Yesterday I was eating a mango at my kitchen table. It was really delicious. One of my teenage daughters, who especially loves mangos, was sitting in the living room studying for final exams. As I savored the first half of my mango, I thought about her sitting in the other room, and how she would really enjoy having some of it. I considered cutting the second half and bringing it to her. I thought about how happy she would be to have it and that made me smile.
And then I ate the rest of the mango.
So today, while walking in Rock Creek, I asked myself why. Why didn’t I give her the second half? I have recently been studying the Satipatthana sutta (discourse) of the Buddha as part of my Mindfulness Yoga program. In this sutta, the Buddha talks about two kinds of pleasant feelings — those that arise due to sensory input (e.g., eating a delicious mango), what he calls “worldly” and those that arise due to more psychological input (e.g., feeling generous), what he calls “unworldly.” In this story, and what usually happens, is that I chose to enjoy the worldly pleasant feeling rather than enjoy the unworldly pleasant feeling.
Now in the Buddha’s teachings, unworldly pleasant feelings are what we want to aspire to, and worldly pleasant feelings are not. Why? Because feelings like the deliciousness of the mango actually create desire for more mango (as evidenced by my not sharing the second half), and keep us caught in the cycle of desire and grasping — basically they are addictive. They’re sticky, and although they feel good in the moment, their pleasure often has some later negative consequence (wishing you had more, feeling stuffed, etc.). Unworldly feelings, on the other hand, don’t have the same intensity of pleasant feeling, they feel more spacious, they aren’t sticky, and they don’t lead to craving and grasping. When we have them, we feel great, and we don’t feel any pull to get more. Had I shared the mango, I would have enjoyed that wonderful feeling of generosity, seeing my daughter smile and knowing that she felt loved. That would have been nice.
So why didn’t I choose to share, and why do we very often choose the sticky pleasures over the spacious ones? I took this question for a walk today, and what I came up with was Fear. I was afraid that if I gave her the mango, then I wouldn’t have enough, and I would feel deprived. Would I really be deprived? No. As a matter of fact, there was another whole mango sitting on the counter that I could have had. The deeper fear was that if I gave my daughter the mango, then my needs wouldn’t exist, that in some way, I wouldn’t exist. Who would take care of me and my needs? Check this out next time that you have a choice to give something away that you want. Our ego fears annihilation. We need to know that we matter to someone, somewhere.
And for me, this is the key. I can stretch into generosity when I have two things: first, when I am mindful that I have a choice — I need to be awake enough to know that I could choose addictive pleasure or spacious pleasure — and second, when I know that I matter, the universe will provide me with whatever I am supposed to have. And then I am free to make a different choice, one that will allow me to enjoy the bliss of an unworldly pleasant feeling like generosity.
May you enjoy both the mango, and the sharing of the mango today.