If you’re into yoga, travel, philosophy, meditation, or any number of other pursuits, you might sometimes get called a “seeker.” A seeker of truth, or experiences, or happiness – but a seeker. Someone looking for something.
Which is funny, because when it comes to authentic happiness, you actually have to stop seeking. Here’s what I mean.
1. Human beings seek all the time
Human beings are genetically and environmentally conditioned to seek all the time. Every moment, most of us are wanting something pleasant (food, entertainment, love, distraction), thinking about the future or the past, or trying to avoid something unpleasant. Sometimes it’s big stuff – the meaning of life. Sometimes it’s little stuff – getting through the next traffic light. Sometimes we’re just clueless.
This isn’t because we suck. It’s because we’re genetically predisposed to be this way. If we didn’t seek, we wouldn’t eat, or flee from danger, or make love. Besides, life without seeking is barely life at all.
And yet, seeking often makes us miserable. See what happens if you seek distraction but can’t find it. Or what happens when you can’t sleep. Or if you’re searching for happiness, contentment, relaxation, or love, but can’t ever seem to find it. For me, even when I do get what I want, I want to make sure I don’t lose it, or I want to taste it again. This is what seeking is: an endless procession of thoughts and desires.
2. Stop and smell the roses
When seeking stops, happiness begins. It is possible to drink more deeply from the well of life, slowing down the mind’s relentless, evolutionarily designed efforts to search for that “something else” that is going to bring happiness.
And we know this intellectually. When we just slow down and enjoy the moment – a summer’s day, a good meal, or even a difficult but meaningful encounter with someone we care about, or someone who is ill – of course, we appreciate it more. To “stop seeking” is to start living.
But intellectual knowing isn’t enough, because of those millions of years of conditioning. It takes work to not work. To really stop seeking requires effort – and paradoxically, a search for the ways in which seeking is still going on, and the ways it can be, if not stopped, at least slowed down.
3. Seeking to stop seeking?
That’s right, we’re seeking to stop seeking.
Not surprisingly, this can lead to some serious neurosis. How can I be more present? How can I be more content? Is this kind of meditation better than that kind? And how do I know?
Fortunately, with a little practice, you can let go of that search for the search too. Try it now. Maybe take one nice full breath. And then, just for now, let go of any sense of searching, of purpose, or goal. Rest in what is. As if you’ve been home all along.
Don’t worry about making it last – that’s more seeking. Just, enjoy right now.
A funny thing happens when you do this over and over again – these small moments, many times. Your mind gets used to it. It settles back, so to speak. Eventually, the intellectual knowledge that we’re happier when we’re not seeking for the next thing becomes intuitive knowledge. That is the real transformation. To loosen the push and pull of human existence.
But you have to do it a lot, until the mind really gets habituated to that profound letting go, the happiness that does not depend on conditions.
In the meantime, those moments of “stop seeking” will just be islands of calm in a sea of stress. But that’s still better than no islands at all, right? Just stop seeking for anything to be different, and suddenly, things just are as they are.
Dr. Jay Michaelson is the editor of wisdom content for Ten Percent Happier. He’s been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay’s eight books include The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path and the brand new Enlightenment by Trial and Error.
Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and the brand new "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".