One of the ancient ideas Haidt discusses in The Happiness Hypothesis is Buddha’s ideal of separating oneself from all earthly attachments and desires. Haidt actually rejects this based on evidence from modern psychology, but it’s always one worthy of discussion.
I was about 20 when I first had my first discussion about Enlightenment – in particular Buddha’s version. What is it? How does one attain it? Is it like some spiritual asymptote that you’re never expected to reach? And why the fuck is meditating so hard?
Recently a friend of mine was chatting to me about the ‘space cadet’ result you can get from heavy meditation. He attributes meditation to overcoming his long term depression, so I take his thoughts on the subject seriously. He mentioned that sometimes you might notice some Hari Krishnas have a ‘spaced out’ look to them. It can happen when you meditate a lot – and it’s something that most people don’t think about. Meditation creates space between you and the world, and to some extent makes the world irrelevant. It’s also a serious high. So when you meditate a lot, you stop caring as much about the world around you.
Most people barely get to the point of deep meditation, let alone meditating so much it creates problems. But this distancing effect is why meditation is so closely tied to Buddhism – the Buddha’s ideal is that we would all be space cadets, really. And this distancing is also the reason meditation works for stress relief.
Haidt mentions this in his book – meditation takes the edge off intense stress, but also takes the edge off intense desire. Which means that you should wait until AFTER the hard study before using meditation as stress relief for an exam.
But when you see the ideal ‘no earthly ties’ no longer as the abstract concept of a monk on a hilltop but as the reality of a blissed-out Krishna, it’s way less appealing. As much as it can be helpful to get some distance and perspective from the world, The Happiness Hypothesis (as well as plain old common sense) proves that it’s our connections to the world, and particularly the people around us, that can provide greater happiness.