With the advent of email, cellphones, text messaging, the Internet, etc. there are numerous ways for our focus to be interrupted. But when our attention is diffused, we don’t approach our interactions with people or our work with the same level of energy and intent that we do when we are focused. When we approach people in a scattered way, we don’t hear, understand and ultimately relate to them as well. When we approach work without our full attention, our work is not as clear and crisp, it takes longer to do and is not as satisfying to do as when we are focused. Even watching a movie while multi-tasking diminishes the experience. A movie takes you on an emotional journey, but when you switch your attention to texts, emails and phone conversations, your attention is leached out and the movie isn’t as funny, poignant or thrilling. In other words, when you don’t bring your attention to what you do, you miss all the good stuff. When you bring your full attention to work, play and relationships, they’re more intense, enjoyable and satisfying.
Highly recommend the Three Jewels of Awakening to anyone who is a spiritual student or teacher! It’s the best, most concise book I’ve seen on how to engage correctly with the spiritual path, so that you keep your journey sacred and precious. And though it’s a small part of the book, what may be most valuable is the discussion on the traps both students and teachers can fall into. If you really hear these words, they can save you a lot of time and pain on the path!
As someone who has taught for many years, I personally chuckled in recognition at this advice to teachers: Many people will put you on a pedestal when you teach, and later, they will attempt to tear you down….Be unmoved by people’s opinion of you. You will be praised and you will be blamed, loved and hated, clung to and shoved away. Don’t fall for it! These are normal reactions of a student’s ego, especially when it’s under duress as the spiritual aspirant seeks to subdue its authority in favor of freedom. Be still either way. Let them do what they will while you remain centered.
Every year or so I reread my favs. There are many great books about the life of the historical Buddha, but A Life of the Buddha (previously entitled The Awakened One) is my favorite. It’s very clean and bright.
I have a great heart connection to Sri Ramakrishna, and read about him year round. I’ll open The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna most weekends and read a few pages. If you ever feel bad, you can read a few pages of this book and be lifted above the world. The energy in it is very powerful.
Keep on hand at all times great audio books, podcasts, music, books or magazines. It’s helpful to have something entertaining to do when you are waiting in line at the DMV or at the doctor’s office or when you’re caught in traffic or on the subway. There are so many draining situations that become the opposite when you have something interesting to occupy your mind.
Honesty with yourself is essential to being happy. You have to check that what you are doing in your life is working for you. Sometimes we have such a strong idea of how our life should be and what will make us happy, that we don’t want to face that these ideas aren’t right for us anymore. We may have grown out of them or they may have never been our ideas and dreams in the first place, but instead were imposed by family or society and accepted by us as ours. Other times we have invested so much time and energy to get our life to where it is, that we don’t want to face the fact that it is no longer working. When we honestly recognize that something is no longer working, then from this place of recognition we can begin to change it.
Being honest about what is working applies to all aspects of your life, big and small—whether it’s recognizing that you’re bored with your job and you need to mix it up, or that constantly checking your phone diffuses your focus and you need to dial it down. When you change what is not working in your life, despite past ideas of what you think will make you happy, you will be a happier person.
Note that you don’t have to necessarily share or discuss your internal honesty with others. In fact, if we had to share all our internal insights with others, we’d never be completely honest with ourselves! What matters most is that you are simply honest with yourself.
In the morning, meditate shortly after you wake up. It’s easier to meditate when you feel awake and alert, so take a shower (or at least wash your hands and face) and have a cup of coffee, tea or juice if you need that. A few bites of food are fine, but avoid eating a meal because a full stomach makes meditating more difficult. You will also have an easier time quieting your mind if you meditate before you engage your mind in the things that start it spinning, such as email, TV, Internet, phone calls or other conversations.
In the evening, you can meditate at sunset, when you get home, or before you go to bed. The sunset meditation is especially nice, when you can make it. Again, shower or wash your hands and face before you sit down.
Simplify your life so you have time to do the things you really love and that make you happy. Remove unnecessary and dull activities and relationships from your life. Also, look at the things you do out of obligation that you dislike and realistically assess whether you need to do them or not.
When the cashier at the grocery store is rude to you or someone at work tries to belittle your work, most times their behavior has nothing to do with you, but instead is a reflection of their own state of mind. That cashier is rude to everyone and that coworker tries to make everyone feel small. It helps to know this so we don’t take it personally and let it affect our mood.
Everyone knows that exercise helps the physical body, but it also really helps clear out our non-physical energy body. In the course of our daily lives we pick up all kinds of stuff—stress from work, tiredness from dealing with family or friends who are having a hard time, stress from relationship, financial woes or simply having too much to do. Exercise helps blow out this buildup, so it makes us feel much happier. If you think of your aura as acting like a sponge that absorbs the feelings and thoughts of those you interact with, exercise is like rinsing and squeezing out that sponge. Women in particular benefit from daily exercise because they pick up even more auric garbage than men.
The type of exercise regimen you follow depends on your level of fitness and your demeanor. What’s important is to find a type of exercise that you enjoy so it’s not something you dread doing. It helps to alternate what exercise you do so you don’t get bored, and for those who are on stationary equipment like an elliptic trainer or treadmill, it’s great to watch TV shows or movies. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before you start up again. She can advise you on a good regimen for your age and fitness level.
Mindfulness is the process of watching what is passing through your mind and stopping the thoughts that are draining or unhealthy. Most things only need to be thought through once. The rest of the thinking, the mulling over and obsessing, is not only draining, it actually makes it harder to objectively see what is best. When you keep your mind quiet and don’t play your worries, schemes and dreams over and over again, you create space for inner knowledge to bubble up and be heard.
Mindfulness isn’t limited to stopping negative or repetitive thoughts, it also includes not holding conversations in your mind with people you know. A lot of people talk to other people in their minds, explaining their beliefs and defending their positions. Not only is this a waste of energy, again it prevents your mind from being still. When your mind is still you can more clearly see the pointers in the universe. The universe gives us all kinds of information, but you have to be still to see it. When your mind is going round and round defending your ego, you miss these pointers, not to mention the relaxation and brightness that comes from being still.
The good news is that after practicing mindfulness for a while it becomes automatic, so as negative or repetitive thoughts and inner conversations arise, you naturally stop them and redirect your mind to higher, calmer thoughts or no thoughts at all.
It’s a personal choice to be happy. Everyone has a high, happy side and a low, bored, angry or depressed side, and which side you live in is determined by the choices you make. The choices that lead to happiness are the ones that challenge us, awaken us, and keep us balanced—they are the choices to meditate and work-out when you’d rather watch TV; to be mindful when you’d rather obsess on something negative; to work on your career when it seems easier to just hang out where you are; and, also the choice to relax and unwind when you know you need that, but want to stay plugged in.
The choices that lead to happiness are the ones that take care of the things that are your responsibility—and just as important, the choices to not take on things that are not your responsibility. On a daily basis, we are presented with numerous choices, both simple and complex, that lead us to either more happiness or less. When you become the person who makes the higher choice by default, you will absolutely feel happier. The good news is that meditation increases your powers of discrimination and will, so it’s easier to both discern the higher choice and follow it.
Of course, many of the physical circumstances of our lives are beyond our control, but even in these situations there is a choice to be happy. When you get caught in a major traffic delay, you can bemoan your fate which magnifies the misery of the situation, or you can keep on hand great audio books, podcasts and music to entertain yourself while you are trapped in your car. In more dire situations, like finding out your partner cheated on you or that you have been diagnosed with cancer, there is still an opportunity to be happy. Stick with me for a moment on this one. Sometimes the most painful situations in life can act as a catalyst to finally get us to really stop thought, go into our inner light and experience that we are not who we think we are—to see that we’re made of light and are eternal. This is the happiest of all experiences. When everything is going our way, we tend to not be very introspective. But in truly unpleasant times, in our disillusionment with how we thought our life would go, there is an opening to experience something deeper. So even amidst the crappiest situation, there is a choice to indulge in the difficulties of your life or an option to go deeper into the quiet and deeper into your soul where true happiness resides. True happiness isn’t about everything working out your way. It’s really about being in touch with your inner light.