Not paying attention keeps us in an endless cycle of wanting. We move on to the next thing because we aren’t really taking in what we already have; inattention creates an escalating need for stimulation.
Everything goes away. Every sensation, every emotion, is changing all of the time. Each experience, however intense, is ephemeral. All life is transitory.
It’s natural to perceive everything we think, feel, or take in with our five senses as being pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Whether we’re enjoying the sun on our face, hearing an insult, listening to music, smelling our dinner cooking, or feeling a wave of anger, the experience gets sorted into one of these three slots. It’s just what human do.
When the experience is pleasant, our conditioned tendency is to hang on to it and keep it from leaving. That, however, is impossible. “Nothing endures but change,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. We long for permanence, but everything in the known universe—thoughts, weather, people, galaxies—is transient. That’s a face, but one we fight.
We’re often so preoccupied with trying to make a pleasurable experience stay that we’re unable to enjoy it while it lasts.
Mindfulness can allow us to experience fully the moment in front of us—what Thoreau calls “the bloom of the present”—and to wake up from neutral so we don’t miss the small, rich moments that add up to a dimensional life.
For most of us, mindfulness is fleeting. We manage it for a moment, and then we’re gone again for a long period of time, preoccupied with the past, the future, our worries; we see the world through the goggles of long-held assumptions.
Four crucial steps in dealing with emotions mindfully:
Recognize what I was feeling. You can’t figure out how to deal with an emotion until you acknowledge that you’re experiencing it.
Acceptance: we tend to resist or deny certain feelings, particularly if they’re unpleasant.
Investigate the emotion: Instead of running away from it, we move closer, observing it with an unbiased interest.
Not identifying with the emotion: The embarrassment or disappointment you’re feeling today isn’t your whole resume, the final word on who you are and who you’re going to be. Instead of confusing a temporary state with your total self, you come to see that your emotions arise, last a while, then disappear.
Mindfulness allows us to watch our thoughts, see how one thought leads to the next, decide if we’re heading down an unhealthy path, and, if so, let go and change directions. It allows us to see that who we are is much more than a fearful or envious or angry thought.
Wise observers of human behavior have pinpointed over and over again a core group of unhealthy human tendencies that are obstacles to happiness.
They are: desire, aversion, sloth, restlessness, and doubt.
Desire includes grasping, clinging, wanting or attachment.
Aversion can appear as hatred, anger, fear, or impatience.
Sloth is not just laziness, but also numbing out, switching off, disconnecting, and the sluggishness that comes with denial or feeling overwhelmed.
Restlessness shows itself as anxiety, worry, fretfulness, or agitation.
Doubt keeps us feeling stuck; we don’t know what to do next.
“When you look into a pool of water,” writes Jon J. Muth in his children’s book Zen Shorts, distilling ancient wisdom, “if the water is still, you can see the moon reflected. If the water is agitated, the moon is fragmented and scattered. It is harder to see the true moon. Our minds are like that. When our minds are agitated, we cannot see the true world.”
~Pablo Neruda “Keeping Quiet” …If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
…Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead and later proves to
“The best way out is always through.” ~Robert Frost
Lovingkindness is a power of the heart that honors this connection. When we practice it, we acknowledge that every one of us shares the same wish to be happy, and the same vulnerability to change and suffering.
The happiness of others doesn’t take anything away from us.
All human beings want to be a part of something fulfilling or meaningful; that we’re all vulnerable to change and loss; that our lives can turn on a dime—in an instant we could lose a loved one, our life savings, a job. We go up, and we go down, all of us. Vulnerability in the face of constant change is what we share, whatever our present condition.
May I Be Safe.
May I Be Happy.
May I Be Healthy.
May I Live With Ease.
Reflection on the fact that all beings want to be happy—you, your friends, the person who’s giving you trouble. All beings want to be happy, may they be happy.
Think of kindness as a strength, not as a weakness. Kindness isn’t an ally of foolishness or gullibility, but rather an ally of wisdom and courage.
Remember that everyone wants to be happy. If we look deeply into any kind of behavior, we will see an urge to feel a part of something greater than our own limited sense of self, a desire to feel at home in this body and mind. This urge toward happiness is often twisted and distorted by ignorance, by not knowing where happiness is actually to be found.
Recollect those who have helped or inspired us. Sometimes even a small act of kindness on someone’s part makes an essential difference for us. Cultivating gratitude is a way of honoring these people.
“The problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” ~Albert Einstein
Breaking away from our habitual ways of looking at thing, thinking at a new level, and responding differently take a good deal of courage.
The practice of meditation is about having an immensity of vision as vast as the sky. It allows us greater perspective. We might not be able to change the circumstances of our lives, but we can change our relationship to those circumstances.
Meditation allows us to stop looking for happiness in the wrong places. Real, abiding happiness, we discover, isn’t the result of getting our needs met temporarily. That often leads to an endless cycle of disappointment and escalating desire: The things we pin our hopes on don’t prove to be enough; the bar is continually being raised, and then we’re on the lookout for something more.
Conventional happiness—the consolation of momentary distraction—is not only transitory, it can be isolating, shot through with an undercurrent of fear. Even when things are going well, we have the nagging feeling—in the midst of our pleasure—that our well-being is fragile, unstable, in need of protection.