When I was a child, my family took yearly summer vacations to Sedona, Arizona. Back in those days, nobody knew about this beautiful place. It became popular many years later. We’d drive, and the start of each trip was on multi-lane highways out of Los Angeles. Soon we turned onto smaller, two-lane country roads with cars coming from the other direction just over the center line. For the whole day, we’d drive through the vast empty expanse of desert, the gray road stretching seemingly to infinity before us.
There were places in those days, where the road rose and fell over tiny hills, so we’d go up and down, up, and down. In those areas, looking ahead, in the distance in front of us, I’d see water in some of those dips. But that water would always turn into asphalt as we approached. There were also apparent huge lakes in the distance, but they too disappeared and became desert when we reached their edge. The water in those dips and in the desert was not water at all but mirages. They were an illusion caused by heat and light. We were lucky, as we didn’t need that water to survive. But by experiencing those mirages, I came to understand how one could be tricked by seeing something that didn’t exist.
As I grew up, I found there is another mirage in life that most of us get taken in by. The great Himalayan yogi, Swami Rama, explained it well: “seeking happiness in the external world is like chasing a mirage: no matter how fast one may rush toward it, he never finds anything even when he reaches the place where he thought his goal lay” (Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Pp. 219).
The mirage Swami Rama points to is such a good illusion that often we don’t even realize we’ve been fooled. The reason for this is a slight-of-hand by our very own minds: although we often experience a momentary pleasure upon satisfying our desire, before we have time to realize how puny and short lasting that pleasure is, the mind takes off after the next desire.
All my life—I’m 70 years old now— I’ve tried to find happiness by chasing desires, obtaining things and having experiences and, although I often experienced the momentary pleasure upon obtaining my goal, I also experienced a constant low-level of frustration. Looking closely at the origin of that frustration, I realized that nothing, no experience, no object, really satisfied me. Momentary pleasure is not the same as happiness. I wanted to be happy, to be eternally fulfilled, and no-thing gave me that. Eventually, I realized that I was spending my whole life chasing mirages. If I wanted to be happy, that happiness had to come from somewhere else.
So where does happiness come from? Swami Rama says,"It is impossible to attain happiness in the external world, for happiness is only found deep in the innermost chamber of one's being. The Self is the center of happiness. Those who are realized are always filled with the happiness of the Self, and they alone find real peace in their hearts" (Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Pp. 219-220). Meditation is the path to find that center of happiness within.
Over the many decades that I’ve been practicing meditation, at times I’ve tasted a deeper happiness that is not dependent upon anything external. It just is. This happiness is our birthright. As one advances in his or her meditation practice, it becomes possible to dip into true happiness more often.