Happiness, on the other hand, is an inside job. It's a quality of our True Nature. Not the nature of the ego, or the mind, or the emotions (which are all very related as one large mechanism known in Sanskrit as antahkarana).
So as I'm getting closer to Desert Hot Springs, I'm thinking about short-cuts in reference to Ricard's article. It seems so obvious in the moment -- short-cuts are nearly always about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, with some seen or unseen urgency around making it happen NOW.
Without having cultivated habits around looking within for happiness, or even knowing it could be there, it's incredibly natural to look outside for something to do, a person to connect with, a object to buy, or something along those lines to experience the energy spike that comes with pleasure. One of the challenges with this is that once is rarely ever enough. If it feels good, the ego wants it again, and likely with stronger intensity to the experience. If the experience costs money, and there isn't any, the ego feels justified in using credit to buy the experience.
At some point the emotional, financial, and spiritual debt reaches a peak and starts moving in to collect on the debt.
In my own case, as I've been paying off the financial part of accrued debt (just recently passed the half-way mark and can feel the light at the end of the tunnel), I've been amazed at the impact on my intuition, emotions, and physical stamina. In my experience, the states of emotion and mind I were in at the time of delaying payment by using credit were also put on a delay. In taking the short-cut through using credit, I wasn't aware of the ways I was suppressing my own confidence and happiness and cultivating a stronger habit of looking outside for happiness.
I'm not suggesting that credit is bad. It can be a very positive thing when used consciously and positively. Good and bad are human ego judgments that don't have much relativity outside the human realm (ie; in nature -- find me a good tree and a bad tree...no such thing!).
Short-Cuts. The seduction to take short-cuts is everywhere. Whole industries are predicated on making life experiences faster, cheaper, and more readily available. Again, that's not good or bad. However, there are costs to it all (see http://thestoryofstuff.com).
This afternoon, I felt some pretty strong pulls on my energy and they're connected to some unpleasant feelings. My knee-jerk impulse was to want to call someone who I could talk about it all with and be done with the feelings. If I feel better after the call, but haven't myself digested the emotions, what happened? The other person psychically begins carrying them through empathy if he or she doesn't have the priceless discipline to remain neutral. It's a short-cut. But at some point, someone somewhere down the line has to do the spade work of sitting down and fully digesting the emotions (and/or sending them back to their source if picked up empathically).
Yep, I did try to reach a couple of friends. And I'm happy to say I didn't reach either of them. I sensed what was happening with me, and chose to slow my attention down, slow my breathing, and tune into what I was feeling. In the slowing down, it's easier for me to recognize self-love within. As soon as I can detect the feeling of self-love, I can focus on it. At that point, I have to stay focused. My thoughts seductively attempt to draw me back into the sped-up familiarity of the negative emotions. As I bring my attention to feeling my feet and deepening my breath, a smile cuts loose across my face.
How strange, I think, to be feeling happiness and discomfort at the same time. And yet here it is. I don't need to get anyone to carry my discomfort in order to find freedom. All I need to do is slow down enough to be present with myself and just observe what I'm feeling as pure sensations. When I look at them in this way, they disperse fairly quickly. My next task is to continue staying present, rather than get involved in thoughts about the past. My thoughts about the past only have an impact on the present when I'm entertaining them in the present. And I've noticed that when any negative emotion is up, it seems to color the memories of the past in such a way as to convince me to feel worse.
Happiness, while already existing within, is a discipline for me. It takes conscious, continuous discipline to choose happiness and stay present (which I'm experiencing more an more as being intimately related; presence and happiness).
In chatting to one friend who's a gifted professional dancer on the way back from the desert this morning about some of these themes, I mentioned my hesitation about having a conversation like this with some folks as some would say I'm over-thinking things, over-analyzing. Yet, we discussed, there's often a profound difference between the skill and awareness level of Michael Jackson's dancing and someone in a video dance jam class at their local gym. There's a difference at the level of interest in and passion for precision that comes from countless hours of cultivated discipline.
When it comes to the journey of Awakening and all the indwelling happiness, joy, and love to be recognized in the process, it seems to me that cultivating interest and skill in precise Awareness is my part in what allows for these highly sought-after qualities to be recognized and consistently experienced.