A friend and I were recently exploring the metaphysical nature of life and trying to understand what, ultimately, each of us want and need.
After a bit of chit-chat, we cut through the fog and agreed that we could best define our emotional and spiritual journeys as a constant search for happiness.
It seemed a simplistic discovery, until I woke that night from a dream that had been a replay of a vintage Star Trek episode from the late '60s. As dreams go, this one was filled with static -- figuratively and literally.
I was watching a television set, one of those ancient affairs that had a small screen and knobs that needed to be manually fiddled with to get the right station, color and sound. I kept having to get out of my seat to raise the sound so I could hear the message.
The show was a classic episode of Star Trek, the one in which Spock manages to mind-meld with an alien beast that is terrorizing a distant planet needed by the Federation for its wealth of chemicals.
That I still have a working knowledge of such Star Trek minutiae speaks of the brains ability to retain such stuff more than any desire on my part to continue boldly going where no one has gone before.
In my dream, as in the televised episode, Spock lays his hands upon the alien, grimaces with a look that falls somewhere between concentration and constipation, then moans and shouts in anguish, "Oh, the pain."
The worth and impact of the dream might be greater if I could report that at some point I became the alien beast that was in pain, or that Spock morphed into an image of my metaphysical friend who had come to understand the importance of happiness.
Neither epiphany happened, and I was forced to briefly study my night's work until it all seemed to come together.
What would happen, I wondered, if I gained Spock's powers of empathy?
I imagined myself walking into Perimeter Mall, heading straight to the food court and setting up a mind-melding kiosk between the clown that makes balloon animals and the woman who paints little stars on children's faces.
For only a dollar, bored shoppers could experience the delights of mind-melding while their children waited patiently with the clown nearby.
I would lay my hand upon their heads and after a moment we would become one, my thoughts theirs, their thoughts mine. I would see and understand their hopes and desires, their fears and insecurities.
And what would I say?
Spock's words spilled from my mouth: "Oh, the pain."
We're all searching for happiness. But in many of our lives it's pain that we live with on a daily basis. It seems to be part of the human condition.
So pervasive is this thought, that the noted psychiatrist and self-help guru Scott Peck (a fading memory these days) began his seminal work "The Road Less Traveled" with the sentence: "Life is difficult."
Of course he's right. It's an idea that has been understood for thousands of years, embraced by mystics, studied by philosophers. Buddhists, perhaps, were the first to understand and state this reality, believing that all life is suffering.
I offer no solutions. I'll leave that to the myriad of self-help gurus and therapists, religious leaders and New Age guides. I do offer this footnote as small comfort:
We're not alone -- not in this problem, and not in the world.
Understanding this one truth might not be enough to transform humanity's primordial pain to joy. But it's worth remembering when the beauty of the world is momentarily hidden by darkness.