For some people it’s sex. For some, it’s football. For others, it’s the thrill of being at a rock concert, dropping acid in the woods, skydiving… you name it. For every rush, entire industries exist to make sure that you can get off on whatever excites you the most. People will go to extreme lengths, pay top dollar and take huge risks to experience their turn-ons. These ineffable thrills can feel like they give temporary meaning and purpose to an otherwise underwhelming and mundane life.
For a few minutes or at the very most a few hours, we feel the aliveness that we felt in our youth, connected deeply to our vitality, perhaps even closer to God. But as soon as the activity is over, the buzz begins to wear off and we are back to our normal lives, dreaming of the next time we can have a similar experience. After a few reliable highs from doing what we most love to do, our minds begin to create neurological pathways to hardwire in the association between the activity and the subsequent high. In other words, we start to convince ourselves that it is only through doing this activity that we can feel this way. Because this happens at an unconscious level, we never even realize that it is occurring.
If these types of fleeting experiences of joy are all you know, you are like most people. It is rare that someone even questions this way of experiencing the world. But throughout the ages, a few among us have recognized this tendency and deeply committed themselves to challenging it. These deeply devoted souls have undertaken the seemingly impossible task of discovering this pleasure in regular, otherwise unnoteworthy moments. These are not exceptional beings any different than you or I. They are ordinary people who recognize that the feelings that are created during these experiences are actually something taking place internally, inside our own bodies. The activities simply serve as a catalyst to activate more of our own native energy, which otherwise remains dormant.
There are numerous practices available for those who wish to tap into this energy on a more regular basis. Yoga, meditation, breath work, qi gong and tai chi are disciplines which were created specifically for this purpose. Those who dabble in these practices may get little more than a good stretch and a bit of temporary relaxation. But those who powerfully commit, who are willing to take the dive into their bodies and psyches and stay the course day after day, week after week, year after year, no matter what happens, tend to unlock something far more profound. Some may describe it as “enlightenment,” a poorly understood word, and others may describe it as a remembering of their authentic selves. Most begin to regularly embody the boundless energy of their youth but with the groundedness and maturity of adults and with deep insights into the nature of the human experience.
Somewhere along the way, we learn that pleasure is contingent upon certain activities which “give” us our thrills. This generally begins to take place sometime in early childhood, and by the time we are adults, we have spent decades slowly and consistently denying ourselves access to our own spontaneity and joy, believing that this type of freedom is a product of innocence and youth, rather than who we really are.
For those who wish to break free of their own inner prison and regularly experience joy, a lot of unlearning must take place. We must be willing to discover the pain, trauma, and insecurities that we learned to identify with and unknowingly allowed to fester over the years. Recovering one’s freedom is not for the meek of heart, as it requires consistently allowing oneself to feel one’s own unconsciously self-imposed limitations. After all, the blocks that we create become part of our self-image and our personalities. This is what’s meant when people describe “ego death.” It is the shedding of the layers of protection that we have put on ourselves. While brief moments of satori (sudden enlightenment) may happen, fully transforming requires years of dedicated practice in self-awareness.
The reward for the committed soul is the ability to access deep joy and freedom even in some of the darkest and most challenging situations. That is something that no amount of money can buy.