Round and Round
Earlier this week I received a message from a friend whose opinion I respect. When I first read the message, I found what it said was pleasant and I took it as praise. At the time I was working on something else, so I set the message aside and returned to my task. After finishing the task, I remembered the message. The memory was of a warm pleasant feeling but I didn't clearly remember what had been said. So I felt compelled to go back to it and to read it several more times. The first time seemed to be to verify what it said and that my perception of it as praise was accurate. The second time simply seemed to be about getting the pleasant feeling again. Satisfied, I set it aside again and went on to other things. Over the next few hours, I noticed how the mind would keep returning to the memory of the message, wanting to recall it again and again and again.
As I noticed this compulsion, what came to mind was a teaching from the Buddha in a collection known as the Numerical Discourses. The Buddha said:"These eight worldly conditions keep the world turning around…. What eight? Gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain." He then goes on to explain that they keep the world going around because when we encounter these conditions, we get caught up in them and either become elated or dejected. When we're caught in them it is like being on a merry-go-round, they just keep coming around again and again.
This is certainly what was happening, and often happens, in my own mind. When I'm caught up in the pleasant worldly conditions I want more and more and more. When I'm caught in the unpleasant ones, I usually try to push them away by explaining them away in some imaginary internal dialogue. Sometimes, though, there is an awakening. I clearly see what is happening. I see that this is the way the mind is. Then that particular merry-go-round stops.
Quote: AN VIII.6, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya, p.198