Looking in the wrong places

Looking back at my last week, there was a period of about 3-5 days where I fell back to the illusion of seeking pleasure, or rather an escape from unpleasantness in the wrong places. I was in the depths of revising salaries, which my sanna (perception) had immediately recognised as an unpleasant business.

Semi-consciously, my mind kept running what it remembered to be pleasurable pathways - watching Netflix, YouTube videos, catching up on the Ukraine conflict, reading about Russian geopolitics, reading hot takes on Twitter, watching comedy for wit, grabbing junk food, clearing Slack messages etc. Semi-conscious, because part of it was a conscious decision, and part of it was automatic. The distinction mattered less than what I used to think though, as I began to understand how our volitions are actually just a result of past conditioning. My mind was just seeking that dopamine hit, or just a pleasurable sensation in general to escape from the current unpleasantness.

Once I recognised this cycle, I remember that the root cause is craving, and thus the appropriate solution is to stop craving for the present to be different, for the unpleasantness to go away, for pleasant sensations to keep coming. That's the strategy though. Sounds good in theory, but in practice, it takes skill and focus. The tactic here is to constantly bring mindfulness to the present. I have known this strategy for years. An interesting pattern I noticed is that every time I am reminded of it through Dhamma talks, there is an immediate period after which it has effects on my life. That effect fades away after a while though. Introspecting deeper, that is because mindfulness is an unnatural state of the mind, and it takes effort to cultivate this conscious skill. From there, the solution is clear - keep practising until mindfulness is 2nd nature, meaning that it pervades more and more of my waking hours.

Going a little deeper about how mindfulness feels like, it's like finally forcing your eyes wide open to pierce through this veil of mist that a part of your mind has conjured to protect itself. The insight here is that our minds are multi-faceted with different streams of desires - one part of you want to see reality as it is, but the other part will actively but subtlely obfuscate it. So you have to recognise the clear-seeing part, and channel energy towards it. Brace yourself for the initial discomfort that can arise - it will give way to the relief and sense of ease of not having to conjure a simultaneous illusion.

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