Being Content Today

June 27, 2010 by  
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I often write about being content rather than happy. I thought I should explain why I make this distinction. To me being content is a result of a constant feeling of well being and it is something we can all achieve. We can all work towards letting go of anxiety, low self-esteem and the never ending cycle of looking outside ourselves for every emotional and psychological need we think we have.

What is contentment and how can we achieve it:

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All About Happiness

April 4, 2010 by  
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We all want it, but are we going about it the right way?  I am convinced that a state of well being and satisfaction is closer and more attainable than we think.  Homes, money, power, success can all be good things but they don’t necessarily bring well being if we’re not in touch with what really matters to us. Who cares about a big house if we feel empty inside? Who cares about power if we don’t love and respect ourselves? And success? We can be successful today and live in fear of tomorrow. A sense of well being and satisfaction will come from:

1  – Living in the moment (if we are present we can enjoy what we have today.  We can enjoy each other and the world we live in)

2 – Slowing down (if we are always in a hurry we are full of stress and have not time to appreciate anything)

3 – Giving up control (we can’t control everyone and everything.  Life, others, the planet all have a rhythm and that’s what makes it all interesting)

4 – Relationships (relationships with the mailman, cat, dog, neighbor, family, friends, strangers)

5 – Remembering to do simple and inexpensive things for ourselves everyday (a meal, a glass of wine, a walk, a massage, etc.)

And here’s a really good article on happiness that I wanted to share:

10 Grateful Steps to Happiness

Beach

[Photo by nattu]

PsyBlog has gone gratitude-mad this week, what with reporting experimental evidence that practicing gratitude can increase happiness by 25% and reviewing ‘thanks‘ , the book by the study’s author. To round it off here are Dr Robert Emmons’ top 10 tips for actually becoming more grateful, and consequently more happy.

1. Keep a gratitude journal
Sit down, daily, and write about the things for which you are grateful. Start with whatever springs to mind and work from there. Try not to write the same thing every day but explore your gratefulness.

2. Remember the bad
The way things are now may seem better in the light of bad memories. Don’t forget the bad things that have happened, the contrast may encourage gratefulness.

3. Ask yourself three questions
Choose someone you know, then first consider what you have received from them, second what you have given to them and thirdly what trouble you have caused them. This may lead to discovering you owe others more than you thought…Continued

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This Is Your Brain On Bliss

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

by Matthieu Ricard

After 2,000 years of practice, Buddhist monks know that one secret to happiness is simply to put your mind to it.

What is happiness, and how can we achieve it?

Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfillment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.

Matthieu Ricard
Matthieu Ricard, left, quit his career as a cellular geneticist nearly 40 years ago to study Buddhism. He is the French translator for the Dalai Lama, right. Photo by Pagoda Phat Hue, phathue.com

The paths we take in search of happiness often lead us to frustration and suffering instead. We try to create outer conditions that we believe will make us happy. But it is the mind itself that translates outer conditions into happiness or suffering. This is why we can be deeply unhappy even though we “have it all”—wealth, power, health, a good family, etc.—and, conversely, we can remain strong and serene in the face of hardship.

Authentic happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. It takes practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love, forbearance, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches that, while there are limitations to how much information one can learn and to our physical performance, compassion can be developed boundlessly.

Practicing Happiness
It is not difficult to begin. You just have to sit from time to time, turn your mind within, and let your thoughts calm down. Focus your attention on a chosen object. It can be an object in your room, your breath, or your own mind. Inevitably, your mind will wander as you do this. Each time it does, gently bring it back to the object of concentration, like a butterfly that returns again and again to a flower.

In the freshness of the present moment, past is gone, future is not yet born, and—if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom—disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace. That is basic meditation.

Matthieu Ricard’s brain. Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University Of Wisconsin
Find out what happens when the meditating mind of a Buddhist monk is examined by magnetic resonance imaging: Matthieu Ricard’s brain.
Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University of Wisconsin

Pure consciousness without content is something all those who meditate regularly and seriously have experienced—it is not just some sort of Buddhist theory. And anyone who takes the trouble to stabilize and clarify his or her mind will be able to experience it, too. It is through this unconditioned aspect of consciousness that we can transform the content of mind through training.

But meditation also means to cultivate basic human qualities, such as attention and compassion, and new ways of experiencing the world. What really matters is that a person gradually changes. Over months and years, we become less impatient, less prone to anger, less torn between hopes and fears. It becomes inconceivable to willingly harm another person. We develop a propensity toward altruistic behavior and the cluster of qualities that give us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.

The point here is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, with a pure mindfulness that is not associated with the contents of the thoughts.

Take the example of malevolent anger. We usually identify with anger. Anger can fill our mental landscape and project its distorted reality on people and events. When we are overwhelmed by anger, we cannot dissociate from it. We perpetuate a vicious circle of affliction by rekindling anger each time we see or remember the person who makes us angry. We become addicted to the cause of suffering.

But if we dissociate from anger and look at it with mindfulness, that which is aware of anger is not angry, and we can see that anger is just a bunch of thoughts. Anger doesn’t cut like a knife, burn like a fire, or crush like a rock; it is nothing more than a product of our mind. Instead of “being” the anger, we understand that we are not the anger, in the same way that clouds are not the sky.

So, to deal with anger, we avoid letting our mind jump again and again to the trigger for our anger. Then we look at anger itself and keep our attention upon it. If we stop adding wood to a fire and just watch, the fire will die out. Likewise, anger will vanish away, without being forcibly repressed or allowed to explode.

There is no question of not experiencing emotions; it’s a question of not being enslaved by them. Let emotions arise, but let them be freed from their afflictive components: distortion of reality, mental confusion, clinging, and suffering for oneself and others.

There is great virtue in resting from time to time in pure awareness of the present moment, and being able to refer to this state when afflictive emotions arise so that we do not identify with them and are not swayed by them.

It is difficult in the beginning, but becomes quite natural as you become increasingly familiar with such an approach. Whenever anger arises, you learn to recognize it right away. If you know someone to be a pickpocket, even if he mingles in a crowd, you will spot him right away and keep a careful eye on him.

Interdependence
Just as you can learn to deal with afflictive thoughts, you can learn to cultivate and enhance wholesome ones. To be filled with love and kindness brings about an optimal way of being. It is a win-win situation: you will enjoy lasting well-being for yourself, you’ll act in altruistic ways towards others, and you’ll be perceived as a good human being.

If altruistic love is based on an understanding of the interdependence of all beings and of their natural aspiration to happiness, and if this love extends impartially to all beings, then it is a source of genuine happiness. Acts of overflowing love, of pure, disinterested generosity—as when you make a child happy or help someone in need, even if nobody knows what you have done—generate a deep and heartwarming fulfillment.

The Habits of Happiness

TED TALK: Listen to Matthieu Ricard answer the questions: What is Happiness, and How Can We All Get Some?

Dalai Lama Renaissance

FILM: Watch the trailer.

Human qualities often come in clusters. Altruism, inner peace, strength, freedom, and genuine happiness thrive together like the parts of a nourishing fruit. Likewise, selfishness, animosity, and fear grow together. So, while helping others may not always be “pleasant,” it leads the mind to a sense of inner peace, courage, and harmony with the interdependence of all things and beings.

Afflictive mental states, on the other hand, begin with self-centeredness, with an increase in the gap between self and others. These states are related to excessive self-importance and self-cherishing associated with fear or resentment towards others, and grasping for outer things as part of a hopeless pursuit of selfish happiness. A selfish pursuit of happiness is a lose-lose situation: you make yourself miserable and make others miserable as well.

Inner conflicts are often linked with excessive rumination on the past and anticipation of the future. You are not truly paying attention to the present moment, but are engrossed in your thoughts, going on and on in a vicious circle, feeding your ego and self-centeredness.

This is the opposite of bare attention. To turn your attention inside means to look at pure awareness itself and dwell without distraction, yet effortlessly, in the present moment.

If you cultivate these mental skills, after a while you won’t need to apply contrived efforts anymore. You can deal with mental perturbations like the eagles I see from the window of my hermitage in the Himalayas deal with crows. The crows often attack them, diving at the eagles from above. But, instead of doing all kinds of acrobatics, the eagle simply retracts one wing at the last moment, lets the diving crow pass, and then extends its wing again. The whole thing requires minimal effort and causes little disturbance.

Being experienced in dealing with the sudden arising of emotions in the mind works in a similar way.

I have been exposed to the world of humanitarian activities for a number of years since I decided to dedicate the entire royalties of my books to 30 projects on education and health in Tibet, Nepal, and India, with a group of dedicated volunteers and generous philanthropists. It is easy to see how corruption, clashes of ego, weak empathy, discouragement can plague the humanitarian world. All this stems from a lack of maturity. So the advantages of spending time to develop human altruism and compassionate courage are obvious.


The Fragrance of Peace

The most important time to meditate or do other types of spiritual practices is early in the morning. You set the tone for the day and the “fragrance” of the meditation will remain and give a particular perfume to the whole day. Another important time is before falling asleep. If you clearly generate a positive state of mind, filled with compassion or altruism, this will give a different quality to the whole night.

When people experience “moments of grace”, or “magical moments” in daily life, while walking in the snow under the stars or spending a beautiful moment with dear friends by the seaside, what is really happening? All of a sudden, they have left their burden of inner conflicts behind. They feel in harmony with others, with themselves, with the world. It is wonderful to fully enjoy such magical moments, but it is also revealing to understand why they feel so good: pacification of inner conflicts; a better sense of interdependence with everything rather than fragmenting reality; and a respite from the mental toxins of aggression and obsession. All these qualities can be cultivated through developing wisdom and inner freedom. This will lead not just to a few moments of grace but to a lasting state of well-being that we may call genuine happiness.

In this state, feelings of insecurity gradually give way to a deep confidence that you can deal with life’s ups and downs. Your equanimity will spare you from being swayed like mountain grass in the wind by every possible praise and blame, gain and loss, comfort and discomfort. You can always draw on deep inner peace, and the waves at the surface will not appear as threatening.


Matthieu Ricard wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Matthieu has authored seven books, including Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. He lives at the Shechen monastery in Nepal, travels the world for Karuna-shechen (www.karuna-shechen.org) and does an annual solitary retreat in the Himalayas.

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