Being Happy

There are many competing ideas in the world today as to how to be happy. The prevailing model in the Western world tends to equate it with success in career or material terms or to project our desire for happiness onto another person and seek it in a relationship. The difficulty with this is that it makes our happiness contingent on external events or on other people.

Another model, which is at the heart of mindfulness practice, sees happiness as coming from within, when we remove the conditions in our lives that lead to suffering. This happens when when the mind is not in contention with what is going on in our lives at that moment. Happiness thus comes from the minds ability to meet all circumstances, whether desired or not, with compassion and openness. It is related to what is already in our lives, often unnoticed, and not to what we wish we could have, or wanting other.

Happiness is the cessation of suffering. It is well-being. For instance, when I practice this exercise of breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes and realize that they are still in good condition. There is a paradise of form and colors in the world. And because you have eyes still in good condition, you can get in touch with the paradise. So when I become aware of my eyes, I touch one of the conditions of happiness. And when I touch it, happiness comes.

Thich Nhat Hahn

Love

Absolute love is not something that we have to — or that we even can — concoct or fabricate. It is what comes through us naturally when we fully open up — to another person, to ourselves, or to life. In relation to another, it manifests as selfless caring. In relation to ourselves, it shows up as inner confidence and self-acceptance that warms us from within. And in relation to life, it manifests as a sense of well-being, appreciation, and joie de vivre.

When we experience this kind of openness and warmth coming from another, it provides essential nourishment: it helps us experience our own warmth and openness, allowing us to recognize the beauty and goodness at the core of our nature. The light of unconditional love awakens the dormant seed potentials within us, helping them ripen, blossom, and bear fruit, allowing us to bring forth the unique gifts that are ours to offer in this life. Receiving pure love, caring, and recognition from another confers a great blessing: it affirms us in being who we are, allowing us to say yes to ourselves.

John Welwood, The Perfect Love We Seek, The Imperfect Love We Live

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A mindfulness and Tai Chi project in a Boston school

There are not too many studies which look at the effect of mindfulness on young children in a school setting. Therefore it is interesting to read about a Boston School which designed a clinical project that used Tai Chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction as an educational program.

The 5-week successfully showed that sustained interest in this material in young boys and girls is possible, even though it may have been presumed beforehand that children would find the requisite capacity for sustained concentration, precision, mechanical exactness, and the essential slow execution of movements in Tai Chi find less interesting once the novelty wore off. However, statements made by the boys and girls in the process suggested that they experienced well-being, calmness, relaxation, improved sleep, less reactivity, increased self-care, self-awareness, and a sense of interconnection or interdependence with nature.

As a result of their work, the reserarchers state that Tai Chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction may be transformational tools that can be used in educational programs appropriate for school–aged children.

Wall, Robert, “Tai Chi and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in a Boston Public Middle School” Journal of Pediatric Health Care Volume 19, Number 4, July/August 2005

Locus of Control

Within psychology, the notion of Locus of Control refers to our perception about the causes of the events in our lives. If we have a high internal Locus of Control we believe that our behaviour is mainly influenced by our own personal decisions and efforts. If we have a high external Locus of Control we believe that external circumstances – such as luck, destiny, fate, the stars, an external god, or our boss, or other people – have the greater influence.

Studies have shown that the understanding we have of locus of control has a significant impact on our motivation, expectations, self-esteem, and even on the actual outcome of our actions. A high external locus has been associated with depression and with lower motivation. It also shapes the way in which we deal with setbacks. A key element in our inner life is how we explain to ourselves why a negative event occurs. People with high external locus of control tend to attribute setbacks to stable internal and global factors, which will not change. In other words, setbacks tend to be seen as being caused by elements inside me that will not change – “I never succeed, I am not good enough” combined with factors outside which are stacked against me – “That college, job, person is way out of my league”. If bad, this can lead to a sense that nothing I can do will make a difference and I will feel powerless to change my own circumstances.

On the contrary, it has been noted that high internals expect to succeed more, are more motivated and are more likely to learn from their setbacks. They believe that their approach and attitude contributes significantly to what they achieve in life. If something goes wrong they tend to see it as due to non-stable factors that can be overcome in the future – “Ok, I got refused this time, but I will work harder and reapply”. In other words, the story the person tells themselves allows them not to over-identify with the setback and see it as the whole story. It has been found that a high internal locus of control leads to behaviours that cope better, that are more flexible, purposive and open, are less defensive, and are cognitively more complex, differentiated, and sensitive. They tend to realize that they have choices to change their situation, even if that only means working on internal factors, like attitude and motivation.

Many people fail to distinguish between their true nature and their personality traits, particularly their less desirable traits. The fact is you are not the worst characteristics of your personality. It is the nature of the untrained mind to want what it perceives as advantageous and to fear or hate what seems painful. Discovering how your heart and mind can work together to use these feelings allows you to move beyond them. You may feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of your present life or bound by past traumatic events. Again, this is a failure in perception. They are just mind-states which can be known. They can be seen as impermanent and not belonging to you and, therefore, they do not ultimately define your true nature.

Philip Moffitt

Teachings all around

Every day
I see or I hear
something
that more or less
kills me with delight,
that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for–
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world–
to instruct myself over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant–
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself, how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings as these–
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made out of grass?

Mary Oliver Mindful

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