B. I started meditating a few weeks ago. When I first started, a happiness I never felt before washed over me. It lasted for a few days, but then the happiness left me so I stopped meditating. I started meditating a few days later, and again I was submerged in bliss, but for only a few days, so I stopped meditating. Finally, I began meditating one more time a week later, and as expected, the happiness and spontaneous living came and went. I have not stopped meditating this time. Why does the happiness leave me the longer I meditate? I would think the more I meditate the happier I would get. How can I just maintain that happiness?
Jay: Hi, B.
I think this is something that nearly everyone wonders about. There are moments of bliss and then it is gone.
It’s probably inevitable to feel that meditation should lead to happiness and that there is some kind of linear relationship – the more meditation, the more happiness. Alas, it does not work like that!
I would say there is a correlation of some kind between taking quiet, still time and the possibility of moments of simple joy. The most honest way I can describe the relationship is that moments of joy are a natural part of life. In addition, even when there is a more difficult state going on – pain, loss, sadness, etc. – it is possible and natural for there to be an equanimity with those states. We might not call this joy but I think it is an aspect of joy.
If joy is natural, then why does it seem so rare in our lives and so surprising when it pops up unexpectedly? To me, it seems that there is much unprocessed stuff that builds up in us through our experiences. Some of the unprocessed stuff is very deep, not even consciously recognized because it has become part of what we take for granted as ourselves. This unprocessed stuff blocks up the natural channels of perception. Because most of our experience is centered around defending ourselves and establishing ourselves as something permanent, the unprocessed stuff creates a strong energy of not wanting to be changed. Healing requires change and so there is a deeply engrained resistance to change. Of course, this is usually not conscious. We all claim we want to change and heal and open. But on a deep level there is strong resistance to that.
Because we don’t heal, joy is blocked. In sitting quietly without engaging the body or mind in any specific activity, there is a chance that some of the surface-level stuff can begin to clear. In other words, by taking some time in which we abstain from adding more experience to the pile of backed up, unprocessed experience, the system has some moments in which we are awake but not adding more junk. This allows the system to begin healing, at least on a surface level.
Even this small amount of healing time may allow joy to flow momentarily. Deeper healing requires longer meditation time. Meditating daily may help. Taking an occasional full day or weekend in which are in a quiet, natural place and abstain from adding new experience to our burden and allow the body to sit quietly for long periods may go more deeply.
For me personally, the deepest healing only occurs with going to 7 day retreats regularly. For many years I have been going at least 3 times a year. With 7 days, there is the possibility of surface-level backed up stuff to clear away and deeper level stuff to come into the light of day. The process of this happening IS the process of joy, though it may not always feel joyful. It is equanimity, wholeness, and healing. As the backed up stuff clears, the whole world may be revealed in its simple, shining nature. Not only does our personal life become simpler and more joyful but the understanding that this is one, whole world of life energy becomes a directly-experienced reality, not a theoretical belief.
I don’t know what part of the country you are in but for retreats I can recommend the Springwater Center in western NY. It is one of the few retreat places that offers a simple, direct retreat setting that does not impose fixed spiritual beliefs or practices. Instead, it allows anything that comes up to examined honestly. Retreats are led by people with many years of honest meditative work. Unlike most retreat places, these retreat leaders, in my experience, have no particular agenda.
I hope this has addressed your question. Please feel free to write back with any comments or questions. Best wishes to you.