Not wanting it different

I had a very stimulating discussion today with my Supervisor from the Centre for Training in Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.

Part of it focused on the way that Mindfulness practice does not explicitly focus on making us happy, unlike some other programmes out there, but rather emphasizes living with the life we actually have. In other words, we are not deliberately working to make our pains and our problems go away, as if they get in the way of us experiencing our real life.

Rather, they are our real life as it is unfolding now.

What mindfulness does is allow us to relate to the difficulties of life in a new way. Relating kindly, with curiosity, even welcoming.

Joy in living

In mindfulness practice ignorance is seen as the inability to see into the nature of things, especially the patterns that govern happiness and suffering. The goal of mindfulness practice is to increasingly detect those patterns as early as possible, thus reducing suffering and increasing happiness, or contentment, in life. Our practice consists in patiently and gently observing the causes of happiness and suffering.

The nature of happiness is an age-old question. Aristotle said happiness was the only goal “we choose for its own sake and never as a means to something else”.

That being said, as Irish I admire the ancient Celts and Saxons who measured life in terms of celebration:

I read in Brand’s “Popular Antiquities” that “Bishop Stillingfleet observes, that among the peoples of the northern nations, the Feast of the New Year was observed with more than ordinary jollity: thence, as Olaus Wormius and Scheffer observe, they reckoned their age by so many Iolas.” (Iola: to make merry)

So may we measure our lives by our joys.

We have lived, not in proportion to the number of years that we have spent on the earth, but in proportion as we have enjoyed”

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (1860)

Three quotes on not knowing….

……. on just paying attention to now.

Different ways of seeing the richness of the present moment, without a focus on the future or on outcomes.

“Drop into the moment that is now. No need to judge, no need to have an agenda as to what will be, no need to say, “I am meditating”. Just be here, drink in all that this moment has to offer as if it is the only one that you have – because it truly is”

Jon Kabat Zinn

The entre life of a Christian is an exercise of desire.

You do not see what you long for
but the very act of desiring
prepares you so that when it comes
you may see and be utterly satisfied”

Saint Augustine

And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far into the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Trusting Life

Today is a lovely fine autumn day in Geneva.

On days like this it is easier to see the deep joy in life, to have energy for the future, to see happiness in people strolling happily by the lake, to receive some great news of a new job, well deserved.

In moments like this I reflect on aspects of happiness and how the greatest work is finding contentment in life.

The starting point is in a quotation which I recently read : “If you hope to find lasting happiness, you must first answer the question, what is your true priority-your inner or your outer life?”

Stormy Weather

One of the more interesting things in my mindfulness practice is dealing with what could be called difficult emotions.

Being Irish it is easy to compare that with the changing weather. On the Atlantic coast nothing stays the same for long, and four seasons in the one day, even in summer, is not unusual.

These last few days I have been made aware of that in different ways, with the sad but common Geneva news of someone moving away, with questions on loyalty and closeness moving to distance.

These can give rise to strong emotions. and when that happens I try to simply allow them to take their own course in my body and in my mind. This afternoon, however, that was not so easy. I remind myself that mindfulness is a non-judging, receptive awareness, a respectful awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes I do not attend in this way. Sometimes the emotions are too strong to immediately allow it. I prefer to judge myself and others with a stream of criticism and commentary.

When that happens I try the practice which is presented under the acronym RAIN, which stands for Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification.

Recognizing means pausing and acknowledging the reality of my experience, here and now. This meant today a heaviness in my chest, a certain tightness in the breath.

Acceptance asks me to relax and open to the facts before me. Often I prefer that things were not as they present themselves to me. Acceptance is realizing what Buddhist teacher Ajahn Sumedho said over and over again, “This moment is like this”. So I try to say, simply, in this moment I am feeling a tightness, numbness, heaviness and that is this moment as it presents itself. I try to say, may I accept this moment fully.

Investigation means looking deeply. Mindfulness teaches that whenever i feel stuck stuck, it is partly because I have not looked deeply enough into the nature of the experience. WHy is this affecting me in this way, what stories am I telling myself here, what am I adding on?

Finally, non-identification means I stop taking the experience as me or mine, not seeing it as saying everything about me, not giving my whole story over to it, not being completely bound by the fears that it brings up. Despite the loss I will still love, I will still look to my plans for the future. Non identifying means not feeding the energy, but creating space.

As a former elderly Irish Spiritual Director was fond of saying to me, When you are on a bicycle and it starts raining, you sometimes just put your head down and continue pedalling. I would add now, without wasting my energy complaining about the weather