Equilibrium

From an essay by Andrew Olendski, “The Non-pursuit of Happiness”:

A system’s health or well-being, which at the human scale we call happiness, might be simply defined as a state of equilibrium between inner and outer states.

Which brings us to the two strategies for achieving happiness: One is to change the external environment to meet the needs (or wants) of the organism; the other is to change the internal state of the organism to adapt itself to the environment. We can either change the world to satisfy our desires, or change our desires by adapting to the world. Both strategies aim at removing the agitation of desires, one by fulfilling them and the other by relinquishing them.

Because we are so imbued with the notion that happiness is something to be pursued by the continual transformation of the external, it can sound odd to hear the Buddha talk of uncovering happiness within. He acknowledged the inevitable presence of disequilibrium, which he called dukkha or suffering, but suggested we seek out its internal adjustments. According to the Buddha’s analysis, it is not the objective discrepancy between the internal and the external conditions that is the source of unhappiness; it is the desire for the external to change (or to not change, as the case may be), which is itself an internal state. Conditions in the world are notoriously unstable and subject to forces beyond our control, while internal desires are intimate and more accessible. It is simply more efficient to adapt to the world than to alter it.

Let’s try giving the world a rest from our restless need to transform it, and work a bit more on changing ourselves. I trust the Buddha’s promise that by doing so we will be happier in the long run.

This is a re-statement, in a different voice, of the point made in the previous post. My hope is that by examining our situation from different angles we can slowly adjust our default attitude from “It shouldn’t be like this” to “Perhaps I can reduce my desire for things to be other than as they are”.

In order to make that move, we have to become familiar enough with our minds to believe that they are malleable, that how we react to things is not immutable, but can be changed. This is a delicate and somewhat mysterious business. It may have to do with deliberately softening our attitudes, with examining the internal and external more closely, with replacing judgment with curiosity, and with other strategies we discover for ourselves.

1 Comment

Filed under Causes and results, Dukkha, Mindfulness

One response to “Equilibrium

  1. I love this: “Let’s try giving the world a rest from our restless need to transform it, and work a bit more on changing ourselves. I trust the Buddha’s promise that by doing so we will be happier in the long run.”

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