Happiness

“May all being be happy!” That’s what Goenka chants at the end of every sitting and what is shown at the end of every discourse. Happiness is an important part of this tradition but their definition of happiness is a bit different from what mine has always been. For me, happiness came from celebrating, exciting activities, winning competitions, rooting for a sports team, completing goals, sharing fun experiences with friends, travelling, and adventures. I knew that life had its ups and downs so I would work through the downs to I could boisterously and passionately celebrate the ups. My life was defined by my sensual experiences because that’s the only way I knew how to perceive life. When sensations, moods, or situations were bad I would just turn down the volume and when they were good I would turn the volume all the way up and allow myself to be swept away. Given the reality I was aware of, this seemed like a pretty good way to spend my time on the planet.

Now Vipassana has given me a new way to perceive the world. Instead of letting my life be guided by my perception of these sensation I’ve been taught to observe these sensations with equanimity so I can work towards a state beyond mind and matter. Wait! Slow down! Yes, a state beyond mind and matter, also known as Enlightenment or being Fully Liberated. Now that seems like an interesting goal until you hear Goenka say that he’s not fully liberated and that it might take me a few more lives to reach this final state. So the practice is asking me to give up all of these sensual pleasures and take 2 hours to meditate every day for a goal that I probably won’t reach in this lifetime. That certainly sounds like a poor trade.

I’ve seen great benefits in my life from this meditation practice in regards to working through difficult emotional obstacles but now that those things have passed, my mind wants to return to having fun. There are conflicting views in my mind about what that means. As I’ve continued practicing I’ve found that my definition of happiness is changing. Instead of happiness coming from external events like celebrating with friends, getting promotions, and buying nicer things, I’m finding happiness from a constant feeling of peace and the growing vibration of love within myself. I’m feeling less of a need to compete and fight for an honorable spot in the pecking order of society and more of a desire to share these peaceful loving vibrations with the world.

The happiness that Goenka talks about comes from the slow process of purifying the mind. It’s a state of mind that I didn’t know existed until I was introduced to Vipassana. I still intellectually struggle with the idea of giving up what I used to define as happiness to strive for a state that I’m struggling to understand and certainly can’t explain to people who haven’t experienced deep meditation. Fortunately, I’ve also learned that thinking can’t solve everything and sometimes you just need to do what feels right. Continuing on the path of dharma feels right. I feel more connected with peace, truth, and love every day. As these feelings become stronger the need to intellectually understand enlightenment and happiness dwindles. I guess I’m motivated to continue my meditation practice a little longer.

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About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

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