Waking Up takes a neuroscientific approach to spirituality and shows how meditation can enrich the lives of even non-believers. It provides both a rigorous explanation why our concepts of self are illusions and offers practical advice on how to discard the self to lead a more meaningful life.
So what’s the best way to live a happy and fulfilled life, if not by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain?
Children may spend their time eagerly eyeing the cookie jar while kicking and screaming to avoid having to eat their broccoli. While tantrums like these may get children their pleasures, it, unfortunately doesn’t work out so easily for adults.
In part, it’s because our pleasures are fleeting. Even if you find that perfect moment of pleasure – absolute bliss even – the feeling will soon fade, and soon you’ll start chasing a new moment.
This plays out constantly in our daily lives. Imagine, for example, that you finally have your long-awaited day out at the beach. The sun feels wonderful on your skin until you start to break a sweat. So, you seek a new pleasure – relief in the shade – until that cool breeze becomes a little too cold. As you reach for the warmth of your t-shirt, you notice how tattered it’s become, and you need a new one. You like the idea of new clothes, but you hate shopping, and so on.
Not only are these moments of pleasure and pain fleeting; they also depend more on our perceptions than reality.
Imagine, for example, that you’re sitting on a chair wired to a “feeling machine” that can trigger any feeling in you. The sadist operating the machine inflicts great pain on your body: all your muscles tense, you start sweating and breathing heavily and your heartbeat is throbbing in your head.
Our experience, that is, the pain in our bodies, is perceived as a horror – one that we would almost certainly avoid at all costs.
However, aren’t these sensations the same as the ones we experience when we lift weights at the gym? Some people love that feeling!
Clearly, there is more to finding happiness than just seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.