Relying on tomorrow for satisfaction is like relying on someone we’ve never met to give us a million dollars.
Disappointment is likely in both cases. Yet we have all done this since childhood. We feel a need (motive) and look outside of ourselves and to the future for satisfaction (incentive). On a physiological level, this doesn’t cause too many problems. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re cold, we put on a coat.
But on a psychological level, this can cause many problems. The need for esteem can take the form of going to college for four years to attain a degree. The need to belong can draw us into harmful relationships.
The problem here is that a need for satisfaction implies that we are not currently satisfied. The future is uncertain and the past is gone. There is only a perpetual series of Nows.
This moment is all there is and all there ever will be. When we just focus on attaining a degree, we are going to be unsatisfied the entire time we’re going to school. Sometimes the coursework will seem arduous. We will be easily distracted because far off incentives require focus. They require an intense drive to keep the focus alive. This drive requires energy to continue, and also increases dissatisfaction with the moment.
Life is too short to give any moment away to the future. Peace, satisfaction and fulfillment are right now. The way to cultivate perpetual satisfaction is simple, but it takes a lot of practice. When the floor is dirty we are motivated to sweep it so that we can feel satisfied. This makes sweeping the floor a task. Throughout the entire thing we just think, “I wish the floor was clean right now, I don’t want to sweep it.”
What if we could just throw away our views of sweeping being a means to an end, and just think of it as the end itself? What if we could throw away positive and negative views about sweeping and just immerse ourselves in the motion of sweeping, and the delicate sound of the broom breezing across the floor? If we do this, sweeping isn’t a task, but something as natural and effortless as breathing. We will be more thorough because we aren’t thinking of getting the floor clean as quickly as we can. We will feel at peace because we are satisfied while sweeping. A clean floor is then just a fortunate byproduct rather than the incentive.
This can apply to every goal we could ever have. Focus determines reality. If we change our focus from attaining a degree and instead make the studying and writing the reason for going to school, then the process will be satisfying in each moment. Our grades may be better, because we’re more focused. And our work will be more insightful because we’re not doing it for any reason other than to do it. The degree becomes just a nice result.
Driving to work, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, making coffee, changing a dirty diaper, falling in love, finding the meaning of one’s existence…and even figuring out how to brighten the lives of those who are in pain can all be free of suffering through this practice of mindfulness (immersion). Combining focus on the moment with an unbiased perspective creates a doorway to peace for our mind.
Then, even the physiological needs mentioned earlier are no longer distressing. The cold is just cold; it’s neither good nor bad. We don’t have to throw on a coat because we hate the cold, we can put it on simply because we are cold. Then we can focus on the motions of walking to the coat, the sensation of shrugging it on, the sound of the fabric, the vivid colors and the texture.
So, it’s plain to see how immersion applies to motivation and incentives in every possible scenario. We think, “That’s too simple! Peace must be harder to find than that!” It is simple, but as I said it is challenging. Immersion is natural, but it is the mode of an unconditioned mind. Our conditioning began the day we were born. The unnatural state of mind we live in seems natural because it’s all we can remember.
I spent most of my life ignoring this moment. I was never satisfied. Like a donkey chasing a carrot in front of its nose, I failed to see that there were carrots all around.