a couple of years ago

The delusional pursuit of escape velocity

I’ve squandered an awful lot of my life with a fool’s errand: trying to feel good all the time.

Oh, now, sure, I wouldn’t have admitted that I needed to feel good all the time. But I was deceiving even myself. Because in reality, even if I felt great 99% of the time, the 1% of unpleasantness was unacceptable to me.

So the truth is, I wanted to feel good all the time.

And, to be even more honest, I wanted to feel more than good.

I moved to Los Angeles after I’d dropped out of college. I’d recently broken up with my girlfriend, and it gave me the extra push that I needed to finally stop going to college – something I was unhappy with from the start.

Once in Los Angeles, as I have written previously, I fell in with pot smokers and psychedelic drug enthusiasts. I smoked pot for the first time. Then again. And again. And again.

I called my ex-girlfriend one day while high and declared that I was the happiest I’d ever been.

Not to be mean. But because it seemed like the truth.

And marijuana encouraged me to believe that I could really maintain that euphoric state.

Then LSD encouraged me to believe the same.

Maybe, somehow, I’d get to escape unhappiness. For good. Forever.

I’m not sure how I imagined it would work. Maybe like escape velocity. If I could just get high enough, I’d beat the system.

Later, I believed meditation would do it. Maybe with a boost from kirtan. And adhering to a sattvic diet.

Yada yada yada.

Here’s the thing: that’s totally crazy. And wrong.

It just won’t work. At least it has never worked for me. And I don’t personally know anybody who it has worked for.

I guess it is possible that some people somewhere may have been successful in that endeavor. Maybe somebody managed to achieve escape velocity. Maybe they are completely euphoric all the time.

But it doesn’t work for me. And it probably doesn’t work for you. And, frankly, I doubt it works for anybody.

Because from my perspective, it’s a misunderstanding.

Here’s what I mean. Day is followed by night is followed by day, etc. This is not a problem. It’s not even personal. Day isn’t happening because I’m a good person and night isn’t happening because I’m a bad person. It’s just happening because that’s how it works.

But let’s say for a moment that I have decided that night is bad, unacceptable. Every time day happens, I think, “Hallelujah! I’m doing it! I’m winning! This is going to be the ultimate, endless day! I’ll finally be free of night!”

Then night comes. And I despair, “Why is this happening?!”

I know, I know. Day and night aren’t exactly the same as euphoria and despair (or any of the other polarities of human feeling experiences). And yes, I do have an intrinsic dislike of despair (as well as other negative feeling experience). And I’m not advocating for treating euphoria and despair in the same way. Obviously, that would be ridiculous. (Though, let’s be honest, we’ve probably all thought that was the goal of Eastern-influenced spirituality, right?)

What I’m trying to get at is this: what I’ve noticed in my own experience is that day and night happen and so too do euphoria and despair. In my own life there are ups and downs, lefts and rights. This seems to be the natural flow of things.

If I mistake the flow of life (and the landmarks along the way) as being indicative of my shortcomings in some kind of cruel fashion – in other words, if I take it all really personally – I suffer. Or, put another way, if I am reactive without conscious awareness of the impersonal nature of even that reactivity…I suffer.

But I have noticed that reacting in that way is like reacting to day and night.

Yes, day and night happen. Yes, euphoria and despair happen.

Why did I think I was going to change that? It’s an innocent confusion. A confusion that led to a lot of suffering.

But in the blink of an eye…right now…where is the suffering? Where is the suffering of the past? Where is the future suffering? Where is present suffering?

In this moment right now, the second that I see that it wasn’t ever intended the way I interpreted it…I recognize that I have always been okay. I am okay right now.

That doesn’t mean I cannot learn and grow. Paradoxically, perhaps, I learn and grow most when I’m not taking it so personally. When I see that what’s being reflected is not a condemnation. It’s just a reflection of this as it is.

That makes a world of difference.

I thought for so long that I needed to feel good all the time. But it now seems to me that trying to feel good all the time only prolongs the suffering. Whereas, this simple recognition right now instantly dissolves the suffering.

Not that it gets rid of feeling states. Not that it produces new, more desirable feeling states. Not that it removes all challenge, pain, or discomfort.

Because the recognition doesn’t seem to do that.

But it does do one thing reliably: it reveals that the insistence that this shouldn’t be as it is, is unnecessary. And upon letting that go, I am free to receive this present moment, this reflection of this as it is rather than my delusional, personal interpretation of it.

That sure does lighten the load.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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