of others if we are alienated from our own desire for happiness?

“Unfortunately, many of us in the West were given to understand when we were young that it is selfish to want happiness for onself, and we therefore feel unnecessarily guilty about wanting it. As a result, we can feel guilty even about BEING happy. ‘After all,’ the perverse logic goes, ‘with all my selfish desires for

Read more »

Is meditation supposed to make you happier?

December 31, 2012

Buddha statue at wat phasawangbun temple, ThailandRobert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, writes from time to time about his meditation practice, especially when he’s going on retreat, for example here and (most recently) here.

Wright has found, as many people have, that meditation improves his life. He talks of the “sharp, even cold, clarity” he gains from sitting, as well as the “warm and fuzzy” feelings that arise from that clarity.

Surprisingly, to my mind, Wright finds himself in the position of having to “defend” finding that meditation makes him happier. One commenter said, for example:

Well, if you’re talking about Buddhist meditation, I’m sorry to say that

Read more »

When things get too much, change the channel

August 10, 2012

Sometimes a person just can’t find any stillness anywhere. Maybe you have epilepsy or chronic pain, or are wildly worried about a child or other loved one, or have been rejected in love or had the bottom fall out financially. In other words, as a wise therapist, Betsy Sansby, put it, like there’s a nest of bees in your chest.

Sometimes the inner practices fail you – or at least aren’t matched to the pickle you’re in. You’ve let be, let go, and let in. You sat to meditate and it was like sitting on the stove. You tried to be here now and find the lessons – and wanted to whack the person who … Read more »

Reflections on pleasure, beauty and blessings

January 1, 2012

We live in a culture where the pursuit of pleasure is alive and flourishing.  We work hard and we seek relief and escape that we find in many different ways, many pleasurable ways.

For some, pleasure is defined as freedom from work, unstructured time, travel, leisure activities, not following a proscribed plan, or leaving responsibilities behind.

Pleasure can be seen as an escape from:

  • our responsibilities (recreating rather than working)
  • things that are “good” for us (eating chocolate rather than a salad) or
  • things that benefit us (taking a day off from exercising).

We many see exercise or meditation in this way, activities that we “should” do.

For many years I struggled in my meditation … Read more »

Pleasure and pain: the worldly winds

October 5, 2011

Vidyamala talks about the worldly winds of pleasure and pain as part of the Triratna Buddhist Community’s International Urban Retreat, where for one week (8 – 15 October, 2011) people around the world at Triratna centers intensify their practice while staying their your home situation. The Urban Retreat is about learning to make Buddhist practice real and effective in daily life.

You can see more Triratna videos at from Vimeo.com.

When meditation seems impossible

September 26, 2010

My partner goes for a run and comes back looking despondent. ‘I struggled all the way round,’ he says. ‘It was as if I’d never run before.’ He has run several times a week for 3 years now.

‘I know how you feel,’ I say. I’m not thinking about running, though, but meditation. I’ve been meditating for some years now, but when I sit down sometimes it feels impossible. My head itches and the items on my ‘to-do’ list compete for attention. There are odd bodily sensations that could be illnesses in the making. And if all else fails, there’s my good old tinnitus.

Outside responsibilities of work, family and friends, I tend to navigate … Read more »