Worldly Thoughts

"There are these two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things & a gift of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a gift of the Dhamma." - Buddha

Overcoming Social Anxiety (revised)

Ever since I was 3 or 4 years old, I’ve been quite a shy person, and often socially awkward. In fact, it’s this awkwardness which I assume lead to my being shy — not the other way around like we may assume. You can say that being shy led to me being socially awkward, but also that being socially awkward led to me being shy. Here’s why:

Shyness is what’s called an avoidance-behavior. It’s called this because shyness comes from our fear of being disapproved of; being shy is something we do to avoid disapproval from others. This fear is not unexplainable; it does not arise without a cause. There has to have been something in our life which sparked this fear. For me, this started quite early, and I can actually get quite an idea of why. As children we don’t say the smartest things. We’re quite dumb. So when I was a kid, I said something (which I can’t remember exactly) that caused people to laugh at me — at least I felt that way. We all know that this is a terrible feeling. But sometimes, we become so averse to this feeling that we are afraid to experience it. That’s the fear.

We don’t even have to go back in time to see this, although it does help. The reason why it helped me is because when I was younger, I know that I was afraid to be humiliated in some way or another, and I know that I was shy. Looking at my behavior now, I can see that it’s still pretty much the same. Whenever I’m in a social situation, I’m reluctant to speak because I don’t want to say anything stupid, or I’m reluctant to have attention drawn towards me because I don’t want to look stupid. I still have that shyness and fear to a degree — I’m in the process of overcoming it, and it’s going well.

So why is this all important — this understanding of fear and where it comes from — when it comes to overcoming shyness and social anxiety? Because to overcome those things, we need to understand them. How can we overcome something we don’t understand? If you don’t understand what you’re trying to overcome, it’s like trying to cure cancer with cold medicine. To truly understand something is to discern both the phenomena and its cause.

So, as I said, shyness is caused by fear. Shyness is the result, fear is the cause. It’s the real “bad guy” here. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the shyness and just look at the fear, because it was our shy behavior that lead us to understand that there is fear. We should treat shyness as a sign of fear. In the same way that violence is a sign of hatred, shyness is a sign of fear. So we should learn how to grow familiar with the various manifestations of shyness, whether it be in our mind or body.

However since fear is the cause, fear should be what we’re trying to uproot. You can’t get rid of shyness if the fear is still there, you can only cut it off a little at the surface. It’s like a weed that can grow back if you only cut it off at the surface. You need to get rid of the roots in order to prevent it from growing again. So when you’re shy, look: where does this come from? Am I afraid of something? Why am I afraid of it? Why shouldn’t I be afraid of it; what are the benefits to socializing?

But for most, this alone isn’t enough to overcome shyness. That’s why we also need to contemplate the allures, drawbacks, and escape of both shyness and fear. We need to contemplate these three things as a way to understand these things even more. So let’s start with the allures of shyness and fear; what “benefit” do we think it brings us?

  1. Shyness gives us a sense of safety. When we aren’t talking with others, we’re avoiding humiliation or disapproval, we’re safe from harm! That feels good.
  2. Fear allows us to avoid danger, to live in this “safety zone”. It allows us to be safe from these “scary” social situations, and it even allows us to be safe from something dangerous like bungee jumping or dangerous animals!

But what about the drawbacks?

  1. Shyness means no talking to people unless we feel comfortable with them. For many (or just some) of us who are shy, this means almost everybody. Based on my experience, this happens: we can’t say hello to people on the street, we can’t ask people who work if they need help, we can’t talk to those who are suffering — we are barred from helping others! We also can’t ask teachers questions, we can’t ask our employers questions, we can’t communicate with others during work — we can’t learn! We can’t talk to family members we haven’t met before, we can’t talk to schoolmates, we can’t talk to co-workers, we can’t talk to strangers — we can’t develop relationships easily. Those are things which, as social animals, are extremely useful for us. Not only useful, a necessity. A small bit of comfort should not be placed in front of what’s actually necessary. I’d say that the ability to talk to others might be more comforting than being shy! Being able to talk to others without having to worry about being looked down upon is extremely comforting. The Buddha praised little speaking, but he did not praise those who cut themselves off from society.
  2. For me, since I never talked to many people, I would just think a lot. Most of my life from preschool to highschool involved me just thinking about things a lot. When I was supposed to be paying attention in class, I was thinking. When I was supposed to be doing work, I was thinking. I was quite a daydreamer… I only worked when I felt like it. It’s a miracle that I got through middle school and high school.
  3. Fear causes us to avoid being in situations we aren’t familiar with just because we don’t feel safe. It cuts off our ability to learn and adapt. It cuts off the ability to develop skill. In short, it leads to avoidance behavior, such as shyness and isolation.

Now that we’ve talked about the allures and drawbacks of these things, let’s talk about the escape — the way to security. Before talking about the escape, I should say that we mustn’t skip the allures and drawbacks and jump to the escape. Like I said before, we must understand these things in order to escape. In fact, the best process of escape — which I will make clear — requires us to understand these things. Going on:

  1. The first “escape” is to create a better self image. This is often prescribed because the fear of being ridiculed often arises along with a negative self-image — I’m stupid, I’m worthless, I can’t do anything right, etc. This may seem like a good way to go, and it does combat shyness, but it can easily lead to unwholesome tendencies such as conceit, arrogance, or narcissism. Instead of being shy or humble we’ll go around feeling self-righteous, holier-than-thou, stronger, better looking, etc. These are the coarsest drawbacks of improving the self-image, and there are still subtle ones. In short, we become caught up in this “self” (which is simply a delusion-based fabrication) as a result of improving our “self-image” or “self-esteem”. Another drawback, and probably the most important one, is that it doesn’t cut off the root which is fear. It might give us a reason to not be afraid, but it doesn’t get rid of the fear entirely, so we may come across a situation where our positive self-image won’t do us any good.
  2. The second escape is to simply be more social. It’s very simple when you look at it at the surface-level, which is why it may seem difficult. In order to take this route, we must abandon our fear entirely. We need to get out of our comfort-zone. This is the way to developing skill. We can’t get good at martial arts by pretending to be good, although that will make us feel better. We need to actually be proficient in socializing in order to gain the benefits it brings us (better relationships with others, harmonization with society, the development of wholesome behavior, etc), just as with martial arts. This escape actually involves directly overcoming the fear, so you can also say that the second escape is to try to overcome the fear. Another interesting aspect of this choice is that it will naturally lead us to develop a good, wholesome self-image without us having to try to think of one.

Fear is often a result of only looking at the negatives. We may tend to have this thought of being ridiculed in a social situation, so we avoid them. However, when we understand (by contemplating the allures, drawbacks, and escape) that avoiding social situationsis more harmful, we can become less afraid of that which is less harmful. We need to understand that when people look down on us, it’s because of one of two things, or even both:

  1. The person is judgemental or cruel
  2. We’ve done something genuinely wrong or foolish

Shyness, asides from the reluctance to speak, also means that we are unable to accept another person’s criticism and we are unable to change our unwholesome modes of behavior. This itself is also unwholesome behavior, because it prevents us from developing as a person. If we start actually talking to others, we can recognize our faults in both speech and action, so we can actually start improving. This is based in trial and error, and we must not be afraid to change. The fear of change is a supporter of shyness.

So in order to do this easily, we need to understand what makes unwholesome behavior unwholesome. We need a conceptual framework. When you eat “wholesome” food, what makes it wholesome? Its nutritional value. Wholesome food makes you healthy, it has benefit. It’s the same with behavior. Wholesome actions have benefit, unwholesome actions don’t. The Buddha described the three roots of unwholesome behavior: lobha, dosa, and mohaLobha is often translated as greed, passion, and desire; dosa is often translated as hatred, aversion, and anger; and moha is most often translated as delusion or ignorance.

Those are the types of unwholesome behavior (wholesome behavior is simply the opposite), and in order to understand what truly makes them unwholesome (unprofitable) you must contemplate the allures and drawbacks of these qualities. Unwholesome actions have the most drawbacks, wholesome actions have the least.

I’ll give two examples of unwholesome actions and their results which come from being shy:

  1. A year or two ago, I was tripping on mushrooms (that in itself is unwholesome behavior which may or may not be tied with my shyness which caused me to think a lot) with a friend at his house. His sister’s dog started bleeding because he had somehow found a shard of glass and started chewing it. What a dumb dog, right? The sister was quite upset that her dog was bleeding out of her mouth, and because of the little social skill I had developed due to being shy, I blurted out (due to heightened confidence because of the mushrooms) that “this dog is going to die!”. I said it in a way which meant “this dog is so stupid, it won’t live long.” Needless to say, my friend’s sister got even more upset and started crying because I wasn’t careful with what I had to say and she misinterpreted it (but most of the fault was with me, that’s for sure). In short, shyness leads to poor social skills which can lead to bad relationships with others. The drugs played a role, but only in making me confident in talking with others. It was a very light dosage and I was only experiencing the after effects.
  2. This next one is more long term. I’ve always been afraid to ask how to do things, like chores and such, because I didn’t want to be called stupid. Because of this, I never really got used to doing work. When it came to putting things away, I was afraid to ask where they belonged so I wouldn’t do it. When it came to using the stove, I didn’t learn how to use it. I never learned how to do my own laundry until I was 18 years old — I was lazy, just because I didn’t want to ask for help. Now, imagine living on your own, not knowing how to do a single thing for yourself. That is yet another result of unwholesome behavior.

So here’s a condensed version of all I’ve said so far:

  1. Shyness is avoidance-behavior which is caused by us being afraid to have our faults pointed out.
  2. We must contemplate the allures and drawbacks of shyness and this fear
  3. We must counter our fear by knowing that ridicule is bound to happen and may be justified
  4. We must develop understanding of what is wholesome and unwholesome by wisely reflecting on our actions
  5. When we understand that ridicule can be with a cause, we must strive to abandon unwholesome qualities and develop wholesome ones via wise reflection and understanding of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness. It’s important to do this as a way to live less stressfully rather than just a way to improve our self-image, although that’s a benefit.

I hope this can give you an idea of what the escape is really all about. Overcoming shyness means being unafraid to recognize your faults and change them. It’s done simply by being mindful and aware of what’s going on here and now. When you’re with somebody and the time calls for conversation, just talk. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. If you do look stupid, then you have plenty of room for improvement. It’s hard to tell whether you’re being truly wise or foolish, which is why I explained unwholesome actions. Unwholesome actions are the mark of the foolish, and they lead to bad results. So if somebody says something bad to you, or they start ignoring you or despising you, you should simply reflect on your behavior. Was their reaction because of something you did that unwholesome? If it was unwholesome, then you should acknowledge that and change your behavior. That’s where the willingness to change comes in. 

When your behavior becomes more wholesome, people will look down upon you less and less. Eventually, the only people who look down upon you will actually be the ones who need to change — but do not jump to this conclusion at any time. Always investigate your behavior to see what brings you benefit and what doesn’t; what has drawbacks, what doesn’t? Be honest about it with yourself! If you don’t do this, you’ll simply be an idiot who thinks he’s better than others — which is unwholesome behavior also. 

Here’s something I found which works when it comes to socializing: practicing non-selfishness. It requires us to develop compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity and altruistic joy:

  1. First things first, we need to develop compassion. We do so by understanding our own suffering. By understanding our own suffering, we can start to see it in others. This will allow us to develop an ability to sort of “read” the minds of other people. But please understand that this is not based in over-analyzing other people’s behavior or anything. We’re not going to be constantly thinking about the person we’re talk to. Like I said, understanding ourselves will allow us to understand others — it will be an immediate, present awareness of the other person’s state of mind, not a systematic evaluation. In the beginning, this process will not be perfect. It only improves as we start to understand ourselves.
  2. Secondly, in order to develop loving kindness, we need to have a firm grounding in the present moment. This doesn’t mean we’re straining to focus on the here-and-now, but simply that our presence does not waver. You can develop this by practicing mindfulness and jhana meditation — I’ll write about the latter soon. When we’re calm and serene, in the company of others we can develop a sort of “inviting” intention towards them. This is loving kindness, a wholesome intention to bring others to your level of calm and awareness.
  3. By developing compassion and thus loving-kindness, our speech will not be coming from our self-interests, but our intention to make others happy.
  4. In order to reap the most fruit from this, we must develop it towards everybody. Even our worst enemies. Our kindness towards others, even our enemies, will establish good relationships and make it easier to talk to others. If somebody is a hateful person, it won’t be easy to make them stop being hateful if we’re angry towards them. It will most likely have the opposite effect. But if you talk to such a person with loving-kindness and a deep understanding of the person’s mental tendencies (as gained via your own self-understanding), you’ll be able to get straight into their heart with the least resistance. There will be wholesome discussion, rather than a conclusion-less argument.
  5. The fruit of all of this is altruistic joy, the joy of perceiving a wholesome happiness within others. In other words, when we see that we have brought others to our state of calm, we’ll be happy about them being happy. This isn’t pride. You can also call it sympathetic joy.

So I hope this helps those who are shy. It won’t be easy at first, but that’s just how it is. Or maybe it will — it depends on how far you’ve gone into your shell. 

Reflection 23: By allowing us to see obstruction and non-obstruction, mindfulness develops wisdom

We are our own protection;

we are need our own secure abiding;

how could it be otherwise?

So with due care we attend to ourselves.

— Dhammapada 380

"How do we exercise ‘due care’ towards ourselves without becoming selfish? Another expression for ‘due care’ is ‘right mindfulness’. We train ourselves to watch carefully. When caring turns into clinging, the heart grows cold; ‘me’ and ‘mine’ take over as kindness and discernment fade away. We can trust in the power of mindfulness to reveal this process, as and when it is happening. And so gradually we learn to read our hearts: what does it feel like, in the whole body/mind, when the heart is open, receptive and interested? What does it feel like when the heart is closed, resentful, bitter and afraid? As we carefully feel our way into, around, over and under the many moments of obstruction, life teaches us how to let go. The Teacher is telling us that if we could let go fully, we could feel secure, totally."

—Ajahn Munindo

I’m sorry if this reflection is a little bit late into the day (at least where I live), but I ask whoever reads it to use it for reflection.

Reflection 22: Everything that is born must die, everything that arises must cease

Those who are contentious

have forgotten that we all die;

for the wise, who reflect on this fact,

there are no quarrels.

— Dhammapada 6

"In a moment of wakefulness we recognize how fortunate we are and how readily we take it all for granted. If we lose our health we long for it to return, promising ourselves to value it more in the future. If trust is damaged in a valued friendship, we resolve that if it is healed, never again will we allow it to fall into disregard. Wisdom can arise from regular reflection on what we could lose through heedlessness."

Reflection 21: Endure unpleasant states with awareness

Like an elephant in battle

withstands arrows,

I choose to endure

verbal attacks from others.

— Dhammapada 320

"When the going gets tough we are free to make the choice to endure if we wish. Or we could choose to react. Nobody outside of ourselves has the authority to force us in either direction. At times when our untrained, reactive habits flare up, it can certainly feel as if someone or something else is in charge: ‘I was taken over by something’, which means ‘I lost perspective’. The Buddha never lost perspective. This does not mean he didn’t have to deal with serious unpleasantness. He did, and he made the choice to endure it rather than react. He was fully aware — fully awake to reality — and he knew he had the authority to make that choice. This helps us to consider that at least potentially, we have it too."

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflection 20: If you are mistreated, getting upset won’t help you

Suffering subsides to the degree

that you are free from the intention to cause harm.

There is no real greatness

if there is no restraint of anger.

— Dhammapada 390

Being indignant [feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment] can give us a feeling of importance, but this importance is full of suffering. After the fire and smoke have subsided, we see the damage caused by unrestrained speech and action. Others have been hurt and we are left alone to endure regret and remorse. Lying in the sun might feel agreeable; sweet drinks and snacks are attractive; but their appearance belies their reality. Because they feel good, that does not make them good. The upthrust of anger feels energizing, but such energy comes at a cost. In following it we build up debts. We may feel we are right in taking a certain position, but we are wrong if we get lost in it. If we are serious about being free from suffering, we will want to become aware of even the slightest intention to cause harm.”

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflection 19: Hold things with discernment and wisdom

Anyone who lives freed from habits of clinging

to past, present or future,

attaching to nothing,

is a great being.

Dhammapada 421

“‘Attaching to nothing’ isn’t about not having anything. It is about the way we have things. If we drive a car holding the steering-wheel too tightly, we become tired and don’t drive so safely. If the wheel is held too loosely, we likewise run the risk of an accident. This verse is telling us that the past, the present and the future can be held in a way that doesn’t lead to suffering. And it is with this clear understanding that we practise letting go, not simply from an ideal that we shouldn’t cling.”

Reflection 18: Understanding what is wholesome and unwholesome brings peace

A deed is not well done

when upon reflection remorse arises:

with tears of sorrow one harvests its fruit.

— Dhammapada 67

"Exercising wise reflection as we travel through the inner landscapes of our lives leads us to understanding. We learn how to live well. The valleys of sadness and remorse teach us. Mindfulness and wise reflection equip us with what is needed to make this journey meaningful. Tried and tested awareness shows us how deeds of the past have left their traces in our hearts. These are the signs which point us in the right direction — the way to here-and-now contentment."

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflection 17: Understanding what is wholesome and unwholesome brings true confidence in actions

A deed is well done

where upon reflection no remorse arises:

with joy one harvests its fruits.

— Dhammapada 68

"As mindfulness is strengthened and confidence emerges, we experience a growing sense of being our own authority. Fear of imagined external agents passing judgement on us begins to be seen for what it is — imagination. Our own true heart knows that which is wholesome and that which is not. Wise reflection generates the light of awareness, illuminating the way. When we hear the voice of judgement from our false heart, we receive it and allow it to fade away. Joy remains."

— Ajahn Munindo

A similarity between Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism?

Feel free to not take this post seriously. I’m writing this simply because I feel it can allow us to be open to different perspectives; both in the sense of being open to other religions and in the sense of you looking at things differently.

In Buddhism, one of the key “features” is that it offers a middle-way (out of suffering) between the view that death is total annihilation and the view that there is an eternal soul which can be reborn endless times unless it unifies with the creator-self of the universe.

This middle way ultimately boils down to cause and effect. What sustains our experience of the aggregates is our attachment to them, and so attachment leads to birth. The way out of this birth-cycle is through ultimately letting go of the aggregates. This is Nirvana, which is the complete cessation of conditioned phenomena. It is total peace because there is nothing which is conditioned in this “state”. 

Many enlightened Buddhist teachers, even those from Theravadin traditions, have taught that the mind which “experiences” nirvana is called the unconditioned mind, and the unconditioned mind is what we call “Buddha”, because it is totally pure. Mahayana traditions place emphasis on the notion that this is the primordial state of mind (and Theravadin teachers such as Ajahn Sumedho have taught this). In other words, it’s the mind that’s always been there. After all, in Buddhism the cycle of rebirth is caused by ignorance and the “cause” of ignorance is simply the mind.

So, Nirvana is experienced by this unconditioned mind (since Nirvana is itself the unconditioned reality).

Now, what does this have to do with Christianity? Well, the reason why this thought occurred to me is because I have heard stories of Christian monks describing the experience of God in the same way that Buddhist monks describe the experience of Nirvana. So in other words, Unification with God is nirvana.

Now here’s where I connect it with Tibetan Buddhism.

In Tibetan Buddhism, they teach about what is called “bardo”. This refers to the intermediate state between death and the next life. They teach that in this state, it is possible (through proper guidance) to realize Nirvana and be totally liberated.

Assuming that the words of Christian monks aren’t heresy, this can easily be seen as a parallel with the notion that Christians are “judged by God” and can join him after death. That, or they go to hell. It seems that this would be like being guided to Nirvana in bardo or simply being reborn again.

People may say, “but Hell is said to be eternal in Christianity; Buddhism teaches that even Hell is just a really long lifetime”. This may seem quite “liberal” (if that’s the right term), but why do we need to assume that the Christian hell refers to a single eternal lifetime there? I don’t recall there being evidence which suggests that it’s possible to unify with God after being damned to hell, but if there is, that may be our answer. Simply put, the Christian “Hell” may simply be analogous to the cycle of Samsara — which is never-ending until we realize Nirvana through non-attachment. Or maybe, all notions of “eternal hell” are simply hyperbole.

Some people may also say that this would imply that the Buddha was mistaken, that he misinterpreted seemingly “eternalist” religions. Not necessarily; he simply referred to those who clinged to a notion of an eternal self. It seems to me that, if my interpretation here of Christianity is correct, an “eternal self” may only be a conventional term used by Christians to describe the primordial mind.

This is all I wanted to get to. I hope maybe it can lead some to be more open to the various religions of the world and their teachings. Think whatever about it — just make sure it’s not unwholesome! ;)

Reflection 16: Don’t give in to unwholesome ways of living

While in the midst

of those who are greedy,

to dwell free from greed

is happiness indeed.

— Dhammapada 199

"We hold values such as honesty, selflessness and generosity to be honourable. However, it can be hard to live our lives aligned with these values when most of those around us are travelling in a different direction. The Buddha knew it could be hard, but he says that to dwell thus is the source of happiness. If we betray ourselves to heedlessness, stop and feel the consequences. Don’t be in a hurry to escape. Then imagine how the opposite might feel were we to hold to integrity. Likewise, consider how it feels to focus attention on feelings of gratitude instead of indulging in a sense of lack. Not adding anything to this moment or taking anything from it, we incline towards inner peace and contentment. Establishing ourselves in this awareness, we are less likely to be intimidated by others."

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflection 15: Use every moment to develop wholesome intentions

As many garlands can be made

from a heap of flowers,

so too, much that is wholesome can be done

during this human existence.

— Dhammapada 53

"As garland-makers sit with their heap of flowers in front of them, so we sit in meditation with the potential of our lives before us. In every moment there is the possibility to do something good, to create something new, something beautiful. So, too, with not-doing; in restraining unwholesome impulses we bring beauty into our world. Whatever we do, however we act, the possibility for doing good is always here - at every moment."

— Ajahn Munindo

Thich Naht Hanh on anger’s place in social action

Ram Dass to Thich Nhat Hanh: “Many people who are activists, whose heart hurts because of the pain of injustice or pain to the environment, often say to me that the attempt to be mindful of one’s anger and hold it tenderly will dissipate the energy of the anger that they use for social action. Will you talk about that issue?”

Thich Nhat Hanh: “The energy of anger may be a source of energy, but when you use anger as energy there may be danger because when you are angry, you are not lucid. You may say things or you may do things which can be very destructive. That’s why it is better to use other forms of energy like the energy of compassion and the energy of understanding. But the energy of anger can be transformed into the energy of understanding and of compassion. We don’t have to throw away anything, we need only to know how to transform one form of energy into another.”

Reflection 14: Attachment to pleasure means attachment to pain

Beware of the attachment that springs from fondness,

for separation from those one holds dear is painful,

while if you take sides neither for nor against fondness,

there will be no bondage.

— Dhammapada 211

"We may feel fondness, but how free are we in the way we relate to such feelings? Those who have realized Dhamma just feel what they feel and know it in terms of reality: feelings are not ultimate, not something to get lost in. When we attach to feelings we distort them. In a moment of grasping at joy we have a sense of enhanced delight, but we can fail to see the disappointment being stored up for later. Conditions change; the happiness fades, and so does the sense of ‘me’ being happy. We are also generating a momentum of clinging to, and thereby getting lost in, unpleasant feelings. Pleasant or unpleasant, feeling is feeling — cling to one and we cling to both. Contemplating this verse, we might discover that mindfully allowing feelings to come and go doesn’t diminish them. In fact, the freedom to feel whatever we feel, without being limited by the impulse to grasp, is the path out of bondage."

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflection 13: Don’t place your happiness on conditioned things

Truly it is ourselves that we depend upon;

how could we really depend upon another?

When we reach the state of self reliance

we find a rare refuge.

— Dhammapada 160

"By pointing out that we ourselves are our only true refuge, the Buddha is showing us that inwards is the direction we need to look if we want real security. We pay due care to outer activity, but we can’t afford to lose ourselves in it. To be freed from perpetual disappointment in life, we need to know ourselves, fully. When we really know ourselves, we can forget ourselves. Having been released from the painful prison of selfishness, our liberated hearts and minds will be available to serve reality truly in each moment. Generosity, kindness and empathy all manifest naturally when our being is one with truth."

— Ajahn Munindo

Reflect on this daily. Be aware: how much of your happiness comes from conditioned things? How do you attach to that happiness? What about the happiness the Buddha taught of which does not come from conditioned things and is therefore beyond pleasant feelings?