This came out over coffee this morning. It is unfinished, but why not post?
The self is a bio-chemical event that arises in its various colors because of the structure in which neurons are connected, and the soup of chemicals (neural transmitters) in which they lay. considered in the instant, the reaction of the system is entirely predetermined. in this sense you cannot help but have the emotions you do. But the system is also plastic, so with training/teaching/programming it will come to behave differently.
The Buddha's first truth is that there is suffering. How does a neural system experience suffering? Fundamentally it is my guess is that it is the translation of an imbalance into the conscious.
The ant's neural system identifies a lack food in its belly and sends it scurrying of in a evolutionarily successful pattern to find food. This is an imbalance that is seeking resolution. If an ant had the grey matter (or is our cortex white?) to have consciousness, I think it could be suffering as it scurries.
But all bio-chemical systems are dynamic. Therefore there is the constant presence of cycles. This means that even stasus in ideal conditions, that originally did not produce suffering, can become suffering. In a sense, there is a clock on everything. Change is the only constant.
But the cortex is, I think, a wonderful thing. It is the source of feeling. To put it crudely, other, older (evolutionarily speaking) parts of the brain fire off and chatter about things, and start physiological reactions to stimulus, but it is the cortex (or more properly the new, or neo, cortex) that causes the feeling to arise in the same field as consciousness.
The neocortex can't be taught to not experience unbalance in a manner of suffering. It can be taught to cause the experience to be experienced more objectively. To accept the as is.
To repeat, the Buddha's first law is that there is suffering. I have no doubt of this. I think it is fair to simplify this as "there is change." The next law is that there is suffering because there is desire. Based on the thoughts above, translating this into a more objective, state referenced vocabulary, I would say desire is the current static state of the system - I refer here to the static state of some configuration of the brain (which means both the 'physical' layout of neuronal connections, and the quality of the soup in which they lay) - faced with the new dynamic that is always arising in the more external world (I.e., the world/environment outside the brain pan).
The Buddha's laws are logically reversed. That is, he says as the second point that suffering arises from desire.
I need to check in on something here. Is it correct to think of contentment falling into suffering, or suffering falling into contentment?
In physics, when the delta is small there is little activity. When there is balance there is peace. In chemistry too, then "both sides of the equation" are in equilibrium, there can be some constant back and forth, there is no absolute in-action, but it is far lower than when there is imbalance.
So I think it is fair to say that contentment is balance. Suffering arises from imbalance. Suffering arises from experiencing imbalance as negative. Suffering is the desire for stasis, once we have arrived in a sweet spot. Suffering is the desire for change when we are not in a sweet spot.
Time gives rise to desire. The anticipation that things can change to be different in the next moment (good to bad or bad to good). This is why the study of now gives rise to content.