Just in case you haven’t noticed, pretty much everything you do is driven by some expectation of a reward. We are all gratification junkies looking for the big hit that is going to make us happy forever. It’s a trap that becomes impossible to escape. Even an article such as this that reveals the nature of the trap is part of the trap – an expectation of some form of liberation. Like a spider’s web, the more we struggle to free ourselves the more we become entangled.
I’ll add a bit of meat to this by exploring a few examples. “Spiritual” types desperately seek some new form of gratification, an escape from the misery of mundane existence. Mindfulness, meditation, loving-kindness, devotion, self-observation, various disciplines are all practiced with the expectation that things will “get better” – inner peace, contentment, joy, happiness. I’ve written how spiritual pursuits are just another form of pleasure-seeking, but it goes much deeper than this. Philosophers strive to understand the nature of existence to facilitate some form of escape. Spinoza did this with his “blessedness”, Schopenhauer with his denial of the will-to-life, Nietzsche with his invention of the Superman – and so on.
This drive for power and happiness is at the heart of us, and no matter what we do there will be some secret need for gratification. Even the Zen master who rejects anything other than everyday life is seeking some form of gratification – although they would probably deny it. So, is there any way out of this conundrum? In a word – no. All effort will be driven by the desire for freedom, happiness, more power, peace – and a thousand other states we deem to be desirable, although no one ever seems to attain them.
In the end, all we can do is laugh at the trap, and the fact there is no escape. Spinoza sums the whole thing up best – we are slaves of Nature. We do nature’s bidding whether we like it or not, and the desire to be happy and thrive more adequately is all Nature wants from us – until we have served our purpose, and then we are burned on the bonfire of straw dogs, as Lao Tsu states in the Tao te Ching.
I cannot end this piece without quoting UG Krishnamurti – “You will live in misery, and you will die in misery. There is no escape.” The best joke of all.