Positive Mindfulness

Positive Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available – more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.” –  Thich Nhat Hanh
Much of the tone of Buddhist teachings was established with the Four Noble Truths; there is suffering, there are causes of suffering, suffering can be relieved, and there is a path to the end of suffering. This focuses us on suffering, the negative side of existence. Without a doubt, these Four Noble Truths are correct and following them is a means to end suffering, become happy, and become enlightened. But, the negative tone has permeated much of the practice. The focus on the unpleasant has made the practice seem to be a chore, a necessary chore, but, nevertheless a chore. The unpleasantness prompts escape into mind wandering.

 

But, this tone can be completely altered without altering the truth of the teachings. The Four Noble Truths can be simply restated in the positive; there is happiness, there are causes of happiness, happiness can be increased, and there is a path to endless happiness. This simple rejiggering of the teaching makes a tremendous difference. It focuses the practice on happiness, making it a pleasant endeavor that can be enjoyed, relished, pleasurable, and looked forward to. It changes the practice from a chore to a joyful endeavor.

 

The science of Psychology has long established that all creatures, and especially humans, respond best to the positive. Negatives produce distaste and avoidance behaviors. On the other hand, if someone receives a positive reward for doing something they are not only more likely to do it again, but they will also feel good about it. So, changing the Four Noble Truths into the positive, can make practice not only an enjoyable experience, but more likely to occur.

 

This does not suggest that we should pursue happiness as is done in the modern western world. In this paradigm, happiness is pursued by consumption and accomplishment. When we buy something new, say a designer watch, it makes us happy. But, this happiness, like everything is impermanent, it fades and the watch no longer makes us happy. So, now we pursue something else, perhaps a new car. After working hard and saving, we go out a buy a brand new luxury car. This brings us happiness. But, just like the happiness from buying the watch, it fades and eventually the car no longer makes us happy. In fact, the monthly payments may make it a source of suffering.

 

In the modern world happiness is also pursued by accomplishment. We go through a prolonged education to acquire a degree. Upon graduation, we feel very happy, but this too fades. So we think that when we get a good job, then we’ll be happy, and indeed when we obtain it we do feel very good and happy for a while, but unfortunately, that too fades. So, we look for a promotion or a new job to make us happy, and again it does but only temporarily. This whole cycle is termed by Psychologists as the “hedonic treadmill.” We keep pursuing things because they temporarily make us happy but each happiness is impermanent and we get back on the treadmill looking for the next thing that will make us happy, on and on and on. Instead of happiness it brings disappointment and suffering.

 

Perhaps there’s a better way, and that is pursuing happiness in our practice. We look carefully and mindfully at what actually produces more lasting happiness. This can begin very simply. When you feel happy, even for a brief moment, simply look at it carefully and reflect on exactly how you feel, what are the sensations you experience in your body. This practice can make you more sensitive to happiness and more aware when happiness actually arises. Also, reflect on what led up to this happiness. This can help to make it clearer what the roots of happiness are to you and perhaps how to produce it in the future.

 

This simple practice of meditating on the state and causes of your happiness will slowly begin to expand the frequency, duration, and depth of the happiness you experience. This can begin to interrupt and push suffering away. There’s a process in psychological practice called counter conditioning. In this process, you eliminate an unwanted state or behavior, not by stopping it, but by replacing it with a positive state or behavior. This is very effective. So, as you expand happiness you are in fact counter conditioning suffering and replacing it with happiness. This suggests that there’s no need to focus on the elimination of suffering. In fact, trying to eliminate it often amplifies it or becomes itself a suffering. In contrast, focusing on happiness, eliminates it in a joyful way, overwhelming the gloom with sunshine.

 

During mindfulness practice it’s good to keep in mind Thich Nhat Hahn’s instruction to start by putting a smile on your face. Even if it’s a bit forced, it still somehow makes you feel happier. It’s also a reminder to look for good feelings and happiness during the practice. I like to focus while meditating on what and where something feels good on my body, maybe a subtle tingling sensation in a foot or an obvious cool breeze striking the face. I meditate on how beautiful it is to just be alive and sitting quietly. I listen closely to the symphony of sounds, some even internally in my head, and wonder at the miracle of hearing and the beauty of the sounds themselves. In hearing you own internal voice you can laugh at its inane content, bring joy rather than frustration at not being able to quiet the voice. What actually is looked at doesn’t matter so much but that the habit be built of seeing the goodness, the aliveness, the joy, and the happiness that is right there, all the time while doing something as simple and mundane as meditating.

 

This may seem contrary to the instruction of focused meditation to pay attention to only one thing and become single pointed. But, you’ll find that when you focus on the good, it becomes easier to concentrate and you become better at single pointedness. It is transformed from a frustrating chore to a source of joy. This not only enhances meditation but also makes it more likely that you’ll meditate in the future and look forward to it. Positive practice might also seem contrary to the instruction of open monitoring meditation let go of trying to control experience but to allow everything to just arise and fall away on its own, while just noticing. Looking for the positive may seem to be controlling. But, as it turns out, positive practice leads to better open monitoring as you learn to experience the joy and happiness in what is spontaneously occurring around you. It becomes easier to continue observing and lessens the mind wandering.

 

Meditation is only a platform to practice skills to apply to everyday life. Happiness can be found while doing everyday things. I like to look for good feelings and happiness no matter where I am, what I’m doing, or the conditions around me. I sometimes swim laps in a pool. This can be excruciatingly boring. But, I focus on how good my body feels in the water, the exquisite feelings of the internal sensations of energy in each part of my body, and the miracle of body in motion and the automatic unconscious movements controlling it. This changes what could be experienced as a chore to a joyous, mindful, and pleasurable experience.

 

You can do something similar almost anywhere, perhaps driving a car. Looking at traffic and noticing how well people work together to produce a safe environment, or accommodate someone who is driving not so safely, can produces a loving smile. When stopped at a traffic light, looking around and at the sky, looking for and finding the beauty and wonder all around can transform impatience to happiness. While driving remembering and seeing the joy experienced when you first got behind the wheel and drove as a teenager. Again, what exactly you do is unimportant. Rather the practice is to see the happiness everywhere around you all of the time.

 

We need to accept that this will be an ongoing process. As Thich Nhat Hahn reflected “When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it.” This makes it clear that we should continually renew and reinforce the state of happiness.

 

Happiness is self-reinforcing. The more you find it the more it promotes more happiness. It slowly builds upon itself, generalizing to other similar activities and circumstances producing an upward spiral of good feelings. You’ll find that slowly happiness begins to fill more and more of your day displacing more and more of the suffering. This is an automatic byproduct of positive practice which can completely change your view and experience of existence. Life become transformed from constant suffering to constant happiness. Try it. You’ll like it.

 

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Happiness is Just a Spin Away

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

 “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” – Frederick Keonig

 

We were recently driving through Louisiana and passed a billboard advertising a casino with the headline “Happiness is just a spin away.” For the gambler, this is the lure. Each win is a rush of happiness. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived. The next burst of happiness is now right in front of the gambler if they just continue spinning. From a psychological standpoint this is a perfect example of the power of intermittent reinforcement. When a reward is contingent upon an action, in this case pulling the lever on a slot machine, but the dispensing of the reward is not predictable, with the number of pulls needed to produce the reward not predictable, it produces a very potent form of conditioning. It is why gambling is so addictive. The brief rush of a win strongly conditions the lever pulling to get the next rush.

 

I was struck by how well the sign, “Happiness is just a spin away,” captured the western ideas of happiness and how to obtain it. It is a perpetual cycle of reward producing brief happiness followed by the loss of happiness followed by more action to produce another brief happiness. This is what psychologists term the hedonic treadmill. On the face of it, it sounds silly. We would never do that. But, if we look honestly and carefully at our lives we will see that most of it is spent on the hedonic treadmill. We work to purchase a new car and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So, we pursue a new love interest, and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So we work to purchase a new home and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So, we look for a new job and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. And on and on it goes, on the treadmill, pursuing the ephemeral happiness that we can never seem to be able to keep a hold of. So, we spin the wheel again.

 

Humans consider themselves smart people. But, it never seems to occur to most people that there may be something wrong with their idea of how to obtain happiness. After spending the majority of our lives failing to obtain the lasting happiness that we seek, you’d think that we’d catch on that what we’re doing isn’t working, hasn’t ever worked, and there’s no reason to believe that it ever will work. But working against that recognition is a society and a culture that is determined to keep us on the hedonic treadmill. The western consumer culture requires that we keep seeking happiness in things. If we didn’t, the economy might collapse. It is virtually impossible to escape the advertising messages that pervade our everyday lives. Each holds out the promise of happiness if we just use this toothpaste, take this drug, drive this car, see this movie, go to this concert, buy this gadget, etc. The barrage of messages is all geared to keeping us on the treadmill. If there is a crack, a glimmer of vision that something might be wrong, the messaging distracts us by bombarding us with the idea that “happiness is just a spin away.”

 

So, what are we to do? Give up the search for happiness? No, that is a waste of time. We are born with a biological program to seek happiness and to deny it is to fight against our biological nature. So, trying to not seek happiness is as futile as to pursue it on the hedonic treadmill. Fortunately, there is an answer. One so simple, that few see it. It’s right in front of us hidden in our delusions of what makes us happy. It is so simple that we can’t believe that that could be the answer. It is so contrary to the cultural messaging that we can’t trust that it could work even if we saw it. It’s simply to accept what is, enjoy what we have, and be in the present moment.

 

If we adopt the belief that happiness is right here, right now, if we only allow ourselves to accept it, then we will begin to look at our existence differently. We don’t need to search somewhere else. We don’t need to wait to another time. All we need to do is look closely, without judgment at our present experience. We have become so used to it that we can no longer see it. But, what is here in the present moment is actually wondrous and miraculous. Each breath is a miracle. The energy and life just bubbling in and through our bodies is amazing. How can we not be happy when we realize the mystery of our existence and what a gift this precious moment is. We’ve experienced so many similar moments, are so accustomed to them, that it’s difficult to break through and see the wonder in each one. But, just concentrate, if only occasionally, on fully experiencing what is transpiring right now. It just might change your life.

 

Just take a look around. Listen to the bird chirp and wonder at the experience of hearing and the sheer beauty of the singing. Look at the tree where the bird is perched and enjoy its uniqueness. There has never been and never will be one just like it. See its beautiful nuanced colors from the myriad shades of brown of the bark to the shimmering green of its leaves in the sunlight. Look at its roots and be amazed by its stability and strength, at their ability to remove nutrients and water from the ground and move them a 100 feet into the air. Look at its leaves wonder at their ability to use the sun’s energy to create complex molecules and energy from the nutrients. Now look at the person standing under the tree and witness their uniqueness. Marvel at their ability to simply stand or walk and what an amazing feat of balance, dexterity, coordination, and strength it is. Look in their eyes and realize the consciousness that is looking through them and seeing you. Observe their happiness, sadness, joy, fear, etc. and recognize how much just like you they are. Relish the fact that you are not alone. This could go on and on. There is so much right in front of you in this present moment to keep you entertained and awed for days on end.

 

The ultimate reward for making the effort to deeply experience the present moment is the happiness which will grow. Not the ephemeral happiness or the momentary highs of the hedonic treadmill, but an enduring, satisfying, mellow happiness that can be re-invoked at will. Happiness is not “a spin away.” It is always present and accessible in the present. So, get off the treadmill and discover the happiness that has always been present inside you. You only need to stop the seeking elsewhere and just be in the present. Happiness is not somewhere else at some other time. It is here all of the time for the picking. You just have to stop waiting for the results of the “spin” and simply enjoy “spinning.”

 

“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” – Anthony de Mello

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are  also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

What’s Missing from the Present Moment

 

The mind is never satisfied with the objects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity… The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope. – Samuel Johnson

 

One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that life is characterized by dukkha, which is usually translated as suffering. But, I prefer the less colorful translation as unsatisfactoriness. We in general constantly find ourselves and our lives to be unsatisfactory. It would appear to be a human characteristic to be constantly striving for something better. This can be a good thing as it’s been a driving force behind the development of agriculture, science, medicine, and engineering which has allowed us to improve our physical well-being. But, it has left us with intense feelings of unsatisfactoriness, dukkha.

 

This constant striving for something better results in seeing whatever is currently happening as flawed and needing improvement. Hence, we critically evaluate the present and find it unsatisfactory, not quite up to what it could be. As a result we impatiently wait for whatever is going on now to end so we can move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, when we get there, that too is seen as flawed and unsatisfactory and we again look forward to the next thing. But, that too is unsatisfactory. So we eagerly anticipate the next thing which of course is also found to be unsatisfactory, etc. etc. etc.

 

So we never enjoy anything for simply what it is. We are constantly looking for something better in the future, which of course it never is. So we move through life never happy, never appreciating all the beauty, wonder, and happiness that is present right now. What a sad treadmill! Constantly striving but never attaining the elusive perfect experience. A bit of thought quickly leads to the conclusion that the problem is that we never simply immerse ourselves in what is present. We’re always looking forward to something better resulting in us never truly enjoying what is.

 

When you’re on this treadmill and looking forward to a better future that never comes, break out of it by thinking “what exactly is missing from this very moment?” Examine what is actually present right here, right now, not in relation to the past or the future, but simply as it is right now. Is there anything that is actually missing? If you look deeply you’ll begin to see that nothing is missing. The present moment is complete and wonderful. Everything is perfect just as it is.

 

This takes some practice as our minds constantly want to find flaws and find ways to improve things. Don’t think about what might make it better. That involves memories of the past and expectations for the future. Simply, focus on what is. Look at what you’re experiencing. Listen deeply to the sounds that are present. The gnawing sound of the motorized lawn tools that is breaking up your peace is actually quite fascinating if you listen carefully. What a miracle it is that you experience it. Somehow you can sense which direction it’s coming from and how far away it is. How do you do that? What a wonder. Look carefully at what it is about it that makes you cringe and want it to go away. Realize that this unique sound will never be present again exactly as it is right now. How amazing is that? Here’s a one of a kind completely unique experience right here in your present moment.

 

Look at the intricacies and beauty available in the simplest things around you. Appreciate the incredible ability of the fly to soar through the air. Slowly you’ll begin to appreciate its completeness and its perfection. Look what is right in front of you. It may not be picturesque, perhaps a parking lot. But revel in the colors and forms that are witnessed. Appreciate the miracle of seeing. We take it so for granted. So, look at it deeply. What a wonder it is. What a delight!

 

Now let the greatest wonder of the present moment come front and center. Look at what is looking. Observe not just what’s being seen, but observe what’s seeing, what’s listening, what’s feeling, what’s knowing. What you’re observing is completely incomprehensible to science. It is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, human consciousness, and you can view it right now within yourself. It’s only available in the present moment, but it’s truly one of the greatest wonders of all.

 

What could possibly be missing from this incredible moment? If you simply look at it deeply, honestly, without recourse to the past and future, you’ll find that it is absolutely complete and perfect as it is. You need not look to something else for happiness it’s right here, right now, in the miracle of existence, that’s always there in every moment.

 

Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you”Eckhart Tolle

 

The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Eckhart Tolle

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Be Mindful of the “Shoulds” and “Coulds”

should

 

Humans torment themselves with “shoulds” and “coulds”. “Things should be this way.” “I could have made a different choice.” “He could have done this for her.” “She shouldn’t have said that.” “I should work harder.” My son should call home more often.” “I shouldn’t have done that.” “I should plan more for the future.” “I could go to church more often.” “I should be doing better,” etc. The list could go on endlessly.

All of these “shoulds” and “coulds” do nothing to change anything except for our happiness. They produce regrets, dismay, and dislike of ourselves and others. Since “should” and “could” imply that we are not acting or feeling as we might, it suggests that we are flawed. This then becomes the source for low self-esteem. Since “should” implies that others aren’t as good as we’d like or expect them to be, it suggests they are unworthy. This then becomes the source for gossip, putting others down, and dislike.

Every time that we say “should” or “could” it is a blatant admission that we’re unhappy with ourselves, things, or others as they are. We want them to be different. The discrepancy between what is and what we want it to be makes us unhappy with the way they are. This is the very essence of suffering. How can one be happy if thing are not right, if they “should” or “could” be different.

The secret to happiness is learning to accept things as they are. This doesn’t mean that we like or endorse what is, we simply accept it as reality. We can see all of the suffering and injustice in the world, not like it, and prefer that it wasn’t there, but recognizing that this is the way it is. This then suggests that the key to our happiness is learning to accept the world, ourselves, and others just as they are.

How can we do this? Mindfulness practice is a key to accepting things as they are. It helps us focus on the present moment. “Shoulds” and “coulds” revolve around the past. Being in the now there can be no “should” or “coulds”. There is only what is at the moment.

If we pay careful attention to the present moment we can begin to see that nothing is lacking. Everything that is needed right now is completely present. There is wonder and beauty in what is present in front of us. Happiness can become a simple constant state. It’s not an ecstasy or a high, but an enduring state of joy. If we can open our eyes without “should” or “could” it is more than possible, it is inevitable.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be this inner voice reminding us of what “should” or “could” be or have been. It is hard to be happy when we’re being constantly reminded by ourselves that things would be better if they were different. To find that happiness that is always there inside us, we need to quiet that voice or recognize that it is only a thought and let it go. This is where practice comes in. We must work at it. We have too long a history of busy minds and listening to the inner voice. It will take a while to learn a different way.

Stick with the practice. Be persistent. It will slowly begin to quite the mind. We will gradually learn to recognize that the inner voice is only a thought produced by a deluded mind and learn to ignore it, just let it pass through like a piece of dust in the wind. Remember, that if we’re willing to invest this time and effort we can indeed find the peace and happiness that is always present right here and right now.

So, practice and learn to find joy in things as they are.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Rediscovering Happiness

Basic human nature is to seek happiness. It is natural and programmed into our DNA. Many of us, however, find happiness to be very elusive. We have trouble finding it and even when we do, we don’t seem able to sustain it. How can we attain a state of enduring happiness?

In order to attain true and lasting happiness it is imperative to recognize that our core, natural, state is happiness. If we look back to infancy this becomes apparent. If an infant’s basic needs are satisfied it is happy. All it takes is a full belly and a clean diaper. It smiles and gleefully interacts with its environment. A young child’s play is an exemplar of pure joy. So, as long as our basic needs are satisfied we should be happy.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work this way. Most adults pretty much have their basic needs satisfied, but they are not particularly happy. They occasionally discover happiness when something wonderful happens or when they acquire some highly desired thing, but the happiness fades quickly and they’re left unsatisfied and unhappy.

A key that may reveal the nature of the problem may be found in the expression “finding happiness.” It implies that we have to go look for it somewhere, with something, or with someone. If we have to search for it, then it can’t be present already. So we look in the external world and are quite frustrated that lasting happiness is never found.

If we were happy as a child we might ask ourselves how did we lose it? It was there but now it’s gone. Well, the truth is that it’s not gone, it’s not lost, it’s still there. But, if it’s still there why don’t we feel happy. What’s preventing us from seeing and experiencing the happiness that is always there in the core of our being?

Again look back at the infant. The baby is basically totally in the present moment, the past and future are not an issue. The child at play is completely immersed in the moment, not thinking about anything but what’s there right now.

If we look carefully, we’ll see that our current experience is actually dominated by the past and the future. It is that orientation that prevents us from being happy. We ruminate about the past and review it constantly or we project into the future and become anxious or fearful or worried. We seek happiness in the future by pursuing something that will happen later. In other words, we completely lose sight of the fact that the only time you can be happy is right now!

All of this leads to the conclusion that to find happiness we need to focus single mindedly on the present moment. It is there right here, right now if we just open our minds to it and put away thoughts of the past and future. Our minds find this very difficult to do. That’s where mindfulness training comes in. It is the best method to remove our mind from interfering with the happiness that is already there.

By practicing mindfulness we will learn to quite the mind and observe the present moment only. This takes time and devotion, but slowly the core of happiness will begin to emerge. Slowly you will begin to not just see but experience that happiness that is always there. Mindfulness practice removes the mental obstacles to happiness and unlocks your basic nature where there is always happiness. It is not in a person place or thing. It’s right there within you once you learn how to uncover it.

So practice mindfulness and rediscover the happiness that was always there.

CMCS

It’s a Good Day Even when it isn’t

A frequent part of everyday conversation is the wish to “have a good day”. This statement is often produced automatically and vacuously, without any thought as to its meaning. But, regardless, the ubiquitous wish indicates that “having a good day” is desired and often our days are not what we would describe as good.

Why do we think of some days as good and others not so? It all has to do with what we experience during the day. It could be something as overt as the weather or something much deeper as what we learn or the emotions we experience during the day, or it could be something as simple as what we accomplish during the 24 hours. Regardless, we classify these experiences as good or bad.

I prefer to say “enjoy your day” because it implies actively engaging in the day rather than passively taking what the day has to offer. I’m very fond of a quote from the sage Thich Nhat Hahn “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” I have it framed in my closet to remind me when I get dressed each day as to how to proceed to make each and every day a “good day.”

Thich Nhat Hahn’s smile is not put on or forced. Rather it follows from the thought of the enjoyable wonders of the day ahead, evoking happiness. What is doing this? It’s the thought of living “fully in each moment” that is eliciting the smile. What he is implying is that mindfulness is the key to making every day “a good day.”

If we approach the day with full mindfulness it is always good. If it’s sunny we can appreciate the energy that our sun is bathing our world in, allowing our food to grow, warming our environment, and lighting our way; such wonder, such beauty. If it’s dark and rainy we can appreciate the beautiful sounds of the rain on our roofs or as it strikes the trees and plants around us, feeling the raindrops as they strike our skin with sudden pinpricks of coldness, and sustaining the growth on which we depend; such wonder, such beauty.

If our work is difficult and we are faced with troubling challenges we can observe the wonder of our minds rising to the challenges, producing insights out of nowhere to help resolve the issues, and feel the pleasure of success or the rich textured emotions of failure; such wonder, such beauty. If our work is humdrum and normally boring we can explore what exactly is happening as we’re performing the tasks, feeling the sensations and emotions of wanting things to be more interesting, and contemplating the ripple effects of what we’re accomplishing.

If we are truly mindful there are no good days or bad days, there are only joyful days of experience the wonder of life.

So be mindful and “enjoy your day.”

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw for a wonderful explanation of the nature of a “good day.”

CMCS

 

Dishabituation – A Key to Happiness

One of the great impediments to attaining sustained happiness is the tendency that is built into all living creatures, to habituate; that is to ignore things that are repeated frequently. Habituation causes us to take thing for granted, to ignore the beauty that surrounds us, to stop seeing all of the wonderful things about the people we’re closest to, to not realize our own good health, and to miss the essence of our being.

Habituation can be demonstrated by simply repeating a simple stimulus such as an audible tap over and over again, initially we will notice it and may be curious and investigate it. But, as it continues we begin to ignore it, and eventually cease to hear it. In essence, anything that is common and usual stops getting our attention and eventually ceases to be perceived.

This very simple process, although useful for the survival of the species, becomes a problem in our lives. Because we habituate to it we take our jobs for granted and loose the excitement and pleasure that we had when we first began the job. If we live in or commute through a beautiful environment we habituate to it and cease to observe and take pleasure in its beauty.

We are so used to our significant others that we stop seeing all the wonderful characteristics that attracted us to them in the first place and begin to take them for granted. We come to take our health for granted unless it is compromised. The sage Thich Nhat Hahn cautions us to be grateful for our non tooth ache. We habituate and take it for granted and don’t notice what a blessing that is.

From a spiritual viewpoint, one of the most significant aspects of our existence is our awareness. Not what we’re aware of, but the entity that is being aware. It’s always there. So we habituate to it and stop noticing it. Most contemplative practices are designed to try to overcome this habituation and induce a renewed awareness of awareness.

It is clear that habituation interferes with our appreciating life, with our ability to continuously see the beauty around us and in us with fresh eyes. As a result we’re driven to constantly seek out new and different experiences in order to feel happy. What a shame, as happiness is always present, we’ve just habituated to it.

Is there a way to overcome habituation? The technical term is dishabituation. The science of mindfulness has yielded answers. Today’s Research News article “More Meditation, Less Habituation? The Effect of Mindfulness Practice on the Acoustic Startle Reflex.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422735/
https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1019645078059418/?type=1&theater

indicates that mindfulness interferes with the habituation process. It allows us to react to repeated stimuli for a longer period.

It is not surprising then that contemplative practice leads to greater happiness. It interferes with habituation and lets us appreciate and enjoy the good things that have always surrounded us but that we’ve habituated to.

So, practice mindfulness and be joyful with what is right in front of you right here, right now!

CMCS

Meditation Concentration and Happiness

“Meditation leads to concentration, concentration leads to understanding, and understanding leads to happiness” Thich Nhat Hahn

This wonderful quote from the modern day sage Thich Nhat Hahn is a wonderful pithy description of the benefits of contemplative practice. I believe it is helpful, however, to change the word “concentration” to “mindfulness”. This better represents how meditation helps us concentrate on the present moment just as it is, without judgement, leaving the past behind and future yet to be.

Mindfulness allows us to view our experience and not put labels on it, not make assumptions about it, not relate it to past experiences, and not project it into the future. Rather mindfulness lets us experience everything around and within us exactly as it is arising and falling away from moment to moment. Understanding is simply seeing things exactly as they are without the minds colorations and interpretations. This can lead to much deeper insights, but meditation can still lead to a surface level of understanding, that is quite useful in moving to the next step.

Simply being able to see other people as they are without judgement will generate understanding and compassion. The person is neither good nor bad, kind nor unkind, attractive nor ugly, smart nor stupid, opinionated nor open, etc. They are simply a human being doing the best they can, given their biology and conditioning. This is a revolutionary understanding that changes our entire perspective on others and can lead to a radically different approach to interacting with them. This insight can also lead to a radical adjustment to how we view ourselves.

This understanding produced by meditatively induced mindfulness leads automatically to happiness. Removing the judging mind, that is constantly on the lookout for problems and threats to be solved, allows one to see the beauty and wonder of existence. It reveals the profound mystery that is life. It induces unrelenting gratefulness for the grace we have received. It is impossible not to be happy under these conditions. This happiness is not a peak or ecstatic happiness, but rather a deep and fulfilling satisfaction with all that is. How wonderful is that?

Please keep in mind that nothing is ever this easy. Thich Nhat Hahn is simply providing the outline of the meditative journey. As everyone who has embarked on this journey will attest, the trip is a convoluted roller coaster ride. Lots of difficulties arise along the way. But persevere and slowly, sometimes at glacial speed, we progress in the journey.

So, meditate and know that true happiness awaits if you pursue the path with patience and dedication.

CMCS