Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

Zen in ten

November 29th, 2007    -    16 Comments

Because one thing leads to another, here is my contribution to total life fulfillment in 10 seconds or less:

1. Make your bed. The state of your bed is the state of your head. Making your bed enfolds your day in respect and gratitude.

2. Use butter. Be generous with yourself and others; there is no need to skimp or settle; there is always enough; and it tastes much better that way.

3. Say hello. This is a genuine act of true love: to give and accept friendship for no good reason.

4. Floss your teeth. It really will keep your teeth and gums in better shape; you will feel good about it; and, most importantly, you will no longer have to lie to the dentist.

5. Slow down on the yellow light. Save yourself the effort of making an excuse.

6. Be quiet. Nearly all of conversation is complaining, blaming or criticizing, which is so much fun until someone gets hurt. Silence never judges. It is infinitely kind.

7. Rake the leaves. Not because you’ll finish and not because there is a prize, but because somebody has to.

8. Answer. There is nothing in life that doesn’t belong here. Listen when spoken to; answer when asked. Pay attention and look people in the eyes.

9. Exhale. This is what it really means to let go. Every other form of letting go is just imaginary. If you call yourself a “control freak” – and who isn’t – remind yourself that you already know perfectly well how to let go. Then exhale. You’ll feel pounds lighter right away.

10. Be. Forget all about this list; you already know how to live and you’re doing it beautifully; there are no rules required, and no authority elsewhere.

 

The risk of life

November 20th, 2007    -    12 Comments

When I realize I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I realize I am everything, that is love. And between these points I live my life.

In this big, wide world that fits on the head of a pin, in this universe of infinite possibilities and yet identical experiences, I often find my voice in the words of readers or find my readers in mine. Such was the case today when this post prompted a drip and then the outpouring you find in the puddle right here.

This is what I have been longing to say.

Living involves an incalculable level of risk. It is the riskiest thing we do. And not because it could be fatal. There is a 100 percent risk of fatality, and that cannot be called a risk, but rather a guarantee. No matter what false comfort we take in our age, our habits, our attitude, or our genetics, none of that changes the bottom line. We all die. In spite of that irrefutable end, living with our whole heart, our whole mind and both feet is a risk that few of us are willing to take.

Few of us are willing to take on the risk of being alive. By that I mean being fearless and free, spontaneous, creative, generous, expansive, trusting, truthful and satisfied. To risk accepting ourselves and our lives as they are. To risk forgiveness. To risk not knowing. To risk messing up and starting over. To risk life’s inevitable cycles and sequences. To risk something new. To let hurts heal. To let bygones be gone. To face the fact that the narrow, familiar, comfortable idea we have of our self is just that – an idea – and to let that idea go. And not to be replaced by any other newer, better idea of who we are. To realize every name, every definition, every label, every story, every boundary, every fear, every feeling, every diagnosis, every conclusion, everything we claim to know about ourselves, is just an idea. And to let every bit of that go too.

The truth is, we know nothing about life. It can’t be known. But it can be observed. This is what we can see.

Life wants to live. Watch a friend or family member face death, or have a health scare yourself, and see how much life wants to live.

Life wants to grow. Plan a family, or struggle with infertility, and see how much life wants to grow.

Life is not hard to live. It is effortless. Life lives by itself. It is what we think and feel about life that is so very difficult to endure.

Life has a way of going. Why it goes, we can’t answer. Where it goes, we don’t know. But how? That’s entirely up to us. How can you risk losing another year to fear, anger or anxiety? Another month? Another day? Another moment? How can you risk being anything but whole-heartedly alive right now?

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, look into the free teleconference I’m hosting on “The Mind-Body Connection to Conception” next week. I don’t know what I will say, but I promise to do no harm.

On that note

October 14th, 2007    -    13 Comments

We’ve been having so much fun around here talking about happiness that I wanted to strike a different note to the tune of full disclosure.

Sad.

What about when you’re sad? What about when bad things happen or good things don’t? What about tears and disappointments?

It’s easy, as long as you’re in the mode of self-improvement and life betterment, to think of sadness as the enemy of happiness. To think of bad times as the opposite of good. But they are only opposites in the realm of antonyms and synonyms. They are only opposites in your thinking mind, the mind that compares and judges things to be one way or the other. In the real world, happiness and sadness, highs and lows, spring and fall, occur in one place – the same place – your life.

So is being sad somehow less than good? Is it wrong?

Sadness can be a springboard to a spiritual practice. Because most of us suffer when we are sad, and cause others to suffer too, it can lead us to seek solace and resolution. Sadness is always a good guide and even a good sign. You might notice, for instance, that when you begin a meditation or yoga practice, or when you find a church home, that you begin to cry for no good reason at all. This can indicate that you are releasing long-held emotions and fears. It feels good to cry. And it feels good to stop too. By itself, crying always ends, eventually. Sadness changes to something else. Because all things, even emotions and thoughts, change when we let them.

One time I went to see Maezumi Roshi after a meditation session in which the tears streamed in rivulets down my cheeks.

“I’m sitting in a field of sadness,” I said to him. I was a tiny bit pleased by my poetic expression. I thought we might talk about it, rooting out the cause, and apply a kind of treatment.

“When you’re sad, be sad,” he said. And that was all he said. I confess I found it abrupt, considering my experience with other kinds of counselors. He didn’t criticize me, he didn’t correct me, he just didn’t dwell. He didn’t dwell.

In life, nothing dwells. The wind blows and then stops. The blossoms burst forth and then fall. Things come and go. The melody drifts back onto an aching E-flat and then back to E again. The song of your life is played on white and black keys.

I won’t linger but I am likely to post again about sadness as a cornerstone of Buddhism, as an essential truth of human life. I won’t dwell. I won’t build a hut. Promise me you won’t build one either. Not while the song is still playing.

The last word on happiness

October 4th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Buddha held out a flower to his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile.

– Zen koan

Get it?!

I’ll spell it out for you: 🙂

If you’re out of practice, this could help.

Happy now

October 3rd, 2007    -    15 Comments

two-scoops-sugar-cone“Momma, are you happy now?”
– A certain pipsqueak

Someday, I will write a book about happiness. Oh wait, I already did, in a roundabout way.

This week I’ve joined the chattering class, the quotable notables, who make their life’s work out of happiness. Three days and I’m nearly done. I don’t quite understand how anyone can make their life’s work out of it. I don’t know how you can make a project out of something that takes less than an instant. You can make a project out of writing a book. You can make a project out of writing about writing a book. But happiness itself takes no time at all because we possess it already.

But let’s clarify what we call happiness. Let’s get wise to it. Let’s discern the difference between pleasure, which is sensory and fleeting, like an ice cream cone, and happiness, which is our fundamental nature, like an ice cream factory. Let’s not confuse the double scoop, which is temporary, with its source, which operates 24/7. So let’s call the factory of happiness by a different name (choose any or all): joy, contentment, satisfaction, bliss. Put your name on it. It’s you.

You can make your life’s work out of finding pleasure (and we do). It takes up your whole life because pleasure doesn’t last, there’s never enough, it takes a lot of work, and I can guarantee it doesn’t satisfy. You keep running around, making lists, checking them twice, trying one thing and then the other to produce the feeling of pleasure. Now maybe this pleasure isn’t tied up in a fancy house or jet skis. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being “better” or “good enough.” What a terrific feeling! That doesn’t last either, and how I wish it did! This is not a contemporary problem. Remember how the founding fathers called it the “pursuit of happiness?” That’s what human life consists of. A pursuit of something rarely found and never kept, but still, we’d all prefer to be free to keep looking fruitlessly.

When you stop pursuing and settle where you are, when you smooth your brow and unclench your knuckles, when you give yourself a break from finding the next, next, next great thing, your lucky day, the open sesame, the magic flute, when your little one looks into your haunted eyes, your perpetual frown, and asks “Are you happy now?” all you have to do is say “Yes.”

Say yes.

And then you can all go out for ice cream and be happy six ways ’til Sunday.

Could it really be that simple? Tomorrow I’ll give you one more clue.

This is the third in a series of posts on happiness. If you haven’t read the first two, look here and here or just keep scrolling down.

Picking and choosing

October 2nd, 2007    -    6 Comments

If you wish to know the truth, then hold to no opinions for or against anything.
– Seng-tsan

A reader wisely pointed out in yesterday’s comments that the things I identify as my sources of unhappiness are probably also my sources of happiness. Exactly! I alone choose how to view them: as a plus or a minus, a keeper or a weeper. That choice changes all the time. I’m forever judging every aspect of my life. As I make those determinations, I’m using what we in Zen call “the picking and choosing” mind. The deliberative, evaluative, ruminating mind. I’m particularly fond of this mind. This is the mind that each of us calls “myself” because it is the mind that we use to talk to ourselves.

This is the voice that pipes up and says, “This is good. I like this. I’m happy.” Or that might say, even about the very same circumstance that once gave me pleasure, “This is not good. I’m tired of it. I’m not happy.” Very often, nothing has changed about the circumstance but my determination of it. One time my mom let me eat a whole bowl of whipped cream to my heart’s content. (I think she knew what she was doing.) I ate myself sick and I never liked it again. The whipped cream didn’t change. My view of it did.

In Buddhism, we call this endless cycle of like, dislike, good, bad, up, down, happy, sad, hot cold, in, out samsara. There’s nothing new about it, even though it might seem like we’ve become particularly aggrieved with our lives lately. There has never been a human being who lived anywhere else but samsara. But we can escape it, and we do, whenever we don’t pick or choose. Now I don’t mean that we go brain-dead. That we can’t tell right from left or our arms from our legs. I just mean that we stop blaming the whipped cream.

There’s a survey published every year by the very smart people at the Harris Poll that tells us The Most Popular Places People Would Choose to Live. Reading the poll, you might surmise that – no surprise – the most popular places to live are California, Florida and Hawaii. But then I noticed the question that they ask people. They don’t ask, “Where would you choose to live?” No, they ask “Where, except where you live now, would you choose to live?” At first I wondered why they asked it that way. Then I realized that if they asked the first question they might not have a poll at all. Perhaps people would say, “You know, I’m just fine right where I am.” I’ve lived a lot of places, and the thing is, my home is always my home. The poll question is nothing but a grass-is-greener question. It’s a pick-and-choose question. It’s a “Gee, come to think of it, I’m sick of whipped cream” question.

My first teacher Maezumi Roshi was famous for saying simply, “Appreciate your life.” He didn’t mean conjure up some contrived sentiment of gratitude, or humility, or abundance about your life. He didn’t mean count your blessings. He meant don’t count anything. He meant don’t pick and choose. Make your life your life and swallow it whole. When you do that, things have a way of getting happier right quick.

The happiness question

October 1st, 2007    -    9 Comments


Last week the Times reported on a growing “happiness gap” between men and women. Women are increasingly unhappy. Then came the earful of opinions about the many reasons for this. Why are women unhappy?

I can think of three very persistent reasons right off the top of my head. My husband. My kid. My dog. And then, the neighbor’s dog, the neighbor, money, not enough money, my work, my lack of work, my belly, my age, my wrinkles, the dust, the pollen, dog hair, the shoes in the hallway, the cooking, the laundry, the kitchen sink, the race, the chase, the nights, the days, the fleetingness of days.

What interests me is not why women are unhappy, because we each have ample, intimate knowledge of the reasons. What interests me is why women say they are unhappy. What interests me is not the answer to the question but the question itself. Could the answer be rooted in the question? Do we say we are unhappy because we are asked? Do we grow unhappy by thinking about it? By hearing about it? Does unhappiness exist outside our ruminations about it? Where does it reside? And if it only resides in our minds, as it does, do “external” circumstances have anything to do with it?

We can rationalize that circumstances keep changing and growing worse for women. More work, less help, higher prices, fewer husbands, less time, more isolation, less community, more stress, fewer options, higher expectations. But I spent a summer reading each of the nine Little House on the Prairie books to my daughter at bedtime, and I had a glimpse of how hard life used to be. No money. No help. No heat. No food. No medicine. No roof. No floors. No windows. No water. No crops. Plus flood, fire and pestilence. And these were on the good days!

Or I can recall my grandmother’s life. Up at dawn. Feeding the sheep and the chickens. Making daily bread and breakfast by the heat of the stove. Laundry in the washhouse. Curing meat in the smokehouse. The trek to the outhouse. Sewing, baking, canning, cooking, cleaning and raising five kids in four rooms during the Great Depression.

Was grandma depressed? I don’t think anyone asked. I don’t think she asked.

This news article on declining happiness appeared about the same day that Georgia walked into the kitchen for breakfast, still tousle-haired and sleepy-eyed. “Mom,” she whined, “can I get my ears pierced before I’m 10?” (Our pre-existing agreement.)

“When did you have in mind?” I responded.

“Nine,” she said, and thinking faster, “THIS SATURDAY.”

We were both upset by this exchange. It happened again a day later. I could say that my daughter woke up unhappy. But she didn’t wake up unhappy. She just woke up, her eyes blinked in the glimmering light. She cast a glance around her world, her sumptuous pink kingdom, her cotton candy life, and looked about for something she didn’t have.

I’m going to write about happiness this week. I want to examine that split-second between the waking and the finding, between the question and the answer, between the hearing and the speaking, between the being and the thinking, between the little girl with everything, and the one without holes in her ears, and see what’s there. It could very well be the happiness that eludes us, the contentment the pollsters can’t find.

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