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Chapter 2: The Boundaries of Joy. Fooling the Desire to Enjoy

As time went by, humanity developed various methods to cope with its inability to satisfy the desire to enjoy. For the most part, these methods were based upon two principles, which actually “fool” the desire to enjoy: 1) acquiring satisfying habits, and 2) diminishing the desire to enjoy.

The first principle relies on acquiring habits through conditioning. First, a child is taught that a certain act yields rewards. Once the required act is performed, the child is awarded by receiving the appreciation of teachers and the social environment. As the child grows, the reward is gradually stopped, but by now this act is “registered” in the adult’s mind as rewarding.

Once an individual is accustomed to performing certain acts, the actual performance becomes satisfying. Thus, one becomes meticulous in the performance and feels great satisfaction when he or she improves it. Additionally, this modus operandi is usually accompanied by promises of future, sometimes even postmortem, rewards.

The second principle is based upon diminishing the desire to enjoy. It is much sadder to want and not to have, than to not want at all. The former suffers, while the latter is “content” to settle for what’s available. Eastern teachings took these methods to the extreme and developed a wide variety of ways to decrease the intensity of the desire to enjoy. They used mental and physical exercises to do so, thus decreasing the intensity of the suffering.

As long as we remain preoccupied with chasing the next pleasure, we maintain our daily routines and hope for the best. While we may feel deficient and dissatisfied for not having what we want, the mere chase of the desired pleasure often serves as an acceptable substitute for the actual fulfilling of the desire. The chase makes us feel alive because we find ourselves continuously pursuing new goals and new desires, hoping to be satisfied by accomplishing them, or at least by working to attain them.

Thus far, it seems, we have wisely utilized these methods. But as the desire to enjoy grows, these solutions seem less and less effective. The growing egoism of humankind no longer allows us to subjugate ourselves to bogus resolutions or to silence it. This is apparent in every realm of life, from the very personal level to the level of the whole of humanity.

One such example that demonstrates the intensification of the ego is the decline of the family institution. Family relationships in general, and particularly between husband and wife, are the first to be hit by intensifying egoism, since our spouses are usually the closest people to us. The growing ego makes it difficult for us to belong to one another and to our families.

Previously, the family institution was shielded from upheaval; it was an island of stability. When there were problems in the world, we went out and fought. If we had troubles with our neighbors, we could always move. But the family unit was always a safe haven.

Even when we didn’t really want to stay in the family, we would do it because of the children or because of the parents who needed our care. But today, the ego has become so overblown that we take nothing into consideration. The proliferation of divorce and singleparent families testifies to this fact, despite the great difficulties they pose for the children. The recent increase in the number of old-age homes, an unheard of institution in the past, is yet another testimony to the disintegration of families.

The intensification of the ego has global effects, too. These consequences are far-reaching and place us in an unprecedented situation: on the one hand, globalization shows us how connected we all are—in economy, culture, science, education, and every other realm. On the other hand, our egos have evolved to the point that we cannot stand other people.

In truth, we have always been individual parts of a single system. But until today, we were unaware of it. Nature reveals it in the way that two forces act in sync: there is a connecting force that connects us all as one, and a rejecting force that pushes us away from one another. Thus, when these two forces begin to manifest their orientations more acutely, we begin to discover how dependent we are, and at the same time, we revolt against this dependency because of our growing egos. If we do not end our growing intolerance, alienation, and animosity, we will ultimately destroy one another.

Baal HaSulam warned about this danger long ago. Before he died, he explained that if we did not take a sharp turn away from the egoistic path, we would find ourselves engaged in a third and even a fourth world war. He warned that these would be nuclear wars that would result in the obliteration of most of the world’s population.

Albert Einstein expressed a similar fear in a 24 May, 1946 telegram: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything, save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Regrettably, today their words seem more pertinent than ever.

Throughout history, we believed that better times were ahead, that we would progress in science, technology, culture, and education, all of which would make our lives better and happier. One of the places that best demonstrates that belief is Spaceship Earth, an attraction at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, built in the beginning of the 1980s. Here, visitors are led through stops at historic landmarks in the evolution of humanity.

The journey begins with prehistoric cave paintings and continues through all the landmarks of human evolution, such as the beginning of the use of paper and wood. It ends with man’s conquest of space. The attraction is designed according to the predominant approach of its time, and is therefore constructed as an ode to man. Human history is presented as a continuous march toward bliss, with an attitude of “It’ll be here tomorrow, and if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow; if not for our children, then for our grandchildren.”

Now, a few years later, this optimistic approach is no longer valid. Each of us has everything one could only dream of a hundred years ago: infinite options for recreation, travel, rest, sports—the list is endless, yet we no longer believe in a better future. The formerly rosy picture has turned into a looming darkness, indicated by escalating suicide rates, violence, terror, eco-tragedies, social, economic, and political instability.

We are at a crossroads. We are beginning to sober up and see that a bright future is not a given. Instead, it seems far more likely that our children will not have lives as good as ours. The sense of comprehensive crisis at both individual and collective levels comes from our awareness that everything we have developed has failed to produce lasting happiness.

This is also the root of sensations such as meaninglessness and emptiness; hence, depression and drugs are the bane of our days. These are expressions of the helplessness that we feel because we don’t know how to satisfy our desires to enjoy. Our egos have now grown to a point where nothing familiar satisfies them.

A typical demonstration of the hopelessness we feel is youth’s attitude to life. Many young people treat life very differently than their parents did when they were the same age. There is a whole wide world before them, with numerous opportunities for success and self-realization. Yet, more and more young people lose interest in these objectives. It seems that young people have no interest in realizing their great potential. They seem to know in advance that at the end of the day, it will be pointless.

They also see the adults around them, who have attempted so much but are still not happy. Seeing this hardly adds to their desire to work! It is difficult for parents to understand why this is so, because when they were young, they were so different. However, it is so because each generation carries with it the experiences, and the disenchantments, of previous generations.

From here on, no known solution will help us improve our situation. We will be able to see where we are erring only if we learn the basis of Nature, by which every living organism exists, as well as the whole of Nature. To have a meaningful, secure, and peaceful life, we must know the perfect method to satisfy the desire to enjoy, the ego.

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